Thursday, August 9, 2012

1972: An 8 Year Old's Olympic Memories

While watching these 2012 London Summer Olympics I found myself reminiscing about the 1972 Munich games, the first Olympics that I remember; an Olympiad that aired on ABC when I was only 8 years old.  While the 1972 Games are remembered for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes, a memory still engrained in my mind, I can still the images and video of the competition as if it was yesterday.

I remember unheralded Cuban Superheavyweight boxer Teofilo Stevenson  destroying the competition including American favorite Duane Bobick.  Stevenson was a wrecking ball and I can see Bobick getting sent to the canvas three times in the third round.  Stevenson would go on to win gold in 72, 76, and 80.

 I remember watching Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren win both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs, a feat he would repeat four years later in Montreal.  Don’t ask me how or why I remember The Flying Finn.

I remember American medalists Bob Seagren in the pole vault and Dwight Stones in the high jump.  I was a big fan of Seagren;  Stones….not so much.  It was soon after the Olympics that Seagren would be featured on ABC’s The Superstars (remember that?)and then playing Billy Crystal’s boyfriend in season one of Soap.

I remember US Gold and Silver medalists Vince Mathews and Wayne Collett standing on the podium after the 400m race chatting away like they were waiting for a bus.  I remember the outrage on TV and the disappointment in my house.  How could these guys be so disrespectful of the flag and to the U.S.?  It wasn’t until later that I appreciated the concept of protest and disenfranchisement.  Things were very complicated.

I remember Soviet sprinter Valeri Borzov winning the 100m gold after American favorites Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson were DQ’d for missing their preliminary heats.  Today we have apps to remind us when we’re supposed to be at the track and ready to run.

I remember  the legendary Mark Spitz winning seven golds and setting seven world records in seven races.  He didn’t win those races, he destroyed the competition.

I remember the cap wearing 800m gold medal winner Dave Wottle coming from last place in the last 200 meters to win the gold and the look on the competitors faces of who was that guy?

I remember Munich-born American marathoner Frank Shorter winning the gold medal after an imposter entered the stadium ahead of Shorter prompting ABC announcer Erich Segal to scream “It’s a fraud Frank.”

I remember the mammoth Soviet Super Heavyweight Weightlifter Vasily Alexsiev who allegedly could stop a bullet in his stomach which seemed like an impressive skill when you’re 8.

I remember crying over the men’s basketball gold medal game where some douche bag in the stands made sure the evil Soviets beat our baby faced freckled American college kids.  Damn Commies.

I remember U.S. 1,500m favorite Jim Ryun tripping during a qualifying heat and not being able to run in the final.  His arch rival Kip Keino from Kenya (say that five times fast) would go on to win the silver medal in the 1,500 and the gold in the  3,000m steeplechase.  Don’t ask me how I can remember the name of a Kenyan track star, but I also remember Ugandan hurdler John Akii Bua. 

I remember American wrestler Dan Gable not only dominating his weight class, but going the entire tournament without  getting  scored on.

And I remember Sugar Ray Seales, the only American gold medal winner during that Olympiad.  The other Sugar Ray.

I think I remember so much about that Olympiad because I was transfixed to the TV.  Watching the events while reading through Sports Illustrated to see who the magazine predicted would win each event.  In subsequent years (76 & 80) I would be at overnight summer camp, something lots of Jewish kids in the 70’s experienced, with little time to watch.  1980 was the protest year so, well who cares right?  After that it was work getting in the way of watching.

The 1972 games will be special to me and the memories have hardly faded over 40 years (is that possible?).  I have great respect for Phelps and Gabbie, Misty and Missy, Ally and Allyson, and the rest of the winners and competitors.  But I won’t remember them like Dave Wottle and Kip Keino.  Why?  Is it because in 1972 there was three network channels and a few UHF stations?  Newspapers no websites?  Maybe.  I remember Wide World of Sports and the only endorsements seemed to be Wheaties and Gillette.  Fewer distractions and I suppose athletes are heroes to 8 year old boys.

I didn’t mean to go all Kevin Arnold Wonder Years on you, but it just hit me watching these games that while the athletic achievements are impressive and worthy of high praise I still wasn’t feeling an emotional attachment. 

But above all, I can still see Jim McKay and hear his words that I will never ever forget:

When I was a kid my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone.”

A world of wonder and an innocence lost….for all of us.

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