Let the games begin

The Olympic flame that will light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies. (Getty Images)

This weekend, the thirtieth Olympiad takes off in London and I cannot explain the excitement I feel as I check the schedules on Yahoo! Sports and on the official event website in anticipation of the greatest sports spectacular the world sees only every four years. Surely, there will be legends born in a number of Olympic sports this year, whose names and images will go down in history as symbols of excellence and triumph. Of course, there will again be some snags (actually, there already have been and the games have not officially started), and pictures not only of the thrill and ecstasy of victory, but also the agony and torture of defeat, and of sportsmanship at its best, as well as the lack of it. We will turn on our televisions and see all sorts of competitions, and watch them even if they involve sports we are unfamiliar with or do not usually follow. We will check on the performances of past champions and record holders and see if they can do it again, outdo themselves, or, give way to new champions.

My huge interest in the Olympics began during the twenty-third Olympiad held in Los Angeles, California in 1984. I was still young, but old enough to know a variety of sports. I was already a basketball fanatic, and knew most of the members of the US Men's Basketball Team (e.g., Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Vern Fleming, the late Wayman Tisdale, etc.). I was eager to see if they could win the gold against the big, bad Russians. I watched the opening ceremonies on TV, though I can't remember if they were live or on delayed telecast, and enjoyed how the athletes for each country paraded into the stadium, all smiles, waving at the crowd, so happy to be part of such a big production. American gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson lit the torch to open the games and my father told me this guy was also an actor, as well as one of Robert Kennedy's bodyguards on the day Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Kennedy in 1968. I remember the games mascot, Sam the Olympic Eagle, and I still have a small statue of him in my home, with his red, white and blue-striped hat. As the games went on, I watched and idolized Daley Thompson, the decathlete from England who will surely make an appearance at this year's games, and I was amazed at his versatility and strength. Carl Lewis was setting records one after the other on the track and on the field, and I could not help but think how much he looked like one of Michael Jackson's brothers. Little Mary Lou Retton wowed the world with her gymnastics performance and is still doing endorsements to this day, almost three decades later, primarily because of her awesome Olympic performance.

After taking in the 1984 Olympics as much as I did, I was hooked. I read about past Olympians, like Jesse Owens, Bob Beamon, Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz, Abebe Bikila, and all the other greats. Every four years, I would anticipate the games, try to watch the lavish opening ceremonies, get to know the athletes, cheer for our countrymen that were trying to land our very first gold medal. I even started watching the Winter Olympics.

I remember the South Korean boxer that refused to leave the ring for hours after he lost a bout in Seoul in 1988. That's also the year David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, Charles Smith (there were two of them, a forward from Pittsburgh and a guard from Georgetown) and company lost to the Russian squad led by Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulonis in basketball. The Dream Team was my highlight of the 1992 games in Barcelona. Filipinos will never forget the "robbery in Atlanta" in 1996, when our kababayan Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco got outpointed in his gold medal boxing match, breaking all our hearts in the process while earning a silver medal.

The year 2000 in Sydney was swimmer Ian Thorpe's year, with the local boy winning three gold medals. The US Men's basketball team almost lost for the first time with NBA players on it, escaping in the semifinal game when Lithuania missed a three point shot that could have won it at the buzzer. In an earlier game, Vince Carter leaped over seven-foot Frederic Weis of France to soar in for a dunk. In 2004, the Olympics returned home to Athens, where US swimmer Michael Phelps began his dominance in the pool, winning eight medals (six golds, two silvers). Nobody was surprised to see the US Men's basketball team losing three games and winning only a bronze medal, since they had performed poorly in international competitions in the years leading up to Athens.

In 2008, I was fortunate to get a call from the local TV station that would cover the Beijing Olympics. There were only ten of us chosen, with only two flying to Beijing (Patricia Bermudez-Hizon and Vitto Lazatin), while the rest of us stayed in Manila to deliver the almost hourly updates of event results and schedules. We were given jackets with the Olympic logo to wear during reports. We would work in pairs, shuffling for two shifts, morning and evening. We had TVs all around, showing different sports, and we viewed them, learning some rules along the way, getting to know the athletes from different nations, and watching history unfold. The opening ceremonies were the greatest I have ever seen. The image of former Chinese Olympic gymnast Li Ning "running" around the Bird's Nest while suspended in midair is eternal. Usain Bolt of Jamaica sprinted his way into our televisions and amazed us with his speed, as well as his cockiness, on the track. Michael Phelps outdid his amazing Athens performance, winning eight medals again, but this time, all gold. The "Redeem Team" with Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony leading the way, brought back USA Basketball glory. There are so many images that come to mind when I reminisce about my 2008 Olympic coverage experience since I was always watching one event or the other, whether I was waiting at the studio in between reports, or while at home or elsewhere, just to keep abreast of all developments in Beijing.

Of course the Olympics have not been without setbacks and controversy. There have been protests, bad officiating, violence (Munich 1972 and Atlanta 1996 come to mind), boycotts, unsportsmanlike behavior, diplomatic faux pas, and accidents resulting in injury or death to participants. However, for the most part, the Olympics are truly a time for celebration, for friendly competition, and for unity among nations despite such competition. The Olympics are about greatness, shown in many different ways. The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) applies as much to the events staged for its almost three-week duration, where athletes try to outrun, out-jump and overpower each other, as to the relationships built among nations and participants, where they strive to get along more quickly, take the higher ground by setting aside their prejudices, build stronger relations and become better persons in the process.

Let the games begin!

(The opening ceremonies will be broadcast live on TV 5 on Saturday, 28 July 2012 at 4:00 a.m., with a replay at 12 noon. Catch the continuing coverage of the games on TV 5 and AKTV on IBC 13, as well as on BTV for the basketball games.)

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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