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Youthful Olympic memories

Like most people, not all my Olympic memories relate to hockey, though I did post recently on Fran Huck and Fr. David Bauer’s Canadian national and Olympic teams from the 1960s. In fact, one of the beauties of the Olympics—then and now—is of course the unique variety of sports on display, and the moments that create lifelong memories.

The success of Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau in earning the first gold medal for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics will likely resonate with many young people for years to come.

There are always thousands of wonderful little stories at each Olympic Games, but also some major ones. In 1976, young gymnast Nadia Komenich was the “big” story of the Montreal Olympics, performing at a stunning level at the age of 14.

I probably have some of my fondest memories from the 1968 Olympics, when I was 14. In those days, both the Winter and Summer Olympics were held the same year. I was a fan of Canadian figure skater Karen Magnussen and of course American Peggy Fleming. Jean-Claude Killy was the big name in men’s downhill skiing, but Canadians also vividly recall the exploits of our own Nancy Greene in Grenoble, France.

That summer, I was among millions watching on television who witnessed two of the most extraordinary athletic achievements I’ve ever seen. I was enthralled watching the men’s decathlon, that rather grueling series of 10 different events over the course of a couple of days. For me, at that very impressionable age, it struck me was the height of athleticism - and what being a truly great all-around athlete was all about—the ability to excel in a bunch of different events.

Well, at those Olympics in Mexico City, I for the first time saw American Bill Toomey. I’ve never forgotten his name, because I was so impressed with his performance in the decathlon. It was just amazing to me that someone could show so much sheer determination, not to mention athletic prowess. I’m sure his records have long been broken, but for me, remembering back to a time before (most, at least) North Americans competed without the benefit of performance-enhancing substances, Toomey’s performance has always stood out as special.

Two other things I recall from the ’68 Olympics; one was the silent but powerful protest of African-American medal winners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The other was the absolutely remarkable long jump by their fellow-American, Bob Beamon. We were—and are—accustomed to Olympic records falling every four years, as athletes get bigger, better, faster, train better (and apparently, in too many instances, have been aided by illegal supplements).

But in Mexico City, Beamon flew through the air for what seemed like forever. He blew past the then long-jump record not by a fraction of an inch, or two ort three inches. He shattered the existing world record by something like two feet. It was stunning, jaw-dropping stuff, much like watching Usain Bolt at the most recent Summer Olympics in China. I don’t know if Beamon’s feat it was attributed to the “thin air” in Mexico City, but to me, what he did was extraordinary and I will never forget the feeling I had watching that performance.

There was the awful tragedy in Munich in 1972 when several athletes were killed in a terrorist attack, and ABC sportscaster and Olympic anchor Jim McKay had to break the news to stunned viewers around the world. It was horrible to think of the peaceful intentions of the Games being shattered by violence.

Still, there have been many, many positive stories, before, during and after the Olympics that came to mind today for me—and no doubt for you. I invite you to share your own memories!

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