My interest in the Olympics started back in 1992, when it was held in Barcelona, Spain. I was just a 12-year-old boy before the days of the Internet. All we had was the news on the television and the printed version. I remembered buying a small booklet that allow the user (me) to write the name of the winners in the columns provided. Talk about responsive design, this was as responsive as you can get back in the early 90s.
It was the first time that Germany participated as one after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Russia Soviet Union on the other hand competed under a different name, Unified Team. The Barcelona Games was also fondly remembered by my country as badminton was introduced as a medal-winning event and we duly won our first bronze medal ever through the men’s doubles event.
The iconic image that I had was Fu Mingxia’s leap in the diving competition against the back drop of the Sagrada Família. She won gold too. At the age of 13. Just one year older than I was. At that time.
America sent their first basketball team with the likes of NBA’s finest Michael Johnson, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Dominating the event, they were soon dubbed the Dream Team.
Another thing I remembered from the 1992 Summer Olympics was the closing ceremony song performed by Sarah Brightman and José Carreras — Amigos Para Siempre (Friends for Life). That song could still be heard on the airwaves today.
Atlanta, USA was chosen as the city to host the Centennial Olympics. My personal opinion at that time was that Athens should have been chosen instead but they lost the bid in the final round. This time around, the thing that I remembered was the mascot — an abstract character named Whatizit or Izzy. The Internet was at its infancy for my country back then. We were still on dial-up modem running at 128 or 256k speeds. So it was still down to the television for the latest updates.
The only thing I remembered from the opening ceremony was Muhammad Ali lighting the cauldron. He received a replica of the gold medal that he won back in the 1960 Summer Olympics.
The best of the Atlanta Games came in the track and field. Canadian Donovan Bailey broke the then world record for the 100m with 9.84s. This was followed by ramrod Michael Johnson with a run of 19.32s for the 200m. My country’s participation ended with their best ever haul of 1 silver and 1 bronze from the badminton events.
Asia also made headlines as a Hong Kong lass, won gold in the sailing competition. It was their first and last as Hong Kong, a former English colony was returned to China in 1997.
The Games was also marred by a bombing event, known as the Centennial Olympic Park bombing that caused one death and 100+ injured.
I had started my medical university just weeks earlier. Hence missing out on the bulk of the Games. Even the usual viewing of the Opening Ceremony. The Internet had improved by leaps and bounds since the days of Atlanta. We were able to get live results as long as we had an Internet connection (which I didn’t back then). I was still staying at the students’ quarters without Internet and without a TV.
I remembered the Games from newspapers as being all about the swimming competition. Ian Thorpe or Thorpe-do became the new thing, breaking the world records in both the 400m freestyle and 4×100 freestyle relay. The women were not to be upstaged by the men, Dutch Inge de Bruijn broke the world record for the 100m butterfly event.
Great Britain also had something to shout about as Steve Redgrave (now Sir Steve) won in the coxless four rowing event. His achievement was particular because this made him the winner of a gold medal in 5 different Olympics. Amazing! His 5 gold medals then made him the best British Olympian.
Note: Sir Chris Hoy broke that record in the cycling event by winning his
7th 6th gold medal at London Olympics 2012.
Local sprinter Cathy Freeman won in the women’s 400m event in front of the jubilant Sydney crowd. It was the iconic image of the Games, Freeman being draped in both the Australian and Aboriginal flags.
It was a race again time as the news online and printed were painting a bad picture of Athens’ preparation of the Games. Their Olympic Stadium was only completed 2 months before the opening ceremony. On a brighter note, I remembered the torch relay to be significantly unique (which I just found out why while researching for this article). Back then, I thought it was common to have the torch relay being sent to other countries, it was only during the London Olympics that I found out that wasn’t true. So the 2004 Summer Olympics was unique for its round-the-world torch relay.
I missed the Opening Ceremony yet again as my finals were near. The parade of nations was also unique as they followed the Greek alphabet. The high point was the participation of Afghanistan.
China’s Liu Xiang made headlines when he won the 110m hurdles in a record time of 12.91s, making him the first Chinese track and field gold medallist. Hicham El Guerrouj won gold in both the 1500m and 5000m races, a feat previously done by Paavo Nurmi back in 1924.
This was also remembered for Phelps’ record of winning 8 medals, 6 golds and 2 bronzes, becoming the first athlete to win 8 in one Olympics.
As it was held in my country’s backyard, this particular edition of the Games was given the most coverage. The lack of any significant time difference was also key to the Games being the most watched event of the year.
The Games was also touted to be for the architecture buffs, with the “Bird’s Nest” Beijing National Stadium and the box-like National Aquatics Center. The city constructed 31 new venues at a staggering cost of $40 billion, making it the most expensive Games ever. Their effort to improve the air quality included limitations on the construction sites and passenger vehicles restrictions were placed on alternate days according to the last digit of their car’s licence plate.
For the record, there were a grand total of 5 mascots, each involving a ring from the Olympic symbol. It was also the first Olympic Games to broadcast in high definition. It was also the first time that the torch travelled across all continents except Antartica in a journey lasting 130 days and 137,000km. However, the fallout from the torch relay including human rights protests and anti-Tibet protests along the route finally led to the IOC banning further international torch relays.
The Opening Ceremony started at 8pm on the 8th of August, as the number 8 is associated with prosperity and confidence in Chinese culture. The whole programme lasted for 4 hours in a grandiose display of colours. The downloaded file that I have amounted to 5GB in total for the event.
Beijing 2008 would be remembered for Michael Phelps’ golden achievement of winning 8 gold medals in a single Games. Out of the 8 events, he broke 7 world records. It was in the 100m butterfly event that controversy struck and Phelps won with a difference of just one-hundredth of a second. It was also the only event in which he didn’t break the world record.
As for track and field, Jamaican Usain Bolt equalled Carl Lewis’s record of winning both the 100m and 200m in a single Olympics. He won the 100m in a world record time of 9.69s (now 9.58s) and the 200m, also at a world record time of 19.30s (now 19.19s). Making him the fastest person on the planet. China’s Liu Xiang pulled out of his event due to an injury.
A new record was set when 54 countries won gold whereas 84 countries won at least a medal. China won 51 gold medals, becoming only the 3rd country besides United States and the Soviet Union to do so since the 1936 Summer Olympics. However, the American always had the last say and they used the total medals won (110 against China’s 100) to rank their Olympic medal tally table.