Friday, February 12, 2010

My History with the Olympics

I know some people have a bucket list, those things that they want to accomplish before they leave this life for parts unknown. I've accomplished quite a bit in my time so far, and plan on doing a heck of a lot more before I depart, mostly because I want to see things for myself. And no surprise that most of my things that I want to do involve sports and sporting events. I've been able to witness soccer across the pond, more that a few baseball parks, a few NFL games, and traveled to various parts of the world to walk and see the sights. But nothing has carried quite the appeal for me than the Olympics.
I think it was the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games that piqued my interest, although the 1980 Lake Placid Winter games certainly stuck with me after the Miracle on Ice. I also enjoyed seeing many of the sporting events that the Olympics have that up to that point you just didn't see on television, like speed skating. But the LA games were a big deal, as my cross country coach was going to see some of the events himself, and he talked about it quite a bit in class before the summer break. As the summer wore on, I didn't think much about it until I got a call from him asking me what I was doing on July 4th. The Olympic Torch Relay was going through Boise, and he wanted to know if I was available to escort the torch runner. Apparently, the USOC asked local cross country coaches to find team members to run in the event, and of course, I was honored to be asked and so of course I said yes.
It was a hot July 4th day when I met my coach and some of my teammates at the Boise Amtrak Station. The plan was to meet the torch runner here, and then run from here to the State Capitol for the relay exchange. I hadn't run much since the track season has ended, but I figured I could wing my way along good enough to keep up. But as I put on the uniform and put on my running shoes, I didn't think about that. I was just honored to be part of history, and as the gentleman ran up with the flame, I got caught up in the moment. It was historic, breathtaking, and overwhelming, and by the time I realized it, we'd ran to the capitol and the exchange had been done. The moment was over, but it was truly a moment that I treasured. And when a good friend asked the gentlemen if he could hold the torch for a picture and then asked me to join him, I didn't hesitate. And sure enough, there's a picture of me and my friend John R with the torch.
I watched events that year as much as I could as I wanted to learn more about this athletic competition, and I tried to obtain as much Olympic gear as I could. I still have the 1984 Olympic album, and some glasses from those games, but I'd caught the bug. So when 1988 rolled around and I found out the Winter games would be in Calgary, Alberta, I decided I wanted to see the games for myself. It wasn't hard to convince my friend Skywalker to decide to go, and we worked out an agreement to see certain games and go up for a long weekend. Going to school in Spokane meant that we had a 8 to 10 hour drive to get there, but it seemed worth it to go see things live.
Surprisingly, it was easy to get tickets, and we found a hotel north of Calgary in Crossfield, Alberta that had rooms, and so it was a done deal. And the trip was a true adventure from going through the border, me trying to ski in Banff and crashing quite a bit, watching the last hockey game between the USSR before they broke up and West Germany before they unified, and seeing Calgary in its Olympic glory. I was impressed with how well the city ran despite the large crowds, and we also ran into some great surprises during our stay. Watching the games from a tent in downtown Calgary was crazy, and everyone was really friendly and happy to have the world watching them. I was happy that I could take some time away from school to see what all the fuss was, and it was worth it. I still have some pins from my trip, and pictures and game tickets somewhere in my boxes of treasures.
I kept track of the games during their changes, from putting the Winter Olympics on a different schedule from the Summer games, the wonderful performances that occurred quite often, and the adventures of the games coming back to the US in 1996 in Atlanta. I thought about trying to get tickets again for these games, but after seeing the competition for tickets, I felt as though it would be better to watch the games on television. And sure enough, the multi channel approach of showing the games worked for me as I could watch events as they happened while also watching the main coverage which showed event highlights and compelling back stories. But Atlanta was the first time that I began to notice some changes in the Games that I'd grown to love, as commercial interests became more apparent and the coverage seemed to change quite a bit as the compelling stories become more of the focus and the events seemed almost secondary.
You couldn't help but notice that subsequent games followed this approach on television to the point where I was wary when the games came back to the US in 2002 with Salt Lake City taking hosting duties. I wanted to try and get tickets being close to that area, but the process was so confusing, I got shut out of everything that I wanted, even trying to target some of the more obscure events. I did get some lanyards for my effort of attempting to order tickets that I still have, but it seems odd to have that and no tickets to put inside. But then the coverage on television went more on human interest that term, and it was almost rare to see any actual events in their entirety unless it was figure skating. The Games that I'd grown to love became an afterthought as the broadcasts became nothing more than a focus on American athletes and back stories instead of showing actual game footage. I didn't appreciate the fact that the coverage was also on tape delay in most cases, so most of the events that were marked live were actually on delay to maximize ratings.
Granted, I'm happy to see that Vancouver, BC is the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, because it's a city that I've traveled to quite a bit and know quite well. I've made the trip up there following the Timbers, spent a Canada Day up north, and feel that Vancouver would be a great place to host the world for this event. The city is one of the most friendly places I've been to, the residents are proud of their corner of the world, and they love their country and city. Based on attitude, I put Vancouverites on par with Portland residents in having pride in their area, and wanting to show things off. And with Canadians being some of the most polite people on the planet, I couldn't think of a better place for people to visit for any reason, even a big event like this.
Granted, Canadians become a little insane when you get brew in them and give them a hockey stick, and they have an unnatural obsession with curling, but that's one of the more endearing qualities. I just have yet to meet a Canadian that I didn't like, because they are so likable. Based on this, I'll probably pay attention to the Games simply because of that, but at the same time, I'm not holding out hope of seeing much on television. And I don't want anyone to think that I don't have a heart or understand compelling situations and overcoming obstacles, but at what point does that become too much?
I'm a sports fan, and while I like learning knowledge and hearing how people have acheived their success, I'm not a fan of being force fed back stories or talking about certain athletes because the network has decided that is what is compelling. The Olympics used to be about allowing stories to unfold, and celebrating performances as they happened, and now it's just a prepackaged collection of highlights and backstories. I want to see the events happen as they happen, but unfortunately, I think I'm just resigned to falling back on my memories of a time when things seemed a bit more simple and a bit less obsessed about marketing and dollar signs.

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