The 2012 Olympic games kickoff is this weekend in London and the Brits will have their hands full trying to top Beijing four years ago. Over the years the meaning of the Olympics, like sports, has definitely changed. Amateurs are gone and sponsorships are massive. Still there is nothing better than watching athletes represent their countries in what should be the pinnacle of a career even for those that play for money.
Missing the Cold War?
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union the Olympics were much like an old western where the color of the hat established the status of good guy/bad guy. The good guys wore red, white and blue and the bad guys wore the CCCP and a hammer and sickle. Some of my fondest memories of watching the Olympics were during the Cold War.
Now I’m not by any means suggesting that we return to the days of potential nuclear proliferation and duck and cover drills. However, you have to admit the Olympics were much more interesting when it was the U.S. amateurs against the Soviets, who kept their athletes as part of their army keeping them at amateur status despite their obvious advanced age.
Every event, especially major sports covered by the networks, were their own little Cold War battles. At stake was more than athletic dominance; it was viewed as a measuring stick on your way of life. It was capitalism and democracy against communism. It was a battle of government styles. It was a short-term answer to conflicts that stemmed from the end of World War II. It was a replacement via the athletic fields for what thankfully never happened on the battlefields
For some sports even the judging became political.
In activities where a judge decides the outcome like boxing, gymnastics, diving, and in the winter figure skating, the judges had to have equal representation based upon what side of the Iron Curtain the country was on with a neutral country to keep the perception of fairness. Then of course, the judges would make calls that looked political, a communist judge would downgrade the American while a NATO country judge would mark down the Soviet bloc country’s participant. It made for incredible drama and spectacular disgust at home as my parents would curse the Soviet judge for “sticking it to the American.”
My parents were enthralled with watching the Olympics.
My mother, who rarely if ever watched sports, was tuned in every night for the Olympics from the spectacle of the opening ceremonies to events she normally could care less about. My dad was an NFL football guy and rarely watched anything else, but when the Olympics were on he was at full attention. As little as my dad knew or cared about basketball, he knew every detail of the 1972 Soviet game where the Russians and the IOC robbed Doug Collins and the U.S. team in the famous thrice replayed three seconds, my first lesson in Cold War politics. He told me of the medal ceremony that the U.S. boycotted and the story of how those medals would never be claimed, and to this day are still locked away. Then in 1976 we watched basketball intensely as Dean Smith’s team recaptured the gold.
Hockey was never turned on in my childhood home. I mean never. But on February 22 in 1980 our TV, like everyone else’s that night, was tuned to Al Michaels and the USA vs USSR Hockey game during the Lake Placid Olympics. It is perhaps my best sports memory as a young man and when Mike Eruzione slapped a shot in the net in the fourth period my house erupted. I never saw time move so slowly the rest of the night as the U.S .held off a superior Soviet squad. The hockey victory that year was a big deal in my home. It signaled rejuvenation after a tough year of gas shortages and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Now, let’s be perfectly clear that I am in no way longing for a world on the continual brink of armed conflict. The games today are far more of what they were intended to be, the celebration of human achievement in the spirit of competition. I look forward to the games this week and an opportunity for those that commit themselves to excellence to find a brief moment in the spotlight just as much as those that collect enormous checks do. Next week we’ll look at the historic impact of the Olympics on history and society. Enjoy the games this week !
Pre-season workouts are in full swing so don’t forget to get in contact with your school. Fall sports begin in three weeks and its time to get a physical for participation.
Piedra Vista Cross Country is hosting the last of its 5K runs this summer as fundraising events for their team. The PVXC Summer 5K Series will finish up Aug. 11 at PVHS. For information contact Coach Sage at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Piñon Hills Golf Classic, benefitting the San Juan County First Tee program will be held at Piñon Hills Golf Course on July 28 and 29. Entry fee is $150 for amateurs and $200 for professionals. For further information call the Piñon Hills clubhouse at 505.326.6066 or at pinonhillsgolf.com