It’s a rainy Sunday in Marriqueville, and the Scribe is feeling a tad reflective, and he thus apologizes if this turns out to be a rather self-indulgent Smoke Signal. In that the Larrikins are nominally a running club, that’s going to be the fairly flimsy reason given for the following Olympic-themed recollections.
Given that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were meant to have started yesterday, I guess in an alternative reality I’d’ve been glued to the Gogglebox today for Day 1 of the action, having presumably watched what I expect would’ve been an amazing hi-tec Opening Ceremony the previous evening.
I’ve been a mad keen Olympics fan since first seeing the Mexico Olympics in 1968, which I predominantly watched on black & white TV as a boarder at prep school in England, with the Games taking place in October, immediately after my 10th birthday, and I was hooked for life. There’s generally been a political tie-in with the Games too, in that another great interest of mine, the American Election, always follows just a few months after the Summer Olympics, and this was the year that I well and truly got hooked on both events.
At the Games, the introduction by Dick Fosbury of the ‘Fosbury Flop’ in the High Jump, the record-shattering long jump from Bob Beamon, the Black Power salutes, the strength of the African long distance runners, and the feats of plucky Pommy pony Stroller, who got the silver medal with rider Marion Coakes had me thrilled and in tune with this huge global event which took me out of the confines of school: it was all just so very exciting and glamorous, and seemed to be the one bit of good news in an otherwise very traumatic year of generally global bad news!
Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated just 3 months before, and less than a month after the Games Nixon took the White House. Meanwhile, as a sonic backdrop, the big hit in Britain at the time, spending 6 weeks at #1, was Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’.. and weren’t they indeed..? Add to that the fact that my godfather Muir, who sadly died this year, was a producer for ITV at the time, in charge of the Games for that British TV station, and his belated birthday present of a Mexico ’68 teeshirt and Mexico ’68 sombrero was definitely one of my best birthday presents ever, and I couldn’t wait for Munich ’72.
I guess I can easily compartmentalise my life by the subsequent Games and a few of the stars competing therein.. Munich 72 took place my first Summer Holidays at Public School, aged 13 coming on 14, with Mark Spitz, Shane Gould, Lasse Viren, Olga Korbutz, and Mary Peters being stand-out names, along with the horror of the murders of the Israeli team members. I had just emerged as a bit of a junior track star at school (truly!), and the Games inspired me to put some effort into sprinting over the next few years, until I discovered the pleasures of the wicked weed, which was to eventually lead to me getting the hash name Chimney a decade or so later. Alice Cooper was topping the charts with ‘School’s Out’, and his follow-up hit, ‘Elected’ , coincided with Nixon’s landslide victory in November..
Next up, Montreal 76 was my last summer holiday at Public School, and the Games were watched whilst on a camping holiday in the island of Jersey with 3 fellow 17 year old school friends, awaiting our A level results. Names that loom up from those games include Nadia Comaneci and her perfect tens, Lasse Viren (again!), winning the next 2 of his total of 4 gold medals, Valeriy Borzov, Princess Anne -riding with the British Eventing team-, and the 400/800 gold double from Cuban runner Alberto Juantorina which led to David Colman, the famous BBC commentator uttering the immortal line..”The big Cuban opened his legs and showed his class”… a gaffe which led to Private Eye magazine’s long-running ‘Colemanballs’ column.
Elton John & Kiki Dee had knocked Demis Roussos off the top of the UK charts half way through the Games, while over in the States, where they were also topping the charts, Nixon was long gone by now, and in his place it was Gerald Ford running against Jimmy Carter in the US Election, which Carter went on to win.
4 years later.. 40 years ago this week.. and it was Moscow ’80. I was 21 and had just left London Uni. ONJ & ELO were topping the charts with ‘Xanadu’ and I had a summer job working for the Sussex waterboard, using a pneumatic drill to plough up Crowborough High Street, to pay for an upcoming trip down to Greece by Magic Bus with a uni friend.
The Yanks boycotted the Games and it gave the Brits a chance to shine: Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Alan Wells each bagging gold on the track was my main memory, along with Duncan Goodhew in the pool. Over in America, to which I was to make my first visit just a few months later, Ronald Reagan was running against incumbent Jimmy Carter, and indeed he won his landslide victory the day after I arrived in the USA for a 2 month visit that November.
The Los Angeles ’84 Games were watched mainly in my little flat in Fulham, London SW6, working as the marketing manager at a coach company, with a Vauxhall Astra company car parked outside, in which i used to bomb up and down the motorways of Britain trying to persuade travel agents to persuade people to take a coach to Europe instead of a charter flight: quite a hard ask, in the event!
The Zola Budd/Mary Decker rivalry (and eventual tripping up on the track) is one of my clearest memories of those games, along with further Coe/Ovett rivalry, Daley Thompson shining in the decathlon, along with Lional Ritchie and a dude in flying space boots performing at either the Opening or Closing Ceremony. Back in the UK topping the UK charts for that whole summer – 9 weeks in all- which included the Olympics period, was Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’, while their previous #1, ‘Relax’ was still on high rotation pretty much everywhere, too.
