One of my favorite events in all the world is under way in London.
Yes — the Summer Olympic Games. I am a big fan of the Winter Olympic Games as well — but having been a competitive runner and still a big track and field fan, I get more fired up about the summer games.
(Here is a link to a column I wrote, , which ran in this space back on Nov. 5, 2010. You may be surprised just how big a role people from our town have played in the Olympics.)
My affection goes far beyond the athletic competition of the Olympics — for it is the pageantry and international camaraderie, however flawed and imperfect, that does so much to make the Olympics magical.
I was living in New York City in the summer of 1996, and I went to a night event at Rockefeller Plaza as the Olympic flame made a stop in the Big Apple en route to Atlanta where the summer games were held that year.
For me, seeing that flame arrive was a lift of pure emotion.
Here I go Yankee Doodle Dandy on you. When I see an American receive a gold medal and stand at attention as the Stars & Stripes rise and the American anthem is played, well, it is about the most stirring that the athletic arena has to offer.
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games are more entertaining for me than any rock concert.
I attended the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. It was the summer between my seventh and eighth grade school years.
My father, the athletic director at , and a collegiate track star at the University of Notre Dame, and a track and field enthusiast, vowed that if the Olympics were held close enough to Easton to make financially feasible our family attending the games, then it was going to happen.
We all had a blast at the Olympics — truly a thrilling memory and a happy experience that stays with me.
Our family saw almost all the track and field competition.
I was in the stands watching Bruce Jenner compete in the decathlon. I saw Lasse Viren as he successfully ran to gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter run events — just as he had done four years earlier in the Munich games.
I saw Edwin Moses break the world record as he won gold in the 400 meter intermediate hurdles.
Later that day, outside the Olympic stadium, I spied Moses walking in his USA warmup suit. I ran up to him and asked if I could have his autograph.
Moses looked down at me for a moment — through those thick-lensed eyeglasses he wore (even in competition) — and he said, “Yeah.” He signed that autograph for me and I was as happy as all get out.
What was also fun at the Olympics was trading pins with people from other countries.
Our family attended the Olympics as part of the Runner’s World magazine tour. Organizers of our tour provided us with American flag pins.
It was all casual, the trading; you would see someone holding a pin, and then you would show your pin, and through a series of hand gestures you would either consent or decline a trade.
I am fortunate to have worked for about six years now, first as an employee and now as an independent contractor, for Easton native, Jim Craig, goalie for the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team, and his company Gold Medal Strategies
Jim is in big demand as a motivational speaker and teamwork coach, and I do research or Jim to help him prepare for his appearances.
In working with Jim, I have been fortunate to talk in person and on the phone with Olympians, including a few gold medalists.
One of the nicest sports stars I have met through my work with Jim is five-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating, Bonnie Blair. I was at an event with Jim in Manhattan when I met Ms. Blair (who also has a bronze medal to add to her five golds).
Talk about humble.
I asked Ms. Blair if she had ever played hockey — you know, do another type of skating. She warmly replied, “Ross — I can only turn left on skates.”
I could go on and on about Olympians and Olympic stories and how they inspire me.
In fact, if you click you will be taken to a column I wrote and which ran in this space on April 22, 2011, and which had a Holy Week and Passover theme, and which also contained one of my favorite Olympic stories.
As I said, I could go on and on.
But I leave you with this Olympic story.
The 1960 Summer Olympic Games were in Rome.
Twenty-four years prior to the Rome games, Italy had invaded Ethiopia and took control of the country.
Among those toeing the line for the evening start of the marathon in Rome was a largely unknown Ethiopian named Abebe Bikila. And when Bikila toed the starting line, he did it barefoot.
Abebe Bikila was a private in Ethiopian army and a palace guard for Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.
Running the entire 26.2 miles barefoot — including stretches of cobblestone road — Bikila won the gold medal and ran the fastest marathon to that date in history.
It was noted in the Italian newspapers the next day that 24 years before it had taken an entire Italian army to defeat Ethiopia — and the previous evening one Ethiopian soldier conquered all of Rome.
Please tune in to the London Olympic Games.
You will be inspired.