As an Olympics enthusiast my entire adult life, I have been eagerly awaiting the Opening Ceremony to kick off the much-maligned Summer games in Rio. Amid all the negative publicity–almost from the day Rio de Janeiro was announced as the host city–there is much to celebrate about the games.
I was fortunate to attend two summer Olympics: Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996. One of my fondest memories of L.A. was seeing Carl Lewis anchor the men’s 4 x 100 meter relay. When he grabbed the baton for the final run down the stretch and crossed the finish line, it was an electrifying moment, and a memory that still gives me goosebumps 32 years later. Equally memorable, I watched as Ernesto Canto (who??), the Mexican athlete who won the gold medal in the 20km walk, donned a sombrero upon winning the event, and did a joyful victory lap to the delight of 58,000 spectators in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It didn’t matter that most people in the stands never heard of Ernesto; we cheered our hearts out for him.
In Atlanta, I attended the Opening Ceremony, waiting restlessly for Team USA to enter the Olympic Stadium as the Parade of Nations dragged on for hours. Traditionally, the host country enters last, so after the Zimbabwe delegation marched in, the buzz in the crowd was palpable–and the roar was deafening–when the first glimpse of the American flag appeared. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Muhammad Ali appeared to light the Olympic cauldron! Chants of “Ali! Ali! Ali” resonated throughout the stadium, 100,000 people as one voice. Afterwards I remember thinking that there couldn’t have been a better choice for a final “torch bearer.” A man who transcended race, religion and politics–Ali was simply “the Greatest.”
Fed up with all the negative commentary leading up to these Summer games, U.S. Olympic rower Megan Kalmoe declared, “I will row through s**t for you, America. And I will do it gladly and proudly….” That’s the Olympic spirit, Megan! So bring it on, Rio! The pageantry, the drama, the back stories, the emotion, the inevitable controversies, that meaningless medal count, the doping scandals, the Zika virus, your city’s notorious crime, and the waste-and-garbage infested waters.
I hope you prove the nay-sayers and the gloom-and-doomers wrong, Rio, and that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Regardless, you deserve a gold medal for your efforts. Let the games begin!