1992: Two weeks that changed my life


Twenty-five years ago today, the 1992 Summer Olympics closed in Barcelona.

Unlike the opening ceremony, as I wrote about two weeks ago, I do remember watching the closing ceremony. While I don’t recall anything has momentous as the torch lighting by flaming arrow, I do remember it was very hard to see the games end. More than likely I cried. Not only could I not bear the thought of having to wait four years for the next Summer Olympics—four years seems like an eternity when you are nine years old—but the closing ceremony ended a two-week sports extravaganza that changed my life.

How had Barcelona ’92 changed my life? Before the Olympics, I was an indoor kid uninterested in sports. Afterward, I was an outdoor kid and a sports junkie.

Before the summer of 1992, I did not play outside much and certainly did not play any sports. We had a basketball hoop in our driveway, but it went unused unless my dad shot hoops every now and then. All I can remember doing, despite my parents’ attempts to get me outside and interested in sports, was hang out in our basement, playing Nintendo and watching TV. I doubt I even read outside of school. I did ride my bike, though. I remember vowing to lose 10 pounds during the summer of 1992, which I did by riding my bike a ton. Other than that, the only exercise I got was in gym class. Mostly, I was a pathetic couch potato when the Olympics began in Barcelona.

Though an interest in sports was slowly growing inside me—the first sporting event I remember being interested in was the Blazers-Bulls NBA Finals earlier that summer—the Summer Olympics in 1992 quickly turned me into a sports enthusiast.

It started with the swimming and diving competitions.

Swimming was something I loved. Thinking about it now, I do remember swimming a lot when I was a kid; my parents were always taking my sister and I to the excellent public pools in Iowa City, mostly Mercer Park. Besides riding my bike and gym class, I guess swimming was my only other physical activity—and it was something I enjoyed! What I did not enjoy, however, were the two- or three-week sessions of swimming lessons my sister and I took every freaking summer. (Why I needed to endure redundant lessons on the backstroke, sidestroke, and breaststroke for something like 10 years—especially since I never used them outside of lessons—is beyond my understanding, but my mom insisted that my sister and I learn how to swim.)

Anyway, my sister and I were in swimming lessons at the beginning of the Barcelona Games. When we returned from lessons one day and turned on the small TV in our living room, probably biding our time before lunch, we discovered an Olympic swimming competition. We became captivated. I don’t remember exactly what it was that fascinated us, but I am sure the enthusiasm of the athletes, fans, and commentators was infectious. I am sure, too, that the fact we had just returned from swimming—doing the exact same things the swimmers at the Olympics were doing—created a bond and an interest to what was happening in the water in Barcelona. After that, every day for the rest of the Olympics, we returned from swimming lessons to watch the swimming and diving competitions.

And the fixation did not stop there. I was glued to NBC’s coverage, spellbound by whatever event was shown. I had essentially discovered an entirely new world and was soaking in as much detail as possible. I did not want to miss a minute of the action. Though I probably watched just about everything, what I remember watching most was swimming, diving, women’s gymnastics, and the track and field events.

The things I remember most about Barcelona ’92 are:

• The panoramic view of the city during the diving competitions. Barcelona formed a breathtaking background, complete with the construction of Sagrada Família, behind the divers. Holy cow—it gives me goosebumps thinking about it now! The Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc is one of the most iconic venues in Olympic history.

• American gymnast Shannon Miller, who won silver in the women’s All-Around competition. I developed a huge crush on her. The day after she won silver, the Iowa City Press-Citizen printed a photo of her on the front page of the sports section. I still have it (not the entire section, though). It is the first paper I ever saved.

• Derek Redmond, who pulled his hamstring during a semi-final race, being helped to the finish line by his father.

• American boxer Eric Griffin (I assume it was him) storming out of the ring after the new, computerized scoring system awarded more punches and the victory to his opponent in a quarter-final bout. Even I, a nine-year-old who knew nothing about boxing, could tell he was robbed.

• Larry Bird tying his shoes along the sideline to thunderous applause, preparing to check into the men’s basketball gold medal game. (He played 12 minutes and missed his only shot, a three-pointer.) The gold medal game is the only time I remember watching the Dream Team in action.

In the wake of the Barcelona Games, I became a sports fanatic. I tried to get my hands on anything and everything related to the Olympics, devouring all the historical material I could. My dad brought me copies of Sports Illustrated from co-workers and the break room at his workplace. I began watching games, first football and then basketball as the seasons started. I followed the Blue Jays-Braves World Series, though my interest in baseball did not begin to grow until later. (My dad is a Braves fan so I was very upset when the Blue Jays won.)

At the beginning of 1992, I was completely obvious to the world of sports. By the end of the year, I was collecting basketball cards, the walls of my room were covered in posters featuring the Dream Team and Michael Jordan, and I proudly wore a Los Angeles Raiders Starter jacket. In the spring of 1993, I was shooting hoops every day; by mid-summer, my dribbling had killed all the grass on both sides of our driveway.

Though it has been a long time since I shot hoops (I should really start again), and I no longer closely follow the NBA or NFL, I still love sports. It is a love I can trace back to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Would my interest in sports have blossomed without Barcelona ’92? Maybe. Perhaps the Summer Games that year just accelerated the growth of something that had already taken root. But my instinct tells me differently, that the Olympics in Barcelona lit the passion and enthusiasm—by flaming arrow, of course—that still burns inside me.

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