It would be a stretch to say I measure my life by the Olympics, since I’m not all that athletic and I don’t follow most of these sports in the intervening years. But my memories of certain Olympic Games are definitely tied to memories of what was going on in my life at that time. As we’ve watched the drama and glory unfold in London, I’ve been remembering other Olympic summers.
The first Olympics I remember were the ’92 Barcelona Games, not so much for the Dream Team (though I did watch them) as for the gymnastics. My sister is the one who took lessons, but my whole family watched in awe as Vitaly Scherbo dominated the men’s competition. The Berlin Wall hadn’t been down all that long, and there was a lot of confusion over where, exactly, all these countries from the former Soviet Union were located.
(Twelve years later, as a college student, I walked through Montjuic, the area of south Barcelona containing many of the Olympic venues. After nine days trekking through six Spanish cities and a near-miss when terrorists bombed the train station in Madrid, an afternoon in Montjuic, with its pools and parks, was balm to my soul.)
I was 12, just old enough to be captivated, when the Magnificent Seven dominated the women’s gymnastics competition in the Atlanta ’96 games. I cut out newspaper clippings of Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller and their teammates, to glue into a scrapbook streaked with red, blue and silver glitter. I remember Dominique Moceanu’s sassy floor routine to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and standing in the living room gasping and cheering as Kerri Strug completed her historic pair of vaults. Every time they show that clip on TV, I can hear my dad’s voice saying, “Girls, you’re watching history.” And we were.
The 2004 Athens Games began as I returned to Abilene to begin my junior year of college (after spending the spring in Oxford). The day after the Opening Ceremonies, my friend Cheryl was killed in a car wreck, leaving our Oxford group stunned and numb. Those Olympics are mostly a blur now, though I remember spending hours at the house we called House 9 (our group’s headquarters till we graduated from college), watching swimming and diving and gymnastics without really seeing them, trying to take in what had happened. The joy of the Games was a stark contrast to the first real tragedy I’d ever had to deal with.
When J and I got married in June 2008, we inherited an old, bulky TV from my parents – an unwieldy number, nearly as deep as it was wide. We had neither a cable subscription nor a sufficiently wide stand, so we set it in the corner of our living room (classy, I know). Between finishing a master’s thesis (me), working on graduate school assignments (Jeremiah) and unpacking our new home and settling into life together (both of us), we watched Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin wow the world in Beijing, and watched Michael Phelps rack up more and more and more medals, and flash that smile of his after every race.
This Olympics began for us in D.C., where we toasted the London opening ceremonies with tea and scones at Jaclyn’s house. We’ve had the TV on every night (unusual for us), watching the stories unfold. We particularly love the swimming (Michael Phelps! Missy Franklin! The entire U.S. team in relays!), the gymnastics (Gabby Douglas and the whole women’s squad), and women’s beach volleyball (Kerri and Misty!).
The Olympics are the only sporting event which excites both of us equally (I’ve been yelling at the TV even more than Jeremiah). We make fun of the commentators’ hyperbole, we beg for more coverage of non-U.S. athletes, we roll our eyes at the hundreds of commercials. But we can’t tear our eyes away. We love the thrill, the glory, the drama, the stories. And I love that the Olympics, winter and summer, are now bound up with the story of our life together.
What do you love and remember about the Summer Olympics? I’d love to hear your memories.