Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Olympic experience, 1980

I know I'm not done blogging about our vacation to Florida when I was 11, but I wanted to write about two Winter Olympics before February ended.

In 1980, the Winter Olympics were coming to the United States. In 1976, I was too young to remember the Innsbruck Winter Games, and I only vaguely remembered watching the Montreal Summer Games. So the Lake Placed Games were really my first Olympics. My mother bought the book I have pictured here (no, it's not my original; this one I found on eBay, hence the library sticker across it that I can't tear off without ripping the cover). This guide provided a history of each event and the Winter Games themselves, a preview of that year's Olympics, and spaces to write in the medal winners from that February. For a few weeks, this might have been the only book I read, and it instantly hooked me into watching the Winter Olympics.

Up until the final weekend of the Olympics, the big story of Lake Placid was Eric Heiden and his insanely wide thighs winning five gold medals in speedskating. But I enjoyed watching other events as well, including ski jumping, luge, bobsled and Alpine skiing. Amazingly, I even watched figure skating and didn't think it sucked. Perhaps because there weren't as many events then as there are now (snowboarding, moguls, super combined and women's hockey), watching the Winter Olympics was manageable, especially for a 9-year-old.

On the last Friday of the Games, the U.S. played Russia in one of the semifinals in men's hockey. I don't think I had been following hockey as much as the other sports, so I didn't realize how big a deal this game was. I had gone to Pals (an AWANA club a little like Boy Scouts ... a topic for another nostalgic post) that night and got back to discover the game was on TV, the U.S. was beating Russia, and that history was about to be made. I watched the rest of the game (unbeknownst to me at the time, tape-delayed), witnessed Al Michaels' famous "Do you believe in miracles?" exclamation, and hopefully, went crazy along with the rest of America.



Two days later, I watched what might have been my first complete hockey game as the U.S. defeated Finland to clinch the gold medal. It was a perfect ending to two weeks of being glued to the Olympics.

I stayed hooked on the Olympics, especially captivated by the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the 1992 Games in Barcelona (no, I didn't order the Olympic Triple Cast), Dan Jansen in 1994, and Michael Johnson in 1996. I wonder if my 1980 self so enamored with the Olympics would think if he knew that 22 years later, I'd be in an Olympic city as a journalist producing Olympic newspaper sections.

One other thing: I'm so grateful to my mother for buying me the Winter Olympics guide in the winter of 1980. I'm sure she was at Jewel or Dominick's, saw the book next to the magazines in a checkout aisle, and thought I'd like it. Looking back through the years, I see little bits and pieces of my life that gradually sent me into a career as a sports journalist. The book Mom bought me surely was one of them.

No comments: