What do you think of when you think Olympic History? Do you hearken back to the “true” history, when the ancient Greeks lay down their weapons, celebrated sport and competed on the athletic field. Or do you think of recent Olympic history, and the spectacular memories it evokes- Kerri Strug, Jesse Owens, Tommy Smith, to name but a few. Or do you have you’re own personal history of the Olympics, those Olympic moments that are emblazoned on your own memory, which may mean little to others, but you’ll never forget.
But before we start down memory lane, before we even decide which history we will follow, we have to discuss what comes next. To any person of a certain age, the term “Agony of Defeat” means only one thing- the skier falling off the end of the jump.
And that is the perfect metaphor for the Olympic athlete. Let’s take Bryan Clay, the U.S. 2008 Gold Medal winner in the decathlon. Just last week, while qualifying for the 2012 games, he tripped on a hurdle in the 110, and was DQ’d from the event. The United States will only send 2 decathletes to the games, because of Clay’s mis-step in the 110. So after 4 years of daily training at an elite level to represent his country, a split second error and it’s all over. And with no Professional Decathlon League, Clay’s career is effectively over, unless he chooses to pursue 2016. A life’s training, whoosh, in a split second. That’s what is meant by the agony of defeat. So as you watch the 2012 Olympics, and you see the athletes competing at such a high level in all the sports, stepping to the podium to receive their accolades – remember all the Bryan Clays, in all the countries all over the world, who dedicated their lives, and are home because of a split second error.
These athletes made it, and have become part of the Olympics tradition of achievement.
In 1996, Kerri Strug slightly injured her ankle on her first vault. With the Americans in a precarious position to defeat the Russians for the overall Team Gold, She asked her coach, Bela Karolyi, if she needed to vault a second time. He replied, We need you to go one more time. She did, and severely sprained her already injured ankle on the landing. She did not compete in the individual events that followed, but she brought home the first team Gold for Americans gymnasts.
I saw this live on TV, and it was one of the most amazing athletic feats I have ever witnessed, and I am a bit of a sports junkie. He broke the record by TWO FEET. In a sport that usually measured advances in inches, Bob Beamon shattered the record in Mexico City in 1968
It’s 1968. Martin Luther King has been assassinated. Robert Kennedy has been assassinated. There are riots in the streets of America. At the Democratic convention, Mayor Daly brings out the riot police, and bans the playing of the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man. And in Mexico City, Tommy Smith and John Carlos come to the podium barefoot, signifying the poverty of their upbringing, and raise their black fisted gloves to the sky. So powerful.
It’s 1936, and the Olympics are being held in Munich , Germany. Hitler is using the Olympics to further his propaganda about Aryan supremacy- he even went so far as to suggest that Jews and Blacks be excluded from the games. After a threatened boycott, Hitler relented. He did not greet Jesse Owens after his 100 meter dash win, and was told by the IOC to either greet all victors, or none at all. Hitler greeted none, which saved him some embarrassment, because Owens won four Gold medals at those Olympics.
Michael Phelps won EIGHT gold medals at Beijing in 2008. Eight gold medals at one Olympics is a record that will stand for a long time, and he’s poised to for a chance to add to that total this year. No one has ever performed at this level in the Olympics. No one. That’s a lot of weight to have hanging around your neck- EIGHT gold medals.
Do you agree? Did I leave out your favorite moment? Let me know- there’s lots of time before the Olympics start to get a new list going!