4 years later, for Seoul ’88, it was my first of many Olympics watched here in Sydney. With no British commentary or newspapers to hand I have no recollection whatsoever of any British performances, but I do remember Australia’s solitary Gold Medal, in the pool, for Duncan Armstrong, amongst a host of otherwise North American-dominated news: Greg Louganis in the diving, Ben Johnson getting disqualified after beating Carl Lewis in the 100m and the ensuing global hou-ha about drugs in sport, and the emergence of tragic Flo-Jo and her long nails.
I’d been here for just a couple of months, was just about to start at Gordon’s Tours as the Marketing Manager, and had recently pitched up at the Larrikin Hash with a fiancée in tow! Tempus Fugit. Accommodation was a bedsit in Kings cross, where I was getting dive bombed by bogong moths, and George Bush senior, Reagan’s VP was running an ultimately successful campaign against Michael Dukakis for the US Presidency. Google informs me that Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible’ was at #1 in the Aussie ARIA charts, but i must confess that for games viewed since arriving in Australia i don’t really have a sonic reference, unlike with the UK-watched ones.
On to Barcelona ’92, and I was by now in my 2nd year at Flight Centre, working with fellow Larrikin Red Ned in the Elizabeth Street branch in the City, fiancéeless, and indeed had by that stage moved into a house in the Inner West with Cousin IT. Guess most of the watching of the games must’ve been on the TV at that house, or in pubs, and my memory of the sports are a tad hazy, if I’m honest, although I do remember Kieren Perkins’ epic 1500 metre victory in the pool, and Linford Christie taking out the 100m gold for the UK, but that’s about it.
What I do remember, however, was the stadium itself, the amazing backdrop of the city from the diving pool, and the flame being lit by a burning arrow. It needed Google to remind me that the #1 song in Australia at the time was actually the Olympic theme song ‘Amigos Para Siempre (Friends for life), by Spanish opera star Jose Carreras and Sarah Brightman, but I didn’t need any reminding that one William Jefferson Clinton was shortly to turn Bush senior into a one-term President two months later.
On to Atlanta ’96, by which stage I’d just become an Australian citizen, and i’d also just become manager of Student Flights, which at that stage was located opposite my old Gordon’s office in Railway Square, and what do I remember about that..? I can remember Celine Dion, Ray Charles and Gladys Knight performing at the Opening Ceremony; I can remember the bomb; Muhammad Ali battling Parkinson’s to light the flame; Steve Redbridge, Michael Johnson, Kieren Perkins (again!), and Michael Diamond, the Aussie shooter. The rest is a bit of a blur.
Google tells me that the Fugees’ remake of ‘Killing me softly’ was #1 at the time of the games, though The Macarena was to follow shortly and that provides a much more realistic sonic backdrop for me, at least certainly in terms of flight centre, where it was a staple at buzz nights and conferences. Meanwhile, over in the US, Bill Clinton was to have no trouble gaining re-election in November.
Come 2000, on home ground, the Sydney Olympics were the first ones I attended in person, along with Cousin IT, and the decision I’d made at the time of the Atlanta Games 4 years before, to quit cigarettes, paid off, because all of our tickets, including the Opening Ceremony ones, were paid for from the ‘SSSF’ (Simon Stop Smoking Fund), and we had an amazing Games. obviously Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe were the two Aussie legends to emerge from the Games, having also been the faces of the Games in all the build-up marketing, and we were there to see Cathy light the cauldron, although not to see her win her gold on the track.
There were plenty of other big names we did get to see though, along with many lesser known ones, and they included Michael Johnson, Hicham El Guerrouj (getting silver behind a Kenyan), Haile Gebrselassieand Marian jones, although her medals have now been erased due to drug use , which came to light years later. The ultimate highlight, and there were many highlights, was watching Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham exhorting the athletes to ‘Dare to Dream’ at the Opening Ceremony, and it genuinely did seem like a dream come true.
Workwise, I was taking a break between finishing up at Macquarie Flight Centre and starting at the new Balmain branch, and had made quite alot of money selling trips out of Sydney to those that didn’t want to be in Sydney for the Games, many of whom later regretted it. Cousin IT and I saw the flame 3 times on the night prior to the Opening Ceremony.. in Marrickville, on Oxford Street, and at the Opera house, when Olivia ran around the building with the flame before handing it on to Patrick Rafter, and the ‘Happy gas’ that was in Sydney that night, and indeed for the next 15 days, is something I’ll never forget.
Meanwhile Google tells me that Madonna’s ‘Music’ and Kylie’s ‘On a Night Like This’ were the two Australian #1s during the Games, but I didn’t need Google to tell me that in one of the most dodgy and contentious US election results ever George W Bush scraped in over Al Gore, with the help of hanging chads in Florida and a Republican-stacked Supreme Court, despite losing by 500,000 votes, and thereby setting the precedent for another electoral shitfight 4 Olympics later..
