By Tony Hooker
I don’t know about you, but for me, the Olympics were must-see tv when I was growing up.
Maybe it was the fact that we only had three channels. Or maybe it was our national pride, or maybe it was both, but we watched them faithfully every four years.
My earliest Olympic memories are of a young Soviet girl and an awesome American swimmer. Olga Korbut won three gold medals in gymnastics at the 1972 Munich Olympics, catapulting her to worldwide fame. The 17-year-old “Sparrow from Minsk” captivated the whole world that summer. Her famous “Korbut flip”, which involved standing on the high bar during her uneven parallel bars routine before leaping into a back flip and regrasping the bar. This skill has since been outlawed in Olympic competition, as athletes are no longer allowed to stand on the bar. Her score of 9.8 out of 10 was met with loud disapproval from the audience, who felt it was too low. I googled Ms. Korbut and was rather shocked to discover that she’s 66 and living in Scottsdale, AZ these days. Better than Belarus, I suppose.
My second memory of Olympic Glory from those 72 Olympics involves an athlete with perhaps the greatest name for a swimmer ever. Do you know what happens when he gets pool water in his mouth? Mark Spitz. (I love me a good dad joke) Spitz, whom I truly remember more from his milk and razor ads than from his time in the pool. I’m not sure Donnie B was a big fan of swimming, so we didn’t watch too much. We did watch men’s basketball, and I can still remember the anger around town after the refs gave the Soviets three tries to defeat the USA in what is widely regarded as the most controversial ending in basketball history. Ouch. I also don’t know whether ABC didn’t cover it in depth, or whether my parents sheltered me from it, but I have no recollection of the horrific terror attack on the Israeli athletes at the ‘72 games in which some terrorist turds from a bs organization that I refuse to mention the name of slaughtered 11 innocent athletes. The cold war had done a dandy job of politicizing the games, and this act put the final nails in the coffin of innocence, which had started in 68 at the Mexico City games.
The 1976 games saw another Soviet bloc darling capture the world’s attention, as Nadia Comaneci, a 14-year-old Romanian gymnast, scored the world’s first perfect tens for her performance. Nadia is now married to Bart Connor and lives in Norman, OK of all places.
The most popular American athlete at the 76 Montreal games? That would be Bruce Jenner, who captured the men’s Decathlon, the first USA athlete to do so since Rafer Johnson in 1960. Other stud athletes that I remember from those games include boxers Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon. Men’s basketball avenged their controversial loss four years earlier by winning gold. I can remember watching these wonderful athletes and so many more, like swimmer John Nabor, and the 4×100 freestyle team women’s swimming team, who won gold, stunning the communist nations, who otherwise dominated the pool.
These athletes were legends, in their time, and I hope that today’s athletes can attain the same sort of adulation, but I’m not sure they will. It feels like there is so much more competition for viewers these days than there were in the days of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS. Too bad. Because these athletes, too, are legends.