The greatest sporting event begins this week.
While I love college football and college basketball, especially March Madness, nothing compares to the two and a half weeks that are the Olympics, which rotate every two years between the summer events and the winter ones.
Olympism, according to the Olympic Charter, combines sport with culture and education to create “a way of life” based on joy in effort, good example and respect.
It’s the culmination of childhood dreams. It’s living four years at a time, and the realization of goals, hard work and love of sport.
And I am absolutely fascinated by it all. Some (my husband, for example) might call it a bit of an obsession.
I was nine years old when I watched the 1984 Olympics, a few weeks before I started fourth grade at Eugene Field Elementary. And I was hooked.
Those games in Los Angeles are the first ones I can remember — Carl Lewis, running and jumping to four gold medals, the men’s gymnastics team winning gold, and of course, Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10s.
Four years later in Seoul, I remember seeing Greg Louganis smack his head and then go on to win two gold medals.
The Battle of the Brians, American Brian Boitano and Canadian Brian Orser, in figure skating at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
The “Dream Team” of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and the gang hit the Olympics in 1992, beating teams by an average of over 43 points per game and easily taking the gold.
More recently, in 2012, when Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, breaking Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds in one Olympics.
And in 2014, American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, at the age of 32 and who had recently come out of retirement, took the silver.
(I could go on and on about my favorite moments but you’d probably stop reading)
It’s not just the athletes and their quest for gold that I love seeing, though. It’s really about the stories.
Who could ever forget gymnast Kerri Strug at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. With a broken ankle, she stuck the landing on her second vault that led the US team to the gold medal.
At the 2000 Olympics, three-time Olympic champion wrestler, Aleksandr Karelin, had not lost a match in 13 years and hadn’t given up a single point in six years when he faced Rulon Gardner. The Wyoming cowboy was competing in only his second major international event and upset Karelin to win the gold.
Probably one of the greatest stories I’ve ever witnessed was also in those Sydney games, when I was nine months pregnant with my daughter, Hannah.
The story is that of Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who had never seen a regulation-length swimming pool before arriving at the 2000 Olympics.
In fact, he had only been swimming competitively for nine months.
When his preliminary 100m freestyle race was about to begin, the only other two athletes in his heat were disqualified, leaving Moussambani to swim alone.
His time of 1.52.72 is one of the slowest in Olympic history, but as he swam, and as he struggled to finish, the spectators surrounding the pool rose to encourage him. They cheered as if he was one of their own.
Nearly 18 years later, I still get emotional when I think about Moussambani.
While there has been much controversy surrounding the 2018 winter games because of North Korea, the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang will make history, just as each one has done before.
Heather Whipps, in “How the Olympics Changed the World,” wrote: “When French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin proposed reviving a version of the ancient Greek Olympics, he did so with good intentions in mind. The late 19th century had been fraught with international conflict, and the baron saw the Olympics as a way of promoting peace between warring nations alongside the athletic competitions.
“This has been the case in many ways, with touching moments of international cooperation speckling the highlight reels. When Cathy Freeman, an Australian Aborigine who won the 400m race in front of a jubilant home crowd in 2000 in Sydney, for example, many historians saw it as a symbol of reconciliation with Australia’s native peoples. Or the rousing success of the 1992 games in Barcelona, when Germany competed as a unified nation for the first time since 1964 and post-apartheid South Africa was finally invited back to the Olympics after a 30-year absence.”
The games, for me, are still simply about the athletes, their countries and the world coming together, watching it all unfold and sharing the stories that will be remembered for generations to come.
And being able to share it with my family, especially my daughter who was born during those 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well” ― Pierre de Coubertin