The Athens 2004 Olympics were experienced in Scandinavia, in the company of Cousin IT, whilst driving round the coastline of Europe, attempting to write the book that has not yet been written. We were in Stockholm for the Opening Ceremony, and in Helsinki for the Closing Ceremony, and it took 15 days split between driving around the coastline of the Gulf of Bothnia, and exploring the Åland Islands, to experience them, via Swedish and Finnish TV and radio.
I can remember the excitement aboard the ferry coming back from the Åland islands when a Swedish table tennis player, who was in his 5th consecutive Games, won a match, but Google tells me the Swedes didn’t win any table tennis medals that Games, so I guess that his luck ran out soon after. I know that Thorpie won more gold, and that Michael Phelps emerged as a superstar at the Games, but not much else stands out.
The song on my brain that summer was the Moldavian hit ‘Dragostea Din Tei’, by O-zone, which was a monster hit all over Europe (including getting to #3 in the UK), but Google advises it didn’t chart here in Australia, although it did in the US. Meanwhile we’d got as far as Calais, France, by the time of that year’s US Election, when somehow GW Bush got back in for another 4 years.
It’s probably turned into a bit of an endurance test reading this, if indeed anyone is still reading it, but that now takes things up to Beijing 2008. By now I was teaching English at the Windsor Institute of Languages in the city and indeed had many Chinese students at the time the games were taking place.
My memory of the Beijing Games is of the astonishing over the top Opening Ceremony, the amazing Bird’s Nest stadium and the swimming pool ‘Cube’ ; the unnaturally blue skies; Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Bradley Wiggins, Stephanie Rice and Leisel Jones, Steve Hooker, and.. how could I ever forget…, Matthew Mitcham’s astonishing final gold winning dive in the Diving.
Google tells me that Katy Perry was #1 in the Aussie charts with ‘I kissed a girl’, which I definitely remember, and I need no reminding that Barack Obama beat John McCain that November for the US Presidency, with the GFC kicking in not long after the Beijing Games ended.
On to London 2012, by which stage I was an Academic English teacher at UNSW, and that takes me to the second Olympics that I attended in person, over in the UK, in the company of my Dad, my sister and her family. There weren’t any events or ceremonies attended in the main stadium, but we had a good smorgasbord of events around London, and (twice) at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Being in the UK, and surrounded by British commentary and press, it’s the British stars that come to mind first, such as Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, the Brownlee brothers, ginger-headed Greg Rutherford, Bradley Wiggins (again!) and Andy Murray rectifying his Wimbledon defeat of a few weeks earlier.
Otherwise Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt obviously both stand out and from Oz, Sally pearson, whose win I heard taking place live on the car radio whilst driving up a lonely stretch of the A1 to Edinburgh.
When I google the British pop charts for that period one song that I recognise is ‘Call me maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepsen, so I’ll count that as the sonic backdrop, while that November’s election saw an easy re-election for Obama over Mitt Romney.
And thus to the last Olympics, which although they’re the most recent are also in some ways the haziest. Still an Academic English teacher at UNSW, I think I felt a little less engaged with Rio ’16 than I did with earlier Games. Perhaps it was the low-key Opening ceremony, maybe it was the fact that most of the action was delayed due to the time difference, or maybe it was that I can’t really recall Australia doing spectacularly at it , despite a few swimming golds.
Google reminds me that Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Mo Farrah each shone and cemented their legends, but I can’t actually recall watching and cheering on my TV. What I do remember was Tokyo’s hi-tech promo of their forthcoming games in the Closing Ceremony, and alot of samba dances, but that’s about it. Had to check on Youtube to see what ‘Closer’ by the Chainsmokers, the Australian #1 at the time sounded like, and it’s vaguely familiar, but in truth I was probably listening to oldies on WSFM at the time!
Have no difficulty in recalling the details of that year’s US election, though, and how the world got saddled with the current nutter in the White House, despite losing by more than 3 million votes to Hillary Clinton, but that’d be a whole other post..!
And now to the present. Who knows what Tokyo 2020 might’ve been like? Who knows who the stars may have been, and what the Opening Ceremony might’ve been like. With no hype from the Australian media I have no idea of who might’ve been names to look out for, but also in terms of international stars I’m in the dark too. Who knows whether there’ll be a Tokyo 2021? I’d like to hope there might be, but I won’t be holding my breath. And will I feel engaged if there is one..? I’d like to hope so. but who knows?
Perhaps Paris ’24, 100 years on from ‘Chariots of Fire’, which was set during the Paris 1924 Games, could be one to aim for for a third Olympics in person. Qui sait? Meanwhile i also have no idea what is currently #1 in Australia, and can’t say I have any articular ‘sonic backdrop; to July 2020. I definitely do know who’s gonna be in the US election in just over 3 months time and I hope to God that Biden wins in a Blue tsunami, but I don’t know that I trust our cousins across the Big Pond enough to actually put a wager on it, yet..
So.. Blimey! That’s a f*cking long Smoke Signal. I might actually copy and paste this and put it into my Facebook page: it seems a waste not to. There are still some funnies to come from Mother to go in the hash trash, but at least for now, that’s the end of the Scribe’s thoughts on the Olympics and life…! On On Chimney