As the buzz about the Tokyo Olympics began kicking up a few weeks ago, I really wondered, are they still a thing?
I remember being a kid and watching the Olympics in awe. And so did everyone I knew – it was definitely a thing. The Olympics were a global event that we talked about in school and with family and friends. The world watched together on grainy television sets as athletes gathered for competition and camaraderie and it sparked conversations and community. It did what it was supposed to – bring people together.
You may not know it from looking at me now, but I was really into gymnastics as a kid. I took gymnastics classes at the YMCA from about age 5-10. I loved it. I wasn’t the best athlete, but I enjoyed it. That is until I started showing the signs of puberty and shot up several inches and realized my dream of a career as a gymnast was not going to happen. At 10 I was already taller than most gymnasts and I continued to grow, reaching my current height of 5’7” in sixth grade.
Nevertheless, I loved watching Olympic gymnasts fly through the air, tumble on the floor and swing their bodies in unimaginable ways. Nadia Comaneci was my favorite. The Romanian gymnast was 14 in 1976 when she scored a perfect 10 at the Summer Olympics in Montreal. I was only four years-old, so I don’t remember that particular moment in time, but I do recall watching the five-time gold medalist in 1980 in Moscow. I watched as she scored two perfect 10s that summer and I recall receiving a puzzle of Nadia that I put together, taped on the back and hung on my wall. It hung there for a few years before my Duran Duran obsession took over my bedroom décor.
I clearly remember watching the 1984 U.S. Men’s Olympic gymnastic team, which included West Springfield’s Tim Dagget as well as Bart Conner, Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar. That was a great year for U.S. gymnasts because Mary Lou Retton also won a gold medal in Los Angeles.
Other Olympians I watched as a child include Greg Louganis – a diver, Carl Lewis – track and field and Jackie Joyner-Kersee – also track and field. I have never been a winter sports kinda gal. My attempts at ice skating were disastrous, at best, and any sport that includes a board under my feet was not for me. But I have always loved watching the winter Olympics and especially enjoy the snowboarding competitions. A few years ago, I became more interested in curling. Who knew watching athletes sweep ice could be so exciting?
Although I had been feeling like the Olympics is no longer the event it used to be, thinking about it and recalling that the Olympics had a big part of my childhood has made me realize that yes, it is a thing. And it’s an important thing that brings countries and people together.
I’m writing this ahead of the opening ceremony and I cannot wait to see that torch lit and all that it stands for and I hope it will spark interest in my children to watch and learn and see what the Olympics mean beyond the medals.