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On the Olympics

by / 0 Comments / 31 View / August 23, 2016

This week, like most folks, I’ve been watching the Olympics on TV and cheering on the best athletes in the world, especially those on the American team. Despite all the worry about Zika, crime, cheating, and polluted water, it seems the Brazilians are doing fine as hosts of the quadrennial Games. Certain events capture my attention more than others, although it’s always fun to watch the best at sports we don’t normally get to see.
These Games, I’m quite interested in women’s gymnastics – mainly because of Simone Biles, the young superstar who has most recently called Texas her home. After winning the past three World Championships, a gold medal in Rio seems certain. She may be the best woman gymnast of our lifetime. It will also be interesting to see whether Michael Phelps adds to his 22 Olympic medals in this, his final Games. Although he is not an American, I can’t help but root for Usain Bolt to win the men’s 100-meter sprint – just so I can see him shoot his arrow. That race should be fun, and it’s entirely possible one of our guys, either Bracy, Bromell, or Gatlin, might overtake him.
I’ve been able to attend two Summer Olympic Games: the XXI Olympiad in Montreal during 1976 and the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta during 1996. My father had business dealings in Canada when he worked in photo processing, and he was able to get tickets to several of the lower-profile events in Montreal. It didn’t matter that I only got to see Poland versus Greece in basketball, for me it was all about being there. I clearly remember special moments, like making small talk with an Iranian athlete and going to an evening soccer match at Olympic Stadium. The coolest moment came during the men’s steeplechase, when I watched a former classmate of mine, Henry Marsh, finish in tenth place. Marsh would go on to be ranked in the top ten for his sport during the next twelve years. Marsh was also president of the Athletes Advisory Council of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1980 when the U.S. Olympic athletes were asked to boycott the Moscow Olympics by President Carter in protest against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1996, I travelled with my family east to Atlanta, stopping first in Washington, D.C. to see our nation’s capital and attend two soccer matches: a women’s game between Japan and China, and a men’s game between Mexico and Ghana. We sat directly behind one of the goals near the Mexican bench. That was exciting, and so was the crowd. Of course we rooted for Mexico, but I was impressed by the throngs of Ghanaians chanting and beating drums while snaking along the aisles of RFK stadium. We were in route to Atlanta when the bombing in Centennial Park occurred.
In Atlanta, we attended track and field events, the first-ever Olympic mountain bike race at Stone Mountain, volleyball, synchronized swimming, and several other events. Our family got caught up in the Olympic pin craze, which provided opportunities to trade pins and interact with spectators from all parts of the world. At the men’s bicycle road race, my son and I helped the Saturn car company sponsors fill promotional bags with coupons and a nice bicycle pin made of pewter. Some of those pins made it into our pockets and, later that night, we had a great time trading them up for other pins at the Coca Cola Pavilion. We were able to get enough for each of us to have an Olympic pin vest; but these days, I’m the only family member brave enough to wear mine. If you see me this week, I’ll likely have it on!
Michael Brown is an education consultant and a former teacher. He can be contacted at michael.brown@utexas.edu.