My first (and so far only) published work had to do with the Olympics. It was February 1994. The winter Olympics in Lillehammer had just begun, and several news stories were on TV about how, 10 years earlier, the Winter Olympics were in Sarajevo. The media was finding it delightfully ironic how this former Olympic host city was now in the middle of a heated war zone. After watching a few of these reports, I felt inspired. I dug out my notepad, and wrote an essay about how much war sucks and wouldn’t it be cool if one day the only battles were the friendly ones for Olympic gold. In November of 1994, my English teacher gave the assignment to write something for the Remembrance Day ceremonies. The winner would get to read it at the ceremonies. Rather than write a lame poem like most of my classmates, I just went and dug out my essay. But I added the clarifying line, “I wrote this a few months back.” I presented it to the class, my English teacher loved it, and I read it at the ceremonies. Then, my English teacher faxed it to the Edmonton Journal, and it ran in the Journal’s Remembrance Day insert.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Olympics. I can’t explain it. Something about the majesty, the pageantry, the fact that it’s little more than the whole world getting together to play a few games and have a little fun. It’s a great thing. One of my goals is to actually go to the Olympics someday. Not as a participant, of course, but as a spectator. And now, with the Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010, I sure hope I can go.
I’ve been to a few former host cities, though. When I was in Japan, I actually saw every Japanese Olympic host city: Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, and Nagano 1998. I never went out of my way to go Olympic sightseeing in Tokyo, though. Closest I ever came was when a friend and I were walking around Harajuku one day. He said, “You like the Olympics, right, Mark?” He pointed at a building and said, “Well, that’s the pool where they had all the swimming events.” And then, as I walked around Harajuku, I noticed the Olympic rings on a bridge over the railway tracks.
The big surprise was going to Sapporo. I had no idea that they hosted the Olympics until I was planning my trip there to visit Mr. Anderson and he told me about Sapporo’s Winter Sports Museum, which is dedicated to winter sports and mostly the 1972 Winter Olympics. I almost didn’t get to go to the Winter Sports Museum. It was closed for the New Years Holiday, but it finally opened up again on my second last day. But that didn’t stop me from checking out some sights. While wandering around a park one day, I stumbled across the stadium where they had the figure skating events. It was outdoors! Every one told me that Nagano had the better museum, but I think Sapporo’s was the better.
Not to badmouth Nagano. When I arrived at Kumagaya and saw that it sat on the Nagano line, I knew I had to get there. I finally did on my travels through Japan before I left the country. When I got off the train in Nagano, the first thing they have in the station is the logo for the 1998 Winter Olympics. I spent a week there and I saw everything. There was M-Wave, which was where they had figure and speed skating. It’s currently home to Nagano’s Olympics museum, so I figured it was a good start. I spent far too much money in their gift show. I saw the Aqua Wing, which was where they had the hockey games. It’s now the Nagano City swimming pool. The coolest was when I saw the stadium where they had the opening and closing ceremonies. It’s in the middle of a park, and it’s now home to Nagano’s baseball team. As I was admiring the stadium, the team was doing laps around the park. Really cool. Actually, as I was roaming the streets of Nagano, I started wondering how much money a city pulls in when it has the title, “Former Olympic Host City.”
I have yet to visit every Canadian Olympic host city. Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988, in case you didn’t know. Last time I was in Calgary was 1992 as part of a class trip. We did go to Canada Olympic Park and just…hang out. And the Olympic Oval, where they had speed skating. It’d be nice to go back and do it proper some day. And then…on to Montreal! A weird contract, those two Olympic host cities. Montreal is still paying off the debt from their Olympics. Still trying to finish their Olympic Stadium, too. Meanwhile. Calgary was the first Olympics to turn a profit.
Oh, and despite what they said on that episode of The Simpsons, the mascot of the Montreal games wasn’t a vampire. It was a beaver. The first Olympic mascot was at the 1972 games in Berlin. It was a daschund.
This year’s Olympics are going to be in Athens, Greece. It’s going back to where it began! Actually, I was reading something about the Olympics that’s very interesting. They’re thinking of adding a third…gender. Men, women, and transsexuals. The Olympic committees are defining transsexuals as a man who has had a sex change operation and has lived as a woman for two years. They feel they need to do it to change with the times. The only thing is, in order for this to work, they’d have to bring back gender testing.
Gender testing was one of the more controversial aspects of the Olympics, introduced in the early 1970s. There was a fear that men were disguising themselves as women to increase their chances of winning, so the Olympic organizers started making sure the women were actually women. That had to be insulting. Here you are, a woman at the top of your game, about to compete in one of the greatest sporting events in the world, but oh, before you can compete, could we look up your skirt, please? We need to make sure you are what you say you are. They finally stopped doing it at the Sydney games in 2000.
I’ll never forget being in school in 1994, when it was announced that Sydney would be hosting the Olympics in 2000. We had an Australian exchange student at the time, and naturally she was asked if she would be going. She said her hometown was 5 hours away from Sydney, but she’d definitely make the trip for the Olympics. I wonder if she ever went. I know I’ll be going to Vancouver in 2010. As I wrote all those years ago, I want to see a world where the only competitions are the friendly ones for Olympic gold.