Friday, February 18, 2022

Where were you when...? (Olympics edition)

 If there's anything that makes an expat nostalgic or homesick, it's the Olympic Games.

As a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, I amassed a set of memories from before there were Internet spoilers and the ability to rewind (besides via VHS). It was one of the few times where family members of all ages would watch TV together. It was (often) live action. And as an American, the NBC Olympics commentary and theme song will always be tied to those memories. 

We rolled our eyes at the commentating and "behind the scenes" extras, but the heartfelt stories made it even more interesting to watch. We witnessed not only the breaking of world records, but "firsts" from certain countries and regions, great comebacks, and performances poignantly dedicated to a loved one's memory.

Sometimes I go down a rabbit-hole of "where are they now?" of former Olympic champions and their contemporaries, following one Wikipedia link after another to jog my memory and get caught up.

The first event that I remember must have been the Calgary winter Olympics in 1988. I can still hear the music and imagine my 5 year old self running in when the ad break was over. The next ones are easier to remember: Barcelona, Lillehammer, Atlanta...

My best friend then was a gymnast (still is) and there were lots of role models for little girls in the sports world. On an early trip to Russia, someone asked (through an interpreter) whom kids looked to as role models in American culture. Athletes were the first group that came to my mind. The Atlanta Olympics were actually in 1996 around the time of our first Russia trip, with the bombing happening on our way home.

Then there were the years when I didn't have TV access, although my mom got to go to Salt Lake City in 2002! It was fun hearing about that from my dorm room.

I remember watching the marathon in Greece when the crazy spectator ran out and spooked the competitors. That was so unexpected and upsetting!

Then I moved to St. Petersburg, where the lady I was staying with the first few years actually did have a TV. We rarely turned it on, though we sometimes watched old movies on VHS. One year I came back from Christmas break to find her daughter home on break for an exam session. It turned out she was a big sports fan and I remember her raving about the "biatlon" (biathlon), a previous unknown sport to me. We are all good friends now, by the way...the daughter is married and lives in Montenegro.

There was the Michael Phelps year when I was home visiting and my sister gave me some swim goggles for my birthday, after we visited the YMCA pool a total of one (1) time to get in shape.

For the next 2 Summer Olympics, I had new babies! You'd think it would have been the perfect excuse to sit on the couch watching sports. But somehow the timing was never right. My days consisted of chasing birth certificates, diapers, and lactation consultants.

(Insert intermission here for the World Cup hosted in Russia in 2018, which was fun! We didn't watch a single match but got to see the fan zone and visitors from around the world infiltrating our city.)

Then we got to 2020....delayed to 2021. I was getting that itch to get in on the Olympics action, so I did some research and fiddled around with my internet settings until I was able to get some streaming coverage, which I did again for the Winter Olympics this month.

To be honest, though, the viewing experience just isn't the same as back in the 80s. Is it the news spoilers? The computer instead of a TV screen? The company? With the option to replay some events, I find myself unable to commit to a couch-sitting session. There are plenty of ads to preserve that opportunity to grab a snack or fold some laundry. But there isn't that same feeling of everyone who's awake watching the same event together.

What controversy? My son and I have read all about Ancient Greece and the first Olympics for his classwork. The Olympics were supposed to be a time when wars temporarily ceased. Alas, that tradition has not been preserved. :( And everyone has their reasons for taking one position or another.

Next time, I do still plan to try to get some access, in order to create some new Olympics memories.

Do you have special Olympics memories? Do you remember any of the ones I mentioned?


  1. I loved reading this post! I think some of my favorite Olympic memories were turning on the TV and watching an event when I had to wake up and feed babies in the middle of the night. It made the waking up more enjoyable!

  2. I remember watching the Olympics with my older two when they were kids. The whole family would go up to the TV (in the attic, to make it less of a daily temptation) and where it was frigid in the winter and beyond hot and stifling in the summer. Somehow we'd happily brave those conditions to watch Olympics after dinner. We were so touched one year, that when they advertised the opportunity to buy a VIDEO of Olympics highlights, I [odd for me] sent away for it. It never came, which is something that my son recalls (and mentions) to this day. I guess that was a learning experience for us both, when it comes to purchasing from unknown sources! I also recall that we watched as Oksana Baiul won the medal, and were so in love with her that we did another thing that was a one-time-only.... I gave the family a Christmas gift of going to see her in a liver performance; she was starring in some ice show in Detroit. It was so exciting.

    1. Those are fun memories! I used to beg my mom to order copies of things on VHS, like school plays, etc. Of course now they'd be obsolete. We did (unusual for us) go to a Stars on Ice tour! Scott Hamilton, Gordeeva and Grinkoff when he was still alive. Maybe even Kristi Yamaguchi? I forget now.

    2. I know! It was so funny when that old video memory first came up and I realized that if we had it, we would have no way to play it (as though we really ever wanted to see Olympic highlights after the fact, anyway).


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