Thursday, July 26, 2012

Can you hear the Olympic theme song?

        I love the Olympics; I always have.
        Love the Opening Ceremony, love the spectacular (and sometimes outrageous) show, love the parade of athletes by nations, the pomp of the Olympic flag being carried in, really love the lighting of the Olympic flame.
        Love the Olympic theme music -- the one made so famous by ABC Television. You know it ... dum, dum, de-dum-dum-dum-dum But I also love the theme written by John Williams -- the best composer of our era -- for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles ...
        So bring on Friday night's Opening Ceremony for the Summer Games' third time in London.
        Mostly I love the competition, the spirit of sport, the supposedly real reason why the Olympics began in the first place.
        Yes, I'll be pulling for the United States, and for Holland (which won't be much of a factor, except maybe in swimming). But I'll appreciate any of the outstanding performances and the drama which any Olympics inevitably produce.
         You had to marvel at Usain Bolt's of lightning in the sprints four years ago in Beijing, and Michael Phelps' eight gold-medal haul in swimming. But I could take you back to hundreds of moments to cherish over the years.
          As a kid, I absorbed the Olympics. I had several books on Olympics history -- a couple in Dutch -- and I practically memorized them. The first time I saw the Olympics on television -- Rome, 1960 -- I was hooked. Oh, the memories of the young boxer, Cassius Clay, proudly showing off his gold medal. He seemed just a bit confident.
          My dad loved the Olympics, too. He was 9 when the Summer Games came to his hometown, Amsterdam, in 1928, and he would tell me how exciting it was in the city those two weeks.
           My first Olympic heroes were two athletes from Holland who were among the world's best when we -- yes, it was "we" then -- didn't win much in anything.
Billy Mills, a miracle 10,000-meter run, 1964 Tokyo
           Fanny Blankers-Koen, "The Flying Housewife," who was 30 and the mother of two when she won four gold medals in track at the 1948 Games in London, and a speed skater, Kees Broekman, who won two silver medals in Helsinki, Finland, in the 1952 Winter Games.
           But starting in the Melbourne Games of 1956 -- the year Bobby Morrow of Abilene Christian dominated the sprints in track and field -- I pulled for the U.S. of A., and "we" won in almost everything. Nice.
           However, age creeps up, and I'm not an Olympics "nut" anymore (OK, go and laugh at the "nut" reference). I'll watch, but I won't spend hours and hours. And, honestly, I'm not so keen on the nationalism aspect of the Olympics these days. Not going to root against the U.S., but let's appreciate all of what we see and let's hope politics in judging -- always a factor -- doesn't get in the way of performance.
            And surely NBC will present some great stories -- just as ABC did all those years -- and we'll admire some of the world's best athletes, such as the young Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast who in 1976 (Montreal) was a perfect 10 a few years before Bo Derek hit that number in the movie.
             Maybe something will happen that will make it on my list of favorite Olympic moments. But it's going to be tough. I'll give you my top three:
              (3) Billy Mills, a Native American practically unheard of before the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, charged down the middle of the track with a late sprint and won the 10,000-meter race, the only time a U.S. runner has ever won the event. They made a movie, Running Brave, on Mills' life and on this victory.
Muhammad Ali, Atlanta, 1996
              (2) Muhammad Ali -- maybe the best-known athlete in the world -- stepping out of the shadows, shakily taking the Olympic torch and then lighting the flame to begin the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. It was a moment for the ages.
              (1) The U.S. Olympic hockey team's victory against the Russians in the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid -- our college kids beating the world's greatest team. Al Michaels: Do you believe in miracles? ... Yes. 
                But so many heartbreaks, too.
                Jim Ryun, just graduated from high school but already the world's greatest middle distance runner ... until the 1,500-meter final in Mexico City when Kip Keino ran away from him in the final lap. We didn't know then, but that was the start of Kenya's world domination in distance running.
                The biggest ripoff in Olympic history: The U.S. men's basketball team -- which had never lost an Olympic game -- getting robbed of the gold medal when Russia was given two, three -- who was counting? -- chances to win the game in Munich in 1972. Sure, it was our kids against their men, but what a joke.
               Munich, 1972. Olympic losses on the track or in the pool or on a basketball court were nothing compared to Black Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1972 -- the day Palestinian terrorists went into the Olympic village and held members of the Israeli Olympic delegation hostage all day. That night Jim McKay, who had anchored ABC's coverage of the 16-hour saga, said those unforgettable words: "They're gone ... they're all gone."
               Eleven people murdered. Eleven Jews, on German ground. It was -- and is -- too haunting.
               Better to think of all the great memories the Olympics have given us, and to look forward to the memories to be created in the next couple of weeks.
                Which brings me to a couple of final points. Look, I love basketball, and I love great players. This might sound un-American, but I honestly don't look forward to watching the U.S. stomp these other countries. Any team with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook figures to be pretty good.
                I don't want them to lose, but like I said, I like competition. So give the other teams a 20-point head start, for the sake of competitiveness. Make it interesting to watch.
                Otherwise, I'll be flipping channels looking for Holland in field hockey.
                Last, and I'm bragging here, on the afternoon of the start of the Atlanta Games, I predicted Ali would be the one to light the flame. So I will predict that the honor Friday night will go to Sir Roger Bannister.
                And it will be a great moment when Queen Elizabeth II -- in her 60th year as queen of England -- declares open the Games of the XXX Olympiad.


1 comment:

  1. A couple of points, if I may ...

    1. Did you know that Jim McKay was not the Olympic Host on ABC in 1972? Chris Schenkel was, but Schenkel had a late night and they wanted him to rest, so they called McKay in to handle the coverage that started in the morning.

    2. If the other countries are going to send NBA players, we should too. If we are better, then so be it. You think we should send kids from City of Shreveport Swim Team to make it even in swimming too? Stomp away!