In 1984, Mary Lou Retton changed my 6-year-old brains perception of gravity and sports.
I knew about baseball. I knew probably way too much about baseball. But I didnt know about gymnastics and swimming and track and field.
I didnt know young girls could sprint toward a vault and land in the history books. Or that an entire arena would erupt in applause for one of their own.
Retton, who scored a perfect 10 on both of her vaults to win the gold medal in the all-around at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, hooked me on the Olympics in that moment.
Perhaps you have a moment.
Maybe it was the U.S. Olympic hockey teams Miracle On Ice in 1980. Or Kerri Strugs vault on a balky ankle in 1996. Or speed skater Dan Jansen overcoming personal tragedy to finally win his gold. Or swimmer Michael Phelps overwhelming the pool. Or the 1992 mens basketball Dream Team with Bird and Magic and Jordan. Or sprinter Michael Johnsons gold shoes. Or Usain Bolts post-victory pose.
Or one of the thousands of other triumphs or heartbreakers. Perhaps its one that never made national news, like Boise cyclist Kristin Armstrong winning gold in the 2008 Games.
Im reminded of sprinter Derek Redmond pulling his hamstring in the semifinals of the 400 meters in Barcelona in 1992. His father, memorably, climbed out of the stands and aided his son around the track. Redmond didnt win a medal, but he earned a place in Olympic lore.
In the many years since Retton vaulted the Olympics into my consciousness, theres been plenty of discovery about the ugly side of the Olympics.
The terrible officiating that cost the 1972 U.S. mens basketball team the gold medal and boxer Roy Jones his deserved gold in 1988. The cheats like sprinter Ben Johnson. The tragedy, now 40 years ago, in Munich when terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, their deaths grimly reported by a stoic Jim McKay. The bombing in Atlanta in 1996 and the rush to judgment that pinned the blast on an innocent man.
How many athletes missed out on their chance at Olympic glory because of boycotts?
Despite the high ideals of the Olympics, the Games have never been free from the real-world drama in which they take place.
And yet, on the eve of another Olympics, you hope for more Retton moments. More dramatic memories like Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in Atlanta or the glorious Opening Ceremony in Beijing.
The Olympics arent perfect. Theyre too commercial and too tape-delayed and too manufactured. Theres too much focus on the millionaire NBA players and endorsement-rich previous gold medalists and not nearly enough on the stories of average Americans (and Canadians and Italians and Kenyans and Chinese) who have sacrificed, in some cases, everything to simply make it to the Games.
But thats just packaging.
The games the actual games, lowercase g are too good, too drama-filled and too breathtaking to focus on the packaging.
Instead, focus on the moments.
The moments that leave us in tears of joy or pain. The moments that leave us rooting for an athlete weve never heard of in a sport weve never played. The moments where a single tear trickles down an athletes face as they watch their countrys flag rise with a precious medal hung around their neck.
Focus on the moments when an athlete changes the way a 6-year-old sees the world.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444