As I’m sitting here, I’m watching the Olympics on TV. Right now men’s volleyball is on.
I grew up in a family where sports was a big deal, to the point that I did not realize that there was such a thing as someone who didn’t follow sports until I was around 20. The TV was pretty much always on in our house growing up, and during the Olympics, we’d usually watch whatever Olympic sport was on. My earliest memory of the Olympics was the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, shortly before my eighth birthday. This is the closest that I have ever lived to an Olympic Games at the time that they were happening; my childhood home is 308 miles from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (The distance from my current home to the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe and Reno, is closer than that, but I was not yet born in 1960.) I remember going to watch the torch relay as it passed through my neighborhood, just a few minutes’ walk from home, and I remember a lot of people going on and on about some gymnast named Mary Lou Retton, but all these years later I don’t have any particularly strong memories of any of her performances.
I remember things here and there about the other Olympics of my lifetime. Greg Louganis bleeding into the diving pool in Seoul in 1988, and it was only discovered later that he was HIV positive. MacGyvering an antenna for the TV cart in my math classroom in 1992, with the teacher’s permission, so we could watch the USA ice hockey team lose badly to the Unified Team (i.e, the former Soviet Union nations, since they had just broken up and did not have separate Olympic committees yet) in Albertville. Watching Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Larry Bird, and other NBA stars be allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, and rooting for them to lose. (See Highway Pi #17 from 2014 for more information on why I was hoping they would lose – I’m not hoping the same for this year’s men’s basketball team.) The Tonya Harding scandal in 1994 in Lillehammer (this was the year that the Olympic cycle changed so that Winter and Summer games would not be held in the same year.) Kerri Strug doing gymnastics with a sprained ankle in 1996 in Atlanta. My then-roommate, an avid snowboarder, being excited about snowboarding being in the Olympics for the first time in Nagano in 1998. Wrestler Rulon Gardner winning a gold medal in Sydney in 2000, then appearing on a special episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire featuring all Olympic athletes, and not doing very well. My memories of Salt Lake, Athens, and Turin are kind of fuzzy, but since 2008 I have a lot of Olympic memories again, most of which involve Michael Phelps in the summer and more heartbreaking losses for the USA men’s ice hockey team in the winter.
I think what I enjoy about the Olympics is a chance to get to watch sports that I don’t normally follow. There is more out there than baseball, American football, basketball, and hockey, and I don’t have time to follow all the sports out there. It is interesting to hear the announcers talk about the nations and cultures of the different competing athletes and teams. And of course, there are so many of the kind of memories I described above, so many great feats of athleticism, so many shocking upsets (for example, as I wrote this, Canada defeated the USA in men’s volleyball, 3 sets to 0), and so many defining moments that millions of people remember.
So I’m looking forward to watching some different sports in the next couple weeks. Game on.