posted by Matt W on August 8th, 2012

To me the Olympics are still pretty cool. While somewhat tainted by the professional nature of the games, it’s still exciting to watch the athletes compete at sports that I don’t commonly watch at such a high level. The interesting background stories and dramatic upsets always pull me to the screen every night. It’s a great couple of weeks of sports. But as I sat on my couch by myself changing between the 5 channels on my TV that were showing the Olympics non-stop, something didn’t feel quite “Olympic”. I was on orders from my daughter to call her when the gymnastics events started again; she was hanging out in her room. My wife was sitting in the kitchen with her computer, no doubt being productive, waiting for me to tell her when something exciting happened. My son was in his room on his computer, waiting for me to shout up that a soccer match had started. I guess I wasn’t truly alone; my dog was curled up against my foot. I sat in front of my big screen TV, serving as the gatekeeper to my family’s “Olympic” experience.

I still remember a great deal from the 72’ and 76’ Games. Every night during the Olympics we got to stay up late and watch the 2 hours of Olympic coverage on ABC with Jim McKay on a small black and white and then slightly larger color TV in 76’. I remember Olga Korbut doing amazing things that I couldn’t imagine, and then Nadia Comaneci getting a perfect 10 in the next Olympics. The huge Russian weightlifter Vasiliy Alekseyev setting world records with ease. Because he had developed his muscles for lifting, he couldn’t throw a ball very well and I remember thinking as an 8 year-old that I could throw a baseball farther than the world’s strongest man. I remember Dan Gable winning every wrestling match for the gold and have always liked following the teams he coached in college later in life because of it. I remember the US lost to Russia in basketball in a huge controversy. I remember, the Israeli Team being taken hostage and massacred; my first recollection of something really bad happening in the world. But mostly I remember it being a family experience. This was the Olympics. It only happened every 4 years and this was our country being represented by amateur athletes on a world stage. Everyone in the family got together and watched breathlessly as people did amazing things. I sat next to my grandfather during the US basketball defeat, and remember asking all sorts of why questions that nobody had an answer for. I remember wondering if Alekseyev really was stronger than my Dad as he was the strongest person I knew. One of the things I remember most about those Olympics was my Mom liked the name of the East German weightlifter Gerd Bonk. She would walk around the house and say his name every once in a while because she thought it sounded funny. “Gerd Bonk, Gerd Bonk, Gerd Bonk. Is that weightlifter going to be on TV tonight? Gerd Bonk.” It was the Olympics and every 4 years we did it together.

So back to the present, I yell at the family that the 15-year-old swimmer Katie Ledecky is winning the 800 meter freestyle, and they all scamper back to the family room. We watch her win the race, get her gold medal and listen to the Star Spangled Banner together, as a family. The Olympics bring the world together for a couple weeks every 4 years, and it’s especially nice when that bonding starts in my home.

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