We are just a few days in to the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea. I’ve been glued to my television watching the Olympics Opening Ceremony, figure skating, skiing, luge and snowboarding. Sports that I have not given one thought to since the last Olympics are now suddenly all I care about. Curling, anyone? I love it!
Celebrating Team U.S.A. and watching the inspiring stories of all of these athletes got me thinking back on some of the Olympic games from the 80s and 90s. Friends, families, strangers, all gathered around the television set to cheer for our country and follow some of the most captivating stories from the games. Good times! For any Millennial, the following five Olympic events are legendary. Get ready to wave that American flag!
KERRI STRUG STICKS THE LANDING
The vault landing that made every young girl in America sign up for gymnastics class. Well, at least it did for me. Thanks, Mom and Dad! During the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta, the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team was fiercely fighting for their very first team all-around gold medal. Team U.S.A. headed into the last event, the vault, trailing the Russian team, who is known for killing it on the vault. After Dominique Moceanu couldn’t stick the landing on her run, it was up to Kerri Strug to clinch the gold medal for the team with two near perfect vaults. On her first pass, Strug couldn’t stick the landing AND hurt her ankle. Through her own courage and encouragement from her coach, Bela Karolyi, she decided to try her second run. Karolyi yelled famously from the sideline, “You can do it!” Strug hurled herself down the runway, flipped through the air and stuck the landing – on one foot! Strug achieved the score that landed the U.S. Women’s team its first all-around gold medal. The image of Strug being carried to the platform, waving her flowers in the air to the fans is something I will always remember. Strug embodied quiet strength and team sacrifice on the national stage.
NANCY KERRIGAN ASSAULTED DURING THE 1994 WINTER GAMES
One of the most horrific things I can remember as a kid from the Olympic games is the day that U.S. Figure Skater, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked after her rehearsal. I can still recall the first time I saw video footage of Kerrigan on the floor of a hallway in the rehearsal space. Kerrigan kept screaming, “Why?” Apparently, according to eye witness reports, Kerrigan’s leg was clubbed with some sort of iron rod by a large man when exiting the ice. Bystanders tried to stop him, but couldn’t at the time. Through investigations, the assault was suspected to be devised by the ex-husband of a fellow Team U.S.A. figure skater, Tonya Harding. Though neither Harding or her ex-husband were convicted of a crime, their involvement tarnished her reputation for good. Valiantly, Kerrigan recovered in time to compete in the games and took home a silver medal for her performance. Both skaters were parodied frequently in the media after the skating scandal. I am sure we all remember Saturday Night Live capitalizing on the absurdity of the situation. Most recently, a feature film about Tonya Harding was created and the lead actress, Margot Robbie, has received numerous award nominations. May be worth checking out, right?
1992 DREAM TEAM DOMINATION
Assembling the 1992 Men’s Basketball team must have been like coordinating the Avengers. No team of powerhouses had ever been put together like this in the history of the Olympic games. The team included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen and many more. Watching footage of these men play is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters destroy the Washington Generals in a fixed game, only the game isn’t fixed. Not only can I remember these players dunking and jumping and dribbling on their opponents, I remember them signing autographs and taking pictures with the same teams they were destroying. Now that is how you know you’re good. Never since then has there been a Men’s Basketball Team U.S.A. like this one. Since the 1992 games in Barcelona, almost all of these players have been, or are planned to be, inducted into the Hall of Fame as individuals. It’s no surprise that no other team on earth could compete. The 1992 Dream Team easily left the Olympics as gold medalists.
FLORENCE GRIFFITH-JOYNER SHATTERS WORLD RECORDS IN SEOUL
Better known to all as “Flo Jo,” this lightning fast phenomenon took Seoul by storm during the 1988 Summer Olympic games. Flo Jo caught everyone’s attention before her feet hit the track. She had bold, big hair, bright finger nail polish and leggy running uniforms. As if that wasn’t enough, she obliterated the world records for the 100 and 200 meter races, and gold medals, of course. These accomplishments earned her the nickname, “World’s Fastest Woman.” Flo Jo was extremely poised outside the arena and beloved by the entire country. Post-games, she went on as co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports sharing her love for fitness until she passed in the late 1990s.
MUHAMMAD ALI CARRIES THE TORCH IN ATLANTA
“The Greatest” himself gave us one of the greatest Olympic surprises in recent history. During the planning for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, just about no one knew who had been selected for the final carrying of the Olympic torch and lighting of the cauldron. Many knew Muhammad Ali was in town, but no one could have expected how epic his arrival at the games would be. Ali emerged at the top of a long ramp on opening night and proudly delivered the Olympic flame to its home for the next few weeks. Us Millennials may not have known how much Muhammad Ali meant to so many people, but I am sure we can all remember how touched the other athletes, broadcasters and adults in our lives were in that moment. Ali and his history with the Olympics gained him the admiration, respect and fondness of so many Americans. His trials and accomplishments, inside and outside the boxing ring, have inspired countless Americans. I can’t think of anyone more fitting to carry the final torch at the centennial Olympic games, can you? My eyes are tearing up right now just thinking about it. Excuse me while I ugly cry…
The Olympic games are something I look forward to every couple years. Even if you aren’t a fan of sports, I love the camaraderie it commands from citizens across our country. It’s always fun to chant, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!” You can bet that I will be watching PyeongChang closely over the next couple weeks in hopes that another memorable moment will occur (which I am sure it will). Will you all be watching? What’s your favorite winter sport in the games? Do you have a favorite Olympic memory from childhood? Drop me a note or connect with me on social media and let me know. Enjoy the games!