With the 2012 Olympic Games in London upon us, one of the biggest sporting events in the world that takes place every four years, thoughts of past games and the impact of those on my life had been dominating my thoughts this week.
Perhaps this is driven by the enthusiasm of my kids towards the games, as these are the first ones either of them are old enough to know what it all means and get excited about the Olympic experience.
My earliest memory of the Olympics is 1984, where as a ten year old we watched Jon Sieben claim gold in the 200m butterfly on a television at school. Those Olympics, despite the absence of the Eastern European countries, were a struggle for the Aussies. Just Sieben, Glynis Nunn, Dean Lukin and the Mens 4,000m pursuit cycling team won gold. The pride of seeing those Australians up on the dias and hearing our national anthem was immense.
Around that time we had over very own Meister Olympics. At ten years of age I worked with my six year old sister to make up our own Olympic medals and competed in a number of events against each other, including our then three year old younger sister in the back yard. Gymnastics was on the swing set, while hurdles were jumped over bins. I managed to somehow win most of the golds, but the girls did win a couple, which no doubt kept them interested.
Fast forward to Seoul in 1988 and the enduring memory had nothing to do with Australia. Ben Johnson won the men’s 100m sprint in a world record time, beating the great Carl Lewis, who had won four golds in Los Angeles in 1984. Sadly, a few days later he tested positive to steriods and was stripped of his medal.
In many ways, the innocence of sport died as a result of that event.
Australia struggled again in 1988, this time only winning three golds, but what golds they were. Debbie Flintoff-King’s last gasp effort to win the 400m hurdles was inspiring, as was Duncan Armstrong’s win in the 200m freestyle. It was however the gold to the women’s hockey team that stood out in our house, beating the hosts in the final as we watched and cheered the girls from our lounge room.
Barcelona in 1992 saw the emergence of Australia as a force, winning seven golds. It saw the introduction on the world stage of names such as Kathy Watt, Kieren Perkins and the Awesome Foursome mens rowing team, as well as the Equestrian team starting a golden era.
To me the 1996 Atlanta games were all about two events that typified the Australian spirit. The first involved Gillian Rolton from the three day event Equestrian team. Falling off her horse and breaking her collarbone did not deter Rolton from finishing the course, a result which ultimately won gold for her team.
The other is Kieren Perkins’ amazing 1500m freestyle gold. After battling through the heats, Perkins qualified in the 8th and last place for the final. It appeared his dream of back to back titles was shot, however in the fashion of true champions he did the job when it counted.
I still remember watching that race, it was a Saturday morning here, from a television in an adjacent shop to where I was working. It was enthralling to watch.
Sydney 2000 was the greatest ever Olympics. Australia won sixteen gold medals, however only one stands out both in terms of the Olympics and personally. Cathy Freeman had the weight of the nation on her shoulders however duly delivered a well deserved gold in the women’s 400m.
That night, the 25th of September, just also happened to be the night I met my lovely wife. Every Olympics our minds drift back to that night, including just last night.
I got a little taste of the action, attending a couple of football matches at the MCG. It was amazing to be part of the Olympic experience.
Following from Sydney was going to be difficult, however the Aussies did just that at Athens in 2004, winning seventeen gold medals, largely thanks to the swimmers and cyclists. The men’s hockey team finally broke through for a gold medal after many heartbreaking losses and the women’s basketball team took silver.
Beijing in 2008 saw Australia fall back a little bit, winning fourteen gold, with almost half of those coming from the swimmers, all by the women including a new star Stephanie Rice, who won three gold medals.
And so its onto London and just how the Aussies will go is anyone’s guess. For me and my family it will be an exciting time as my kids learn about the Olympics and about the Aussie spirit.
They will have unprecedented coverage of it all, with multiple free to air digital channels and eight channels covering the games on Foxtel, nothing will be missed. Add to that the internet and social media and all bases are covered to stay in touch with the games from all angles.
I personally cant wait for it to start.