I know exactly what I was doing in the summer of 1984.
I was glued to the family’s Toshiba, watching the Olympics in Los Angeles. Specifically, women’s gymnastics.
Like most of America, I was mesmerized by a dynamic 16-year-old gymnast from Fairmont, West Virginia.
Mary Lou Retton was my idol. She was strong, she was bubbly, and she was only 4-foot-9.
I had a chance.
I remember biting my nails, watching Retton compete for the all-around title, trailing Romania’s Ecaterina Szabó of Romania after two events with only two left. Then this little powerhouse did the unthinkable: she scored perfect 10s on the floor exercise and the vault to win the title by 0.05 points. Even better, she became the first female gymnast from outside Easter Europe to win the Olympic all-around title.
I was sold. Even though I was just nine years old and far from flexible, I was determined to make the 1988 Olympic gymnastics team. I was going to practice in my living room every morning before school and evening after dinner, perfecting my cartwheels and back bends. I had the dance routine down for the floor exercise. I just needed the other equipment — vault, uneven bars, balance beam — and I would be set.
My ambition lasted as long as the Olympics, and it didn’t take long for my Olympic dreams to be replaced by fantasies of winning an Oscar for best original screenplay.
But the fascination with the Olympic Games never went away.
Even now with the London 2012 Olympics going on, I’m constantly flipping channels, getting my fix of beach volleyball, water polo, swimming, soccer, basketball, even archery. I can’t get enough.
Even table tennis has grabbed my attention, as 16-year-old Ariel Hsing nearly caused a major upset as she gave second seed Li Xiaoxia a run for her money. Hsing was eventually defeated. But name me another table tennis athlete — yes, they’re athletes! — who gets hugged afterward by Microsoft founder Bill Gates?
I know about all the politics that surround the Olympics. I see the disparity of wealth among countries. I see the haves and the have-nots. I get it. But I’m still pathetically smitten by it all.
Who’s with me?