In 1977, my kindergarten teacher asked each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Overwhelmingly, the answer was an Olympian. Whether we were on the playground at school or playing in our yards, my friends and I played “Lympics” and held countless ceremonies of our own by draping towels around our shoulders and proudly wearing clover flower necklaces as our medals.
The Olympians were our superheroes! We had our own backyard version of the decathlon after Bruce Jenner won gold and we all begged our moms to sign us up for tumbling after seeing Nadia. The level of enthusiasm we had for the Olympics was unmatched.
Learning that the U.S. would not compete in 1980’s Moscow games was a devastating blow but when the Los Angeles games in 1984 began, we were glued to our televisions. The United States won a stunning 83 gold medals and a total of 174. The Team USA performance was dominant, and the country stood united behind them. Fans flocked to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, fries and a Coke as the company regrettably offered free meals every time the U.S reached the medals podium.
That summer, my cousin and I were convinced we could be the next world champions as a dual threat in both synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics. We practiced tirelessly in our Aunt Jane’s backyard pool working on our killer entry. When not in the pool, we did a thousand cartwheels all while trying to hold on to a purple ball. We might have been a mess but at least we were outside playing and getting plenty of exercise.
This is the year we were introduced to Mary Lou Retton, Greg Louganis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Joan Benoit and so many more. I recall watching as Swiss marathon runner Gabriela Andersen-Schiess entered the coliseum at the end of her race. Suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, her body was contorted as she struggled to finish. She was determined and for a few moments, the world joined together and cheered for her to finish.
Those are the moments and the experiences that make the Olympics special to me, the athletes who, without the Olympic platform, might not ever have their stories told or their years of hard work witnessed. It’s the triumphs despite all the obstacles that are encouraging and even relatable. They remind us that we humans have more in common than not.
In 1996, when the Olympics were hosted by Atlanta, the Argentina soccer team stayed in Cullman at St. Bernard. My grandmother, who probably had never seen one second of a soccer game in her entire life, was so into the team being here that we wondered if she was all right. She talked about it every Sunday when we came to visit. When the Olympic soccer was finally underway in Birmingham, she watched them with an intensity that was, well, weird. But that’s OK, she was happy. Argentina won silver that year and oh, was she proud.
The Tokyo Games have also delivered plenty of inspiring moments that demonstrate all that is good in this world. Here are a few examples:
- U.S. Army 1st Lt. Amber English bringing home the gold in women’s skeet shooting.
- U.S. Army Sgt. and graduate of Troy University Vincent Hancock winning gold in men’s skeet shooting.
- The Lithuanians winning gold in men’s 3X3 basketball with one player’s shoe taped together and another teammate who was unable to walk by the end of the game. Their determination to win was incredible.
- Fiji’s rugby sevens team won gold and watching them on the medal podium as they sang and celebrated left me smiling.
Those are just a couple of examples of great moments, and I am giddy with anticipation to see what the second week will bring. I am ready to see Hartselle’s Quanesha Burks compete and all the other Team USA hopefuls who deserve our support.
Though over the years, there have been controversies and there have been a handful of athletes who have displayed disappointing behavior but for me, the Olympics are still magical. I refuse to allow a couple of bad actors keep me from witnessing the hundreds of amazing moments and stories provided by the other dedicated athletes. These Olympics are their dream come true–something they have likely dreamed of and worked toward since their own kindergarten teachers asked them what they hoped to be one day.
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