What’s a little self-indulgence between friends, meaning me and all those Twin Cities readers who have looked forward to my laser-focused columns since they started appearing in the afternoon St. Paul Dispatch in February 1979.
The deal is, I was rustling around on Monday morning in Fort Myers, and the thought came that what a wonderful moment this must be for Star Tribune colleagues Rachel Blount and Chip Scoggins, as they packed it in after another day of covering the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Here’s the self-indulgent part: I covered six Olympics (three Summer, three Winter) and nothing in sports writing compares as a grind. And on this Monday in Florida, I had a flashback to the euphoria felt when one of my Olympic assignments reached its final seven days.
“It’s the last Monday,’’ you would say on that morning. “We’re going to make it.’’
And then came Tuesday morning, and you started to get a glimpse of the finish line. By Wednesday, your pulse was pounding with excitement that by nightfall, it would be almost over – four days left of 17, less than 25 percent.
Hey, I’m just telling you the truth here: put together 10 days with an average of three hours’ sleep, four on your best night, and you appreciate arriving at the last Monday, followed by the last Tuesday, a celebration all way to the relaxed final Sunday, when it’s all over.
I started kicking around the half-dozen Olympics on the satisfaction scale as a reporter, and this was the list.
1-Barcelona, 1992: Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of International Olympic Committee, guided the Olympics to his home area. There was considerable skepticism if Barcelona had the wherewithal to pull it off, but these Summer Games were fabulous.
Samaranch was driven to do away with the amateur-ideal hypocrisy for the Olympics and bring the best athletes in the world to Barcelona. The greatest success in this was to get USA Basketabll to agree to use NBA stars – and that became the one, true Dream Team.
The presence of Magic, Michael, Charles, etc. created a phenomenon with the public that was something to behold. The Dream Team’s games weren’t close, and that only made them more popular.
Basically, everything was great in Barcelona, other than the fact that the locals paid no heed to the leavings of their many dogs. Watch your step!
2-Los Angeles, 1984. The Soviet Union and most of its Communist cohorts were boycotting. There were also dire predictions as to the congestion the Summer Games would bring to the already overwhelmed freeways of L.A.
Turned out, huge numbers of folks headed elsewhere, and it was easier to get around L.A. than at any time I was there – before or since.
Gregg Wong and I were covering for the St. Paul newspapers and we were trying to cover a half-dozen events per day. On the final weekend, we went to a gathering of reporters covering for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, and were reminded that we were supposed to have checked in for assignments at the start of the L.A. Games.
It was too late. Sorry.
The track was great, the boxing was great. I was able to see Mary Lou, and I was able to freak out watching synchronized swimming for the first time. The only real downer was Bobby Knight winning the gold medal in a romp in men’s basketball.
3-Lillehammer, 1994. We had Norway’s Koss the Boss and the USA’s Dan Jansen in speed skating, Nancy, Tonya and Oksana in figure skating, Picabo Street in Alpine skiing, and the most humble and helpful people I’ve ever been around.
There were Norwegians that actually seemed to be embarrassed the home country was winning so many medals – as if it made Norway a bad host.
(Note: That wasn’t a problem for we Yankees in L.A. in 1984, I can assure you of that.)
I was taking my marching orders from Jay Weiner, the Olympic writer for the Star Tribune, and Mike Preston was taking his from Bill Glauber, the Olympic writer for the Baltimore Sun.
Which meant Preston and I were on the same busses to events almost every day. Preston is an African-American gent, and in that part of Norway … well, there wasn’t a lot of racial diversity.
A dozen times locals came up to Preston to ask, in the most polite way possible, if they could take a photo with him. This went on for a week and finally Preston said: “OK, this is starting to irritate me.’’
Which was funny ... even if you had to be there.
4-Sydney, 2000. The Australians were almost as lovable as the Norwegians, but in a completely different way. They offered more cynical humor than you will find in the USA.
The city was tremendous. The days were sunny. The venues were terrific. The problem was the time difference. It drove me crazy always to be writing 1½-day old news for a morning newspaper. We did not have a devotion to producing copy for a 24-hour Website as became the case a few years later.
One bit of fun was watching Doug Mientkiewicz and his teammates beat Cuba to win the gold medal in baseball, with the boastful Tommy Lasorda as the manager.
5-Salt Lake City, 2002. I wasn’t there to watch Herbie Brooks pull off the upset in Lake Placid in 1980, but we had him as a coach of the NHLers in Salt Lake. The semifinal victory over Russia was fantastic, before a loss to Canada in the gold medal game.
This was my last Olympics and we had four people covering for the Strib. It was a breeze.
6-Calgary, 1988. The figure skating was the highlight: Brian Boitano vs. Brian Orser in men’s; Katrina Witt vs. Debi Thomas vs. Elizabeth Manley in women’s.
The judges were ready to give Debi the gold medal, and then she stumbled around the ice in shocking fashion. I wrote a column ripping her effort … and put it this way: The largely female crowd of figure skating devotees had many angry letters waiting for me back in the Twin Cities.
It was also strange to watch Dave Peterson, the formerly affable Minneapolis Southwest coach, turn surly as the coach of the U.S. hockey team. The Yanks were talented, played no defense, and flopped.
There were two major problems with the Calgary Games:
One, they had stretched the competition to 16 days to try to recoup TV millions, but still had the events for a 10-day Olympics -- meaning, we had to make hay with the Jamaican bobsled game and Eddie the Eagle as a ski jumper.
Two, a chinook, which creates warm weather, came in over the mountains and the final few days of an alleged winter games were being contested in 50-degree temperatures.
So, there’s my list … and, as promised, self-indulgent.