Friday, August 15, 2008

My Olympic experience

Like many of you, I’m avidly watching the Olympics on TV. When my sons – ages nineteen and twenty-two -- sit with me, they too enjoy both the spectacle and the excitement of competition.

But unlike their viewing, mine is overlaid with memories.

Memorable scenes from past Olympics filter across my mental screen. There are highs and lows, the most painful being the 1972 murders of the Israeli athletes. I also recall disappointments when outstanding athletes like Mary Decker Slaney and Kim Zmeskal stumbled and fell heartbreakingly short.

There are also shining glories: Olga Korbut and Nadia Comenici and Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of gymnastics.

In fact, in the early Seventies I worked for a public relations office that represented a gymnastics team called the SCATS (Southern California Acro Team), which trained Cathy Rigby. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Cathy several times, and of watching talented gymnasts compete long before the sport became as well known as it is today.

It was so little known, in fact, that when I called the local newspaper with the scores of a major gymnastics meet, the sports reporter asked, “Okay, how fast was the first girl?” It took me a minute to explain that speed wasn’t the point.

My only personal experience with the Olympics came in 1984, when they were held in Los Angeles. Although I’d left my job with The Associated Press the previous year, I still covered theater and the arts on a freelance basis, and was asked by AP to cover the Olympic Arts Festival.

Always held in association with the Olympics, this festival receives less coverage than it deserves. In Beijing this year, for example, there’s a concert series feature some of the world’s most popular opera singers: Renée Fleming, Sumi Jo, Angela Gheorghiu, Salvatore Licitra, Ramon Vargas, Jonas Kaufmann, Marcello Giordani and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (okay, I'm an opera buff, too). In the case of LA, the attractions included the Royal Opera of Covent Garden, the Royal Shakespeare Company and a host of talented groups from around the world. I had a ball interviewing stars and viewing as many performances as I could squeeze in.

I’m not going to make it to this year’s Olympics in person, but if all goes well with my mother’s health (at age 90, she’s recovering from surgery), we’ll be visiting China next month to attend an international ceramics conference. As you know if you’ve visited my Web site (, my mom, Sylvia Hyman, is an internationally known ceramic sculptor.

She last visited China thirty years ago, when the country was much less developed. So while I’ll be viewing the new skyscrapers and bridges with fresh eyes, she’ll be seeing them through a veil of memories.

Funny how that happens.


Estella said...

I, too, remember the past Olympics.
I have never been to the Olympics, would love to go watch the gymnastics and swimming.

Ellen said...

I don't watch too much of the summer Olympics (just gymnastics) but I love the winter Olympics. Especially the ice skating.
But I do remember the 1972 murders and the fear they brought to the rest of the athletes who managed to participate anyway.