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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gray Matters: The Olympics; part II

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sometime before the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I was struck with an inspiration.

Knowing our nephew, Dave Dorr, retired sports writer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and Sporting News, had covered nine Olympics, six Winter Olympics and three Summer ones, I decided to asked him if he would recount some of his memorable experiences in a couple of guest Gray Matters.

I am sure you will be as delighted as I am that he said yes. This is the second story by Dave.

My lodging at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., was a cottage on the banks of Saranac Lake. It had little heat, no writing desk and a shower that dripped if I was lucky. At night, I put a tube of toothpaste in the crook of my knee to warm it so I could brush my teeth in the morning.

If you'll recall, Cold War tensions in 1980 were downright icy. Russia was the chief U.S. Olympic rival, the enemy. Americans were being held hostage in Iran. There was talk of the U.S. boycotting the Moscow Games that summer. American shoulders were slumping. The national mood was heavy-hearted.

In the midst of this, a group of U.S. college hockey players shocked the invincible, titanic Soviet team 4-3 in what would come to be known as the Miracle on Ice. It was thrilling, improbable, unexpected and just what the nation needed, proof that anything is possible, anything can be overcome.

I walked out of the arena that night to an unbelievable, wild, spine-tingling scene. People had climbed on telephone poles and cars and everywhere you could hear them singing the Star Spangled Banner. It was unforgettable, the No. 1 American sports moment in a generation, an affirmation of national values.

Truly, it was an uplifting moment. My personal Olympic moment, though, occurred in Korea at the 1988 Summer Games when I carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Seoul to the stadium on the day of the Opening Ceremonies.

Police estimated the crowd at 500,000 along my route, everyone eager to see the sacred Olympic flame. There was an honor guard of 16 Koreans running behind me. I was flanked by police motorcycles and ahead of me were Korean dancers in traditional costumes. My outfit, furnished by Korean Olympic officials, was all white -- shoes, gloves, headband, singlet, shorts, socks. I've never worn them again.

Lake Placid marked the third of nine Summer and Winter Games I covered as a journalist. Winter Games have a charm the Summer Games can't match. I think it's the skiing, the skating, the snow, the frigid days that bite at your nostrils.

At Lake Placid, American Eric Heiden won five speedskating gold medals on an oval that once was a running track adjacent to the town's high school. It was difficult to see his races from the bleachers, so I went to a second floor men's bathroom, opened a window and, with unfettered view, scribbled my notes.

Sometimes, you just have to be creative. At the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics security was brutally tight because of the Munich Massacre in 1972. I needed the Olympic Village phone number of boxer Michael Spinks, but it was off limits. So, in clandestine fashion, he passed the number to me carved on a bar of soap through a fence.

Poignant Olympic moments -- some worthy of poetry -- stay with you, deep within your soul. At the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary the world wept with American speedskater Dan Jansen. On the day of the 500 meters, a race in which he was the heavy favorite, his sister Jane Beres died of leukemia. He fell 10 seconds into the race and was eliminated. Three days later, in the 1,000 meters, he fell again.

And in 1992 at the Barcelona Summer Games, nearing the 20th anniversary of the Munich murders of 11 Israeli Olympians by Arab terrorists, Yael Arad became the first from Israel to win an Olympic medal, a silver in judo. Destiny? Perhaps. For me, it simply confirmed that there is justice in the world after all.