It all started with the '76 games in Montreal. I was 9 and I got hooked watching the Man competing and winning the gold medal in the Decathlon — that's right, Bruce Jenner. He was almost a real live super hero and dominated the competition. I actually got to meet Bruce Jenner while I was in college in Portland, OR. I was working at the Montgomery Wards at Jantzen Beach in the sports and hardware department. He was in town for auto racing at the nearby Portland International Raceway and came into the store to buy tennis balls. I rang him up. I was almost comatose in his presence. He was huge, in great shape and tan tan tan. All I could get out was a "Thank you Mr. Jenner." It would be cool to somehow let him know what his impact was on me and how watching him in '76 ultimately led to our trip in 2008.
The '76 games also loom large for me because of the Japanese gymnast who performed and helped his team win the gold medal with a broken leg. I can remember seeing him land after nailing his rings routine and wincing in pain but still hitting the landing.
Then the '80 games in Moscow when the US boycotted over the Soviet's invasion of Afghanistan. I remember watching footage of American athletes who were gathered together at the US Olympic Training center in Colorado breaking down in tears and disbelief when the boycott was announced.
While I'm not a huge fan of the Winter Olympics, I was watching during the '80 games at Lake Placid and the Miracle on Ice. I still get goosebumps thinking about that game. I was also transfixed by Eric Heiden and speedskating. That man's thighs were like tree trunks. I remember putting on socks and trying to slide back and forth on the linoleum after seeing how Heiden trained.
The big event came in '84 with the Los Angeles games. One of the biggest memories I have of that Olympics was that every damn thing about it was sponsored by someone — rental cars, shoes, soda, luggage, underwear. There was an "official (fill in the blank) of the Olympics" everywhere. Of course, the Soviets boycotted this Olympics so the Americans wiped up. This was the first games using John William's Olympic Fanfare and Theme, now probably more recognizable than the actual Olympic march. I actually bought the Official Album of the 1984 Olympics and listened to it to death. I went so far as to work out how to play some of the music on my trumpet using trial and error until I got the tunes right.
Every 4 years since, I've been glued to the TV watching everything I could — sports I knew and liked to sports I'd never heard of or usually disliked watching. It didn't matter because it was the Olympics. The sports has never really been the thing for me, to be honest. It's the optimism that peaceful competition can be a bridge between people, that we can all set aside if only for a couple weeks everything that separates us so that we can come together and celebrate everything that is right about the human race. Ever since I started to understand that, I've wanted to be a part of it in some way — even as a spectator.
Atlanta in '96 was the first real opportunity for me to go to an Olympics, but Angie and I were still deep in being poor and it really wasn't a remote possibility. I also think I had a bit of a mental block about being able to do something that big. 2000 in Sydney might have worked, but still it really wasn't on the radar. In 2004, Angie and I started talking seriously about going to Athens, but the idea came too late for us to really make it real and we were a little spooked, rightly or wrongly, about how safe the games in Athens might be. 2004 came and went and we decided to make the 2008 games happen for real.
We put together a savings plan, estimating how much we though everything might cost. We jumped onto the waiting list for tours and tickets as soon as websites were up and running. We resisted the urge to do any travelling or make any large purchases like replacing our car. We downgraded our Storm season tickets. We did lots of big things and little things to make sure that we could not only pay for this trip, but do it without going into debt.
We stand here now, two weeks before we leave, and everything is indeed paid for. Our event tickets, our airfare, our tour package, everything. And we have a nice chunk of cash for food and souvenirs.
For me, the expectations for this trip are off the charts. This is truly a lifelong dream come true and I know it's going to be even bigger and crazier than I can really imagine.
I'm looking forward to meeting people from all over the world. I'm looking forward to seeing and experiencing things so far out of my normal life track that I'm not even sure what those things might be. And, I'm looking forward to watching the best athletes in the world come together and compete to be Olympic champions.
I can't wait.