Five For FRiday: One FRoment In Time

We are all sports.  And we remember.  Olympically.

Tyler: Strug-lin’

On a road trip with my mom, I watched the majority of the U.S. gymnastic ladies’ run to the gold from hotel rooms.  In the end, Kerri Strug’s iconic vault wasn’t necessary for her squad to win; we didn’t know that at the time, and knowing now makes zero difference.  What a moment.

Nathan: 2008 Beijing Opening Ceremony

Honestly, have you ever seen anything more insane in your life?

Tyler: Ben Johnson v. Carl Lewis

My earliest vague idea of these nutty games came at the age of five, when Canadian phenom Ben Johnson took on American legend Carl Lewis in the 100m.  My folks, Americans, were less than a year from moving our family back to the States, but their adopted affection for Canada broke through in the guise of their genuine disappointment over Johnson’s fall from grace, and gold.  Plus, Carl Lewis is obviously kind of a poon.

Nathan: Olympic Hockey, 1996-present 

The NHL, following the NBA’s lead, allowed its players to compete on the world stage. I never care much who wins, but watching Olympic hockey is one of the great pleasures of my sports fan life.

Tyler: Explosions in Atlanta

I spent much of the morning of that odd, random attack in Atlanta on the phone with Friend of FR James, both of us mortified but both also mesmerized by witnessing history in action.  Janet Evans’s shuddering dash from the window remains fresh in my mind.

Nathan: Nancy Kerrigan, Lillehammer, 1994

Tonya Harding hired a thug to break Nancy Kerrigan’s legs at Detroit’s Cobo Arena during the US Figure Skating Championships. The event, complete with iconic video of Kerrigan, post clubbing, clutching her knee and screaming, “Why, why, why?”, was seen by just about everyone in America who had a pulse. But that the event took place only about a 50 minute drive from my hometown made it seem more real than perhaps it was.

She was put on the 1994 Olympic team out of sympathy (Michelle Kwan placed ahead of Kerrigan in the US Finals, before the knee cap), which is exactly why Kerrigan’s performance in the 1994 Winter Olympics is so meaningful. She earned a silver medal to Oksana Baiul, justifying herself to the world and essentially giving Harding and her crew the most delicate of middle fingers.

I remember this, and I don’t care one bit for figure skating. It’s too close to ballet for my taste.

Tyler: Lust

Waylaid by one of the more tremendous hangovers in my young (?) life, I woke late on a summer morning within the social center of a fraternity associated with the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology.  The setup of the room was brilliant; very college, big fat steps that’d hold ten undergrads to a half, with an ancient, now-“retro” rear-projection big-screen the apex of the room.  Best Friend of FR Mike awoke some minutes before me, and had tuned the relic television to NBC coverage of the unfolding games in bucolic Athens, Greece.

Another aspect of this room was its prevalence of blackout curtains.  No daylight snuck in.  Another aspect of these Games was the prevalence of bikini uniforms cladding the competitive duos of women’s volleyball.

Nathan: 1992 Dream Team

Is there one specific moment to recall when looking back at the original Dream Team? Being only 12 when they completely destroyed their competition, I don’t have one to give here. But even at 12 I knew what it meant to put Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley on the same team. But, oh, wait, let me check the other names on the team. Looks like they filled the rest of the roster out with Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Chris Mullin. Christian Laettner got to go along for the ride.

Do 12-year-old kids look at today’s Dream Team with the same awe? A 12-year-old will have to answer that for us, but for now the original Dream Team remains the most singularly impressive team ever assembled for any sport.

“You can’t cover the sun with your finger.” – Calderon Gomez, Team Cuba, after getting pasted by Team USA 136-57 in exhibition play.

At 12, I was proud to be an American.

Tyler: Phelps ties the record

I was on the floor, waiting tables, on a crazy night at a popular spot in Lakeview.  I’m pretty sure I was heading toward the kitchen to pick up or modify or confirm an order.  Michael Phelps ended up in a duel decided by 0.0001 of a second.  Phelps won.  I about fell to the floor–I may well have–and my customers had to wait a little longer than the norm.  Not that they, or anybody, noticed.  AMERICA.

Nathan: Team USA, 4×100-m Freestyle Relay, Beijing Olympics, 2008

Everybody (well, anybody with even a sliver of interest in sports) in America, and maybe even the world, was watching to see if Michael Phelps would break the record for most gold medals in one Olympics. The excitement over Phelps and the knowledge that he was a swimming freak of nature made it almost a foregone conclusion that he would at least get seven of the eight he was trying for. But the 4×100-m freestyle relay wasn’t just for Phelps alone to swim. Here he would have to depend on others to get his gold. Phelps did his job masterfully in the first leg, but all of us, glued to whatever television set was nearest to us, began to worry when Jason Lezak was a full body-length behind is French competition as he brought up the anchor. Lezak’s stride can still play in slow motion through my memory. He finished the race by eight hundredths of a second.

That moment, when individual domination became submerged in the ultimate expression of teamwork remains not just one of the great moments of the Olympics, but one of the greatest in all of sports history. My eyes still tear up a little thinking back on it and watching it on YouTube.

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