My Favorite Summer Olympic Moments
I love the Olympics.
As I typed that I was reminded that last night at dinner my family and I were having a discussion about how “love” is a emotion that is shared with other living things and not a food or object…so let’s just day that I “really like” the Olympics.
As I was watching the Opening Ceremonies of the XXXI Olympiad, I began to think about the memories that I have from previous summer Olympics. I was born in 1978, so I had just turned two years old at the time of the 1980 games. Not that there would have been any memories from those games anyway since the United States boycotted and it wasn’t even on TV here in the US.
So that takes us to the 1984 games. I was six years old and the games were held in Los Angeles (they are on the short list for the 2024 games as well). I vividly remember the logo for those games because it was literally everywhere that summer! My mom’s vacuum cleaner even had the logo on it as the “official vacuum of The XXIII Olympiad”. I also remember the mascot, Sammy the Eagle. I’m sure I had a stuffed animal of that little dude. As far as what moments I remember watching, it all centers around Carl Lewis. Carl was a dominant Track and Field star. I can still remember the all-red suit that the runners wore. Carl not only won the gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4 × 100 meter relay, he also won the gold in the long jump. There have been other athletes win the 100-200 double, and even add a relay gold, but no one since has also crossed over and won gold in another track and field event like the long jump. I remember my brothers and I imitating Carl Lewis for years to come. What most people probably remember from the ’84 games happened in gymnastics. A little 16 year old American girl named Mary Lou Retton won the all-around competition. She was the first non-European to EVER win the all-around…and she was ours! She became an instant celebrity and was on a box of Wheaties within a week. The 1984 games got me hooked on the Olympics.
The summer games are held every four years, so it was 1988 when the Seoul games in South Korea rolled around. I was ten year old by now and I can remember sitting on my parent’s shag carpet in front of the TV watching the every night of the games that summer. As with most of my memories of the Olympics as a child, what I recall centers around track and field. The 1988 games introduced us to “Flo-Jo”. Florence Griffith Joyner was a dominant sprinter. She won the 100, 200, 4 x 100 relay and was part of the silver medal 4 x 400 relay team. What you might not realize is that the World Records she set during those games in the 100 meters and 200 meters are still intact. She may be the fastest woman in history! What most people probably remember about Flo-Jo was her finger nails!
I also remember watching Greg Louganis win gold medals in diving, but only after splitting his head open on the spring board. To this day, I cringe when I think about that moment (for that reason, I’m not watching this embedded video).
The next games were in 1992 and were held in Barcelona, Spain and will forever be remember as the first Olympics where we were allowed to let our professional basketball players participate…and The Dream Team was born! The team featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other NBA stars. The Dream Team easily won the gold medal. This is in my option, the greatest basketball team ever assembled (excluding Christian Laettner of course).
The other memory that people still have from the ’92 games was the 400 meter sprinter pulling his hamstring and his dad coming out on the track to help him limp to the finish line. If you have a soul, this will make you tear up.
The 1996 Olympics were back in the United States as Atlanta was the host city. If I had any sense, I would have made the short drive down to see the games. I mean really, how many people had the chance to DRIVE to the Olympics. In my defense, I was 18 years old…and we all know how smart 18 year olds are! The opening ceremonies held a special memory for many of us here in Louisville as our hometown champ Muhammad Ali lit the torch. I remember his hand shaking from Parkinson’s as he tried to get the flame to take. It is an image that I will never forget. The 1996 Olympics were the first that I remember purposefully watching swimming. I recall American Amy Van Dyken winning four gold medals in swimming, the first American woman to win four titles in a single Olympiad. She won gold in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 4×100-meter freestyle relay, and 4×100-meter medley relay.
In track and field, Donovan Bailey of Canada won the men’s 100 meters, setting a new world record of 9.84 seconds at that time. Michael Johnson of the United States won gold in both the 200 meters and 400 meters, setting a new world record of 19.32 seconds in the 200. I remember Johnson and Bailey’s arguing over the title of “world’s fastest man”. The two later ran a 150 meter race to settle the issue, but Johnson pulled up with an injury, so it was never resolved. My man Carl Lewis was still around and I remember seeing him win his 4th long jump gold medal (at the age of 35).
The 2000 Olympics were in Sydney, Australia. I remember trying to study during my final year of Engineering school at Purdue, but my focus every night was on the TV as I watched the games. The first thing that I think of from these games is Vince Carter, from Team USA throwing down one of the most famous dunks in basketball history. After getting the ball off a steal, Carter drove to the basket, with 7’2″ French Center Frédéric Weis (yes, I had to look up his name) in his way. Carter jumped, spread his legs in midair, and jumped over Weis for the dunk.
I remember the US dominating in the pool as well. The men’s and women’s relay teams started a rivalry with the Australians that still exists.
In 2004, the Olympics were held in Athens, Greece. This was the coming-out party for Michael Phelps. This wasn’t his first games, but he dominated with eight medals (including a record 6 gold and 2 bronze), becoming the first athlete to win 8 medals in non-boycotted Olympics. He blew up several world record times along the way!
I also remember the United States losing for the first time in Olympic men’s basketball since 1992, the first time NBA players were permitted to play in the Games. This defeat came at the hands of Puerto Rico 92–73. They went on to lose three games and won the bronze. Needless to say, it was an embarrassing moment for the US and I remember the team at the next Olympics in 2008 making it their mission to dominate the sport that we invented.
I’ve always “loved” track and field events and I remember the US dominating in 2004. We swept medals in the Men’s 200 and 400 races.
The 2008 Games were in Beijing, China and the thing that sticks out in my memory the most is Usain Bolt. He broke the 100 meter world record (9.69 seconds). He thumped his chest in triumph over the last few meters and became an icon. He also set the record in the 200 meters and was caught looking at the big screen in the stadium as he cruised to victory. I also remember the venues. The “Bird’s Nest” and “The Cube” were amazing structures built just for the games. Michael Phelps standing on the deck of the pool and going crazy after American team mate Jason Lezak overtook France’s Alain Bernard on the final leg of the 4×100 freestyle relay is also a very vivid memory. This victory kept alive Phelps’s dream of beating Mark Spitz’s record from 1972 of seven golds in a Games – a dream he was to realize.
Given that I had just completed my first triathlon a few weeks prior to the start on the 2008 games, I was VERY interested in the triathlon race at the Olympics. In an exciting sprint finish, some guy named Jan Frodeno from German won the gold (he’s now the reigning Ironman World Champion).
The 2012 Games were held in London. A 15 year old Katie Ledecky won the 800 meter freestyle in the pool and Missy Franklin became a household name. I remember my Track and Field crush Lolo Jones coming up just short of a medal in the 100 meter hurdles. I remember South African double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius (the “Blade Runner”) advancing to the 400-meter semifinals. After losing to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic Trials, there was doubt about whether Usain Bolt would win either race in London. After winning the 100, he dominated all the way through the 200 to the point where he was able to slow down towards the end.
The moment that I remember move vividly than any other happened in the 10K race. Mo Farah (from the host country) and his training partner Galen Rupp worked together during the entire race and put themselves in great position at the end. The pulled away and Mo won in front of the packed stadium. Great Britain and the United States coming in 1-2 in a distance race was not supposed to happen. Mo’s reaction after the race is priceless! As a side note, keep on eye on Ralen Rupp in this year’s Olympics…he has a chance to be the first American ever to win the marathon.
So what will the 2016 games hold? Tune in and see!
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