Please welcome Shannon, our most recent Olympics guest blogger. Shannon is a 30 year-old librarian who lives in Pittsburgh. She loves Pittsburgh sports and the Olympics and has always names her fantasy football team Dewey’s Decimators. She blogs regularly at www.librarianlistsandletters.com . This post is adapted from a post on her blog.
I love the Olympics because I have been there. Not as an athlete, of course. My athletic ability is capped at riding bikes on trails and taking walks in my neighborhood. But I’ve been lucky enough to live in countries that were hosting the Summer Olympics, and attend as a spectator, twice.
Photo by Shannon
My first experience at the Olympics was in Atlanta in 1996. I was 14 and my parents had been saving for such a vacation for years. I listened to The Beatles on my Discman the entire two day trip from Pittsburgh to Atlanta in the back of our minivan and had no idea that I was on my way to be a part of an event that was bigger than anything I had experienced just yet.
It was in Atlanta that I got to sit only yards away from the Olympic Torch as we watched Track & Field on a hot, southern afternoon. We sat next to legitimate Mongolian wrestlers on the light rail and my Dad gave them a Pittsburgh pin as we went our separate ways at the top of escalator. I don’t remember if they spoke English, but I remember being struck by their large, fur-trimmed hats and warm smiles. In Atlanta I sat below a large group of fans from the Netherlands, cheering on their volleyball team with the type of shouts we only save for football and playoff hockey.
I had only just finished my freshman year of high school when when America hosted the Olympics in 1996, but by the time we left I had seen events up close and personal, I had watched Kerri Strug break her leg on the vault, win a gold medal, and Bela Karolyi carry her (all on TV of course, those tickets are expensive) I had run in the fountains in Olympic Centennial Park; the same park my parents left just minutes before the bomb detonated. I had shouted USA! in line waiting, in the pouring rain, to watch basketball the day after the bomb and wore a whole lot of red, white and blue. And by the time my family left the Olympics, I knew I had the bug. I knew I wanted to see more countries and to hear more anthems.
In 2004, I got to do it all over again. By then I was 22 and had been living in Greece for just a month. I had moved there to teach English as a foreign language but had yet to start work. I was broke and I was homesick. But I watched the Opening Ceremonies at a Greek Taverna and had tickets to see Track & Field at the Olympic Stadium the world was worried Greece wouldn’t finish constructing.
But then I arrived in Olympic Park. I stood under the Olympic Flame and waited patiently for a glimpse of the NBC news team by the gates of their broadcast center. I overheard conversations and tried to guess what language was being spoken. I took my seat, way up high and under blistering Athenian sun, and waited to hear my country’s national anthem. I stood tall when it played, I stood tall when any anthem played. I learned the words to the official Olympic theme song and bought McDonald’s twice in one day with no shame. I met Peace Corps volunteers on the subway and bought tickets to see Volleyball on the other side of the city. I drank beer with men from Poland, and once again cheered loudly for the Netherland team. I talked to a preteen from Tunisia and about our shared love of Dido. I told anyone who would listen that I was from Pittsburgh, PA.
The two times I witnessed the Olympics up-close-and-personal were very different; I was very different. But they all shared the same things: pride above competition, excitement above politics, commons bonds over common differences. The earlier experience made me want to grow up. The latter experience made me realize that I already had. But both showed me that every country in the world is the best country in the world for two weeks in the middle of the summer. The powers-that-be may be involved in political fanfare and arguments, but the crowd below? We just want to cheer on our favorites, we want to give standing ovations to athletes who rarely get publicity, and we want to see our flag waving high in the sky.
Photo by Shannon