The Olympics have a way of stirring up feelings of patriotism in many people.
My first Olympic memory involves an uber-patriotic (some might even say tacky) red, white, and blue jacket emblazoned with a giant eagle and a bedazzled USA. I wore that jacket everywhere the summer of 1996, even on the days when it was 80 degrees outside and I looked like a giant tool amongst my tank-top clad friends.
The Olympics have a way of stirring up feelings of patriotism in many people. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to appreciate what happens on the global stage. It seems almost every person has at least one powerful Olympic memory which invokes goosebumps every time it’s recalled.
The year 1996 was the first time I truly understood national pride. That summer, I was glued to the TV to watch Muhammad Ali light the torch, Kerri Strug hobble to a gymnastic victory, and Amy Van Dyken dominate in the pool. I was mesmerized by the “will he or won’t he?” whispers leading up to the Carl Lewis’ final long jump, and the elation that resulted when he put those whispers to rest.
My small town of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, was plastered with pictures, banners, and good-luck signs for hometown girl and middle-distance track star Suzy Hamilton. I coveted Michael Johnson’s swagger, and begged my parents to buy me gold track shoes just like his, adding to my awesome Olympic-inspired wardrobe (come to think of it, my friends never wanted to go out in public that summer).
I wasn’t much of an athlete in 1996, aside from the normal participation in school sports, but I still understood that each Olympic athlete sacrificed a lot for the opportunity to represent their respective countries in one of the most honorable events of the world.
Even now, during the 2012 summer games, I get a little overwhelmed by the amazing athletes we see. I’d foolishly like to believe that I, as an endurance athlete, can be a little sympathetic to what Shalane Flanagan and Ryan Hall go through, but then I’m reminded that their training puts mine to shame. I train for 2 hours a day; for them, training is a full-time job. I have the luxury of skipping a training session to eat Oreos and nap; they’d have multiple coaches and teammates breathing down their neck if they pulled such a stunt. If I do poorly at a race, no one really knows (or cares); if they underperform, they’ve got the whole world criticizing them. How’s that for pressure?
But one thing I do have in common with those athletes? I’m an American, too. In a time when our political climate is more heated than ever; when the gap between the haves and have-nots grows larger every day; when the talking heads on TV rally people to take one side or the other (but never the neutral middle); the Olympics provide all of us a chance to put aside our differences, even if only for a second, to watch in awe as the finest athletes in our country accomplish amazing feats.
I’ve since lost my bedazzled USA jacket from 1996 (surely one of my friends, jealous of my couture, stole it), but I’ll still be wearing my Olympic pride for all to see. If history is any indication, we’ll all have a few goosebump-inducing moments to take away from this summer’s Games.
This column first appeared in the July 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke