I had the privilege of covering six Olympics, three Summer Games and three Winter Games. I offer “privilege’’ in the full meaning of the noun.
From age 38 in Los Angeles in 1984 to age 56 in Salt Lake City in 2002, covering the Games played out the same:
There was a sense of anticipation and being overwhelmed on the eve of the Games. Once competition started, covering the Games became a routine of 18-hour days. By the second of three weekends, the adrenalin was drained and I would be a haggard lump..
An aside here: You might not suspect this from a distance, but I’m a nutcase when it comes to clean clothes. My wife’s present to me on the all-important 60th birthday was a washing machine. I wept with joy.
So, now you’ve been sleeping in one of those pathetic Olympic media villages for 10 days, and getting the clothes washed and dried has been a challenge, and the buses have been late, and you’re operating on 4-hour sleep at the max, and …
I think I was 6-for-6 in producing a column on the second weekend that was filled with acrimonious complaints and a plea to get the Hades out of wherever we were located.
And then came Monday, and it was the “last Monday,’’ and then the “last Tuesday,’’ and there came this euphoric feeling that you wanted to charge hither and yon to cover more events on a daily basis and see everything before it was time to leave this glorious place.
I self-diagnosed the emotional ups and downs of reporting the Olympic as OCS – Olympic coverage schizophrenia.
When it was over, the reaction also was consistent: Gratified to have been there, and with a feeling that you had accomplished something. Whether the readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Los Angeles and Calgary) and the Star Tribune (the other four) felt the same, that was their issue, not mine.
The newspapers got the best we had for 2 ½ weeks: from Gregg Wong and I in L.A., Curt Brown and I in Calgary, Jay Weiner and I in Barcelona and Lillehammer, Jay, Rachel Blount and I in Sydney, and Jay, Rachel, Tom Jones and I in Salt Lake.
That was close to a vacation in Salt Lake, with a four-reporter delegation from the Strib -- even if I did manage to get grumpy enough to write the traditional get-me-out-of-here column on the second weekend.
The younger folks have taken over as Rachel’s partner on our Olympics coverage, and more power to them. These are grand experiences, and I got my half-dozen, with this as my personal ranking for the environment, the excitement of the competition and that sense of accomplishment as a reporter:
1-Barcelona. The Dream Team. The throwdown between U.S. sprinters Gwen Torrence and Gail Devers at a post-medal press conference. Dennis Koslowski’s silver medal in Greco-Roman.
Steaming hot in a magnificent city with excellent train service.
A small moment: A few of us Yankee reporters were talking with the president of Lithuania after his team beat Russia (or whatever we were calling it then) for the bronze medal. He was wearing one of the Grateful Dead T-shirts produced for that team.
I reached out, tugged on the T-shirt and said, “Do you think George (H.) Bush would wear this in public.’’ The president smiled and indicated that he did not think so.
2-Lillehammer. Tonya and Nancy. A hockey arena inside a cave. And Picabo Street’s father, Stubby, an old hippie from Idaho, wrapped in an American flag at the bottom of the hill after his daughter’s silver medal in the downhill, and giving a couple of us who happened on him an all-time great interview.
Small stuff: My running mate for most of the Olympics was Mike Preston from the Baltimore Sun. I was an oversized white guy, and Preston was a robust-sized black guy, and Norwegians – in the friendliest manner possible – kept coming up to Mike and asking if they could have a photo taken with him.
After about four days, Preston looked at me after one of the photo ops and said, “You know, I think this is starting to irritate me.’’
3-Los Angeles. There was supposed to be chaos on the freeways of L.A. So, everyone left town, and Wong and I shared a rental car to dash from downtown to Anaheim and places in between. Covered as much of the Summer Olympics as two sportswriters could cover.
Basically, it was fantastic, except for the absence of the Soviet bloc, which led to the orgy of “USA, USA’’ chants at inappropriate times – such as when leading France by about 60 points in a men’s basketball game.
4-Sydney. Great city -- and the Ausies were the world’s No. 1 smart alecks, which increased the appeal for me. But those 15, 16, 17 hours in lead time … whatever the number … drove me nuts. I was doing radio hits at 7 a.m. back in Minnesota, talking about events I would be writing about in the next day’s newspaper. I hated that.
5-Calgary. Never thought I’d cover an Olympics where the most-intriguing event for me was women’s figure skating, which was partly due to my unrequited love for Katarina Witt, but mostly for poor Debi Thomas reeling like a drunken sailor when the gold medal was waiting for her.
A quote for the ages, from Al Morganti as we watched the Swedes play the Russians in the Saddledome: “You know what the problem is with this Swedish team? They have too many Swedes.’’
6-Salt Lake City. The hockey was terrific, but we had Tom Jones covering it full-time, so all that was required from me was an occasional column. The rest of the competition wasn’t all that compelling.
There was so much free time I went to see the Mormon Tabernacle one night to hear choir practice. They sounded pretty good to me.
As for the Olympics and the need for clean clothes mentioned earlier, my wife – when miffed over an alleged slight -- still will bring up the afternoon I got back from Sydney after being gone 22 days, went downstairs to unload the suitcase and put a load of dirty clothes in the washer, then went upstairs to say, “Hey, honey.’’
Mrs. Reusse only brings that up because it's true.