Runner lined up to race

During the Olympics, I have a strong sense of nostalgia. While the they are on, I have a compulsive need to have the TV on in the background, something I don’t normally do while I’m working. There is something different about hearing announcers calling events, learning about sports I barely knew existed, hearing stories of triumph, and cheering. No, they weren’t cheering for me, but for a moment, I could believe that someone saw the excellence in my carefully crafted paragraph or my page of edits and was cheering me on. Writing is a lonely occupation.

But I’ll be glad to switch my Pandora station back to cool jazz, spa music, or even nature sounds when I’m feeling particularly distracted. My house will go back to reflecting the fact that an adult works from home. I won’t feel pulled to glance over at the TV every few minutes.

There’s a sadness too. When I was a kid, the Olympics were IT. They were the highlight of human achievement. It was amazing to think how good those athletes were. It would inspire all of us kids in the neighborhood to mark out a distance and see how fast we could race it. My brothers and I would draw lines in the shag carpet and do the long jump. We’d make up races in the swimming pool and choreograph synchronized swimming routines.

At night, we would plop on that same green shag, to watch the big events: gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. The flickering TV provided the only light in the room. The swamp cooler would be shut off and front door opened, bringing in the faint smell of orange blossoms from the nearby groves to mix with the mustiness of the swamp cooler. Going back to school was just around the corner.

Each Olympic from my childhood holds a special memory for me. 1972 was Olga Korbut with her pigtails doing her famous move of laying prone on the balance beam and flopping her feet over her head. Something I discovered I could also do, as well as the splits and other moves that began my stint as a gymnast that would run until I was in high school and grew to be too tall. I only had fleeting images of men in masks and guns and their assault on the Israeli team.

Most people recall Nadia Comaneci appearing on the scene in 1976, giving gymnastics the modern visibility it has today. In 1980, we weren’t much into the winter Olympics, growing up in Southern California and not having a lot of familiarity with snow or ice. But we would tease each other about Lake Placid appearing on our French toast in the form of powdered sugar. And of course we were bitterly disappointed that President Carter chose to boycott the Moscow Olympics that year. I got into arguments with my friends over the choice to mix politics and sports. For many of these athletes that was their only shot. They had to make a living and couldn’t afford to dedicate another four years to their sport.

I was in heaven in 1984 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles. I was in high school and had great hopes that I would finally get to see the Olympics in person. No such luck, but it barely dimmed my enthusiasm since we had all Olympics all the time for two weeks.

But after I left high school, I had to do what grown-ups do: go to college and work. I didn’t have the luxury of watching the Olympics. When I first realized this, I was saddened. One more piece of my childhood slipped away.

So the luxury of having the Olympics on, if only in the background, brings back a bit of those childhood summers that stretched forever, where we were only limited by our imaginations, and we could still dream of futures where we would be amazing at something too.

I think I’ll hold onto that piece a little bit longer.