Thursday, 9 August 2012

Olympic Memories

I have major reservations about some of the UK media coverage of the Olympics, and also a sceptical view of the "Team GB" hysteria, but I have become more and more immersed in the Games over recent days, tending to focus on some of the "minority" sports, or those where the British have no meaningful presence.  This has all got me thinking about my own Olympic memories.

The Munich Olympics passed me by, as I was less than three years old at the time.  However, "Mark Spitz" was possibly one of the first famous names which I picked up in those formative years, even though for a while I was unaware of what exactly he was famous for!

I have clear recollections of watching the '76 Montreal Games, although still too young to discern and absorb many of the intricacies of the various events. Some of the clearest images were David Wilkie's astounding swim in the 200 metres breastroke (as well as Alan Weeks' iconic TV commentary), and the exploits of Nadia Comaneci in the gymnastics. The East Germans were also making their presence felt, although my naive young mind did not yet grasp some of the more sinister overtones of all that.

The 1980 Olympics in this country were largely defined by the much-anticipated "showdown" between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. I know that the passage of time can dull the effect, but I remember it all being curiously flat and anti-climactic.  The location of the Games, and the boycott, may have contributed to this.  Those 1980 Games kind of passed me by.

By contrast, I have very fond memories of 1984 and Los Angeles.  The time-difference meant that the TV coverage went on until the early hours of the morning, and by then I was at that age when I was permitted to stay up that late! 

Some of my recollections from those Games are a touch obscure.  Britain's first medal was won by a chap called Michael Sullivan in the shooting events, and I remember that the BBC cameras were rolling as he telephoned his wife back in England to relay the good news. 

Early in the Games there was a wonderful duel in the cycling road race, involving American Alexi Grewal and Canada's Steve Bauer.  This had me enthralled for a couple of hours, and Grewal won, somewhat surprisingly, in a sprint finish.

I followed most of the track and field events in 1984 from beneath a blanket on our sofa, and remember waking my brother up with cries of "fantastic!" as Seb Coe retained his 1500 metres crown.

Above all,1984 was the first time when the Games seemed modern, contemporary and immediately accessible, this all no doubt driven by technology.

1988 and Seoul was a different story.  I had just left school, and was in the process of applying for jobs, and traumatic and distressing events were taking place in my family. The Olympics naturally took a back seat, and those Games for me had a strangely lacklustre and sterile feel anyway.  I can't really explain why.

Of all the Olympic Games which I have watched, I would have to say that Barcelona in 1992 was the most enjoyable.  Barcelona itself proved to be a spectacular venue and backdrop, and there was a real dynamism and colour about the whole fortnight.  I booked two weeks off work, specifically to submerge myself in the event, and it proved immensely pleasurable.

Since then, my interest in contemporary Olympics has waned, although I have continued to be fascinated and absorbed by the history.  Commercialism, doping and my own shifting attitudes and world-view have all played a part in this.  Despite this, however, there are still moments when the Olympic Games can deliver sporting theatre like no other event on Earth.

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