I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Between Vietnam, Kent state, and Watergate, my television didn’t have much good to offer each evening. Sure, there were the Apollo missions every-so-often, and Fractured Fairytales on Saturday mornings, but during the dinner hour, television was our household conduit to the fearful and foreboding atmosphere of the day.
Every four years though, dad would relinquish the large round knob on the upper right-hand corner of the Admiral television set in our living room, and let my brother and I watch as much Olympic coverage as we wanted. That was the golden age of the Summer Olympics.
To this day, when people speak of Mexico City, Munich, or Montreal, before I think of anything else, I think of the summer games. I think of John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Mark Spitz, Dave Wottle, Steve Prefontaine, Olga Korbut, Bruce Jenner, and Ray Leonard, among many others. Those were just a handful of people who made the summer games of that era iconic.
When I watched the Olympics, there was no Vietnam, there were no race riots, and Nixon was an afterthought. Those were the first times I remember escaping reality through sports. Even during the tragedy in Munich, the world seemed to unite, if only for a moment, and the games went on.
Between 1968 and 1976 I was certain I was going to be an Olympian. I tried my hand at everything — boxing, diving, swimming, and I even set up a decathlon course in my backyard, minus the polevault. And of course, I tried my hand at Olympic style weightlifting. I sucked at every sport and have continued to suck at every athletic endeavor I’ve ever attempted. The only thing I came close to being good at was 3-meter springboard diving, but I gave that up to pursue the weight room — which I also sucked at and still do.
It was the Olympics though, that got me interested in athleticism. It was also the Olympics that introduced me to people to cheer for — my first heroes, if you will. I had their pictures on my wall, I tried to emulate them, I cheered for them when they won, and I cried when they lost. Watching the Summer Olympics was transformative.
And then politics set in, 1980 and 1984 — the two summer Olympiads that will be forever remembered as being incomplete. That was the first of what would be many disconnects between me and the Summer Olympics, and I’ll suggest, for millions of others also.
The games would recover and continue on in exotic places like Seoul, Barcelona, Sydney, and Athens. They had an allure to them, but the magic of the Summer Olympics I knew in my youth had faded. In-part, that was probably due to having to make a living, marriage, fatherhood, and all the adult responsibilities that go with all of those.
Today, the Olympics bring about thoughts of television marketshare, product endorsements, performance-enhancing drugs, gender roles, and the multitude of electronic platforms available to watch them on. It all seems too complicated for me — like too much work is involved in both watching and enjoying them.
Before I began writing this, I sat in my dark living room, pre-dawn, sipping coffee and watching the highlight of a 17-year-old girl from Alaska touch the wall before any other swimmer in the pool. Lydia Jacoby had won the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke. Tears fell from my cheek to my tongue and I sucked snot like a toddler — and it was only a replay. I’m glad I was alone.
My connection to the Olympics may not be what it was when I was 6 or 10 or 14 years old. But I was reminded this morning of the value of distraction and the need for inspiration. The world can still be a fearful and foreboding place, and I’m grateful to have been drawn in, if only for a while.
“It’s not the 6-minutes. It’s what happens in that 6-minutes…”
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 6
Mph Avg: 15.1
Seat Time: 12 hours 41 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from Roky Erickson. Enjoy…