Olympig! is now officially less than one month away from publication! As I explained in this post, I first began dreaming of Boomer back in 2007. But if you REALLY want to get down to it, my obsession with the Olympics began even earlier...
... in 1984, to be exact. That's me in the front- wearing a gymnastics leotard and a brave face... because the one thing I am NOT wearing is a gold medal in Gymnastics.
If you were around in 1984, you may remember a certain athlete by the name of Mary Lou Retton. She was America's Sweetheart, and I wanted to be just like her. When the E. Langhorne Avenue Olympic Committee (aka, my mother) announced that we would have a Kid Olympics at our summer block party, I set my sights on glory. I would win the gold medal in gymnastics.
The whole neighborhood was amazed by my dedication. Day after day, I could be found practicing my tumbling routine in the front yard. I rehearsed my balance beam routine on the curb. But my best event was, undoubtedly, the uneven bars. We had a tree in the front yard- MY tree- whose branches were arranged like the gymnastics apparatus. I had blisters on the palms of my hands and the backs of my knees from practicing my swinging and my penny drops. All the kids in the neighborhood knew it- that gold medal was mine, all mine.
The big day arrived. I put up a show of participating in the long jump and the dress-up relay. I even accidentally won the gold medal in the marathon, due to some cramping and asthma attacks hitting the other athletes. The win was unexpected and pleasant, but it didn't really matter to me. I was waiting for gymnastics, the final event.
Finally. My moment arrived. I put on my leotard, and I performed the routines I had practiced for so long. My tumbling was flawless. A little stumble on the balance beam, but nothing major. And the uneven bars- well, I could hear the crowds gasping and cheering. When I executed the dismount- a perfect penny drop with no spotter- I knew I had nailed it.
I couldn't wait for the results to be announced. The judges huddled together, made their decisions, and announced that I had won...
the silver medal.
Gold went to the girl who lived up the street. The judges cited an obscure rule (2.2.4, section 20), stating that every kid had to win at least one gold medal. Since I had already won gold in the marathon, and the girl up the street hadn't won any...
I was heartbroken. I did not accept the loss graciously. In fact, 30-ish years later I am still airing my complaints to the Olympic Committee (aka, my mother). When I was writing Olympig!, it was this experience I drew upon most heavily. My parents and teachers told me that if I practiced hard and tried my best, I could achieve anything. Realizing that this was not true- that sometimes I would not win no matter how hard I tried- shook me to my foundations.
Even though I lost the gold- and quit my gymnastics lessons soon after- I must say that the Kid Olympics made a deep impression on me, and my love and fascination for the Olympics only grew. I was a fairly unathletic kid- uncoordinated and gangly- but a sporting event where I could make flags and march in a parade? Sign me up! And when I watched the Olympics on TV, I felt a kinship with those athletes- I had shared in their struggle, I knew their pain. The unattainable was made real, as I had experienced a small piece of it in my own neighborhood.
I wish more parents, teachers, and community centers would stage Kid Olympics- this is part of the reason I created the Olympic crafts section of my website. Especially with child obesity on the rise, it's a great way to get kids excited about athletics.
And even if they don't go on to become Olympic athletes, maybe they'll write a book about it someday.