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The Evolution of the Olympics – 1984 to 2020

As we all know, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until the Summer of 2021. As an official sponsor of some of the USA Olympic teams, our even numbered year circadian clocks are all thrown off due to no Olympics this year. Currently, Facebook and Instagram keeps giving me “On this day” reminders from London and Rio. My yearning for the Olympics was reaching an apex, but there was no solution to satisfy the my hunger for the rings.

Well, enter The Olympic Channel to the rescue! While scrolling through their offerings one evening, I uncovered a treasure trove of Olympic content. Among the options was Bud Greenspan’s “16 Days of Glory” about the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Not being deterred by the 4 hours and 45 minute running time, I decided to give it a go. Even though this was filmed a year after I was born, it didn’t feel outdated besides some of the fashion (some of which is apparently back in style).

Before I knew it, I was 2.5 hours into the film but had only felt like one hour at most. The documentary is structured around dozens of short stories from the games. These stories of triumph and pain are accompanied by interviews with the actual athletes months after the competition. For every Carl Lewis interview speaking about his or her victories, there is a Henry Marsh reliving how he caught his spikes on his sweatpants warming up and fell into a hurdle right before the race. The narration is pristine, and the soundtrack is phenomenal. It’s an Olympic masterpiece.

As a veteran of a few Olympic experiences myself, I naturally began to compare what the Olympics were like when I was born to what they are like today. I kept a running log of some observations that I hope you enjoy:


Cellphone-less spectating. Photo from Bud Greenberg’s “16 Days of Glory.”

  • – The 1984 Olympic Opening ceremonies was far less of a production than modern times. There was a man that entered in on a jetpack, the releasing of doves, and that was about it. It was also incredible to see everyone in the audience watching the event without a camera phone.

 

 

  • – The granddaughter of Jesse Owens and grandson of Jim Thorpe were both a part of the opening ceremonies, which I thought was cool. Thinking out to LA 2028, I’m already excited to see which athletes and figures will be featured.
    Evolution of the Olympics

    Rafer Johnson has 99 problems but the stairs ain’t one. From Bud Greenspan’s “16 Days of Glory”

  • – At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, decathlete Rafer Johnson was selected to be the flag bearer for the United States. In 1984, he lit the torch at the opening ceremonies. In order to do so, he had to climb 99 stairs with a burning torch. With all due respect, you can really only trust the “World’s greatest athlete” to accomplish such a task.

 

  • – China had never won a gold medal before 1984. That’s unfathomable to think about today. They walked away from Los Angeles with 15 gold.

 

 

  • – Speaking of swimming, it was incredible to watch races where the majority of male participants didn’t wear a swim cap. The swimsuits were also the standard “Speedo” attire, not the full body suits that are popular today.

 

  • Evolution of the Olympics

    400m runner Edwin Moses rocking Kappa. Photo: Uncredited, AP

    – It’s been interesting to see the variety of sport brands featured in the games. The USA Track and field team wore Kappa. The USA volleyball team wore Mizuno. The USA men’s gymnastics team wore Asics. The Italian track team wore Champion.

 

  • – Hearing and seeing athletes represent East Germany and West Germany took some getting used to. As someone born in the early 1980s, this wasn’t something that I grew up with in sports.

 

  • – 1984 was the first time that women ran the 400m Hurdles in the Olympics. Knowing that current 400m Hurdle star Sydney McLaughlin is currently plastered all over Gatorade bottles, it’s unfathomable to imagine not having athletes like McLaughlin and other 400m hurdlers, including world record holder Dalilah Muhammad, and Rio medalist Ashley Spencer not in the Olympics.

 

Greg Louganis coaching Mario Lopez. Photo from IMDB.com

  • – Watching Greg Louganis complete, I said to myself, “that looks like Mario Lopez.” Then I was reminded that Mario Lopez played Greg Louganis in a 1997 movie called “Breaking the Surface.”
  • – This documentary was released in 1986, and there is an interview with Louganis talking about a Russian diver who hit his head during a diving competition right in front of Louganis. Eerie knowing that just two years later at the 1988 Olympics, he would also hit his head during the competition.
  • – The narrator makes mention of the fact that many nations were participating in their first Summer Olympics since 1976 due to a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. This I knew. What I did not know is that South Africa was banned from participating in 1984 due to their nation’s political policies. That’s an incredible statement.

 

  • – Speaking of South Africa, the Zola Budd and Mary Decker Slaney race is still incredible to watch for so many reasons, even if you know what happens. This includes the fact that it was the first 3,000 meter race for women.

 

  • – The women’s marathon was dominated by the incredible performance by American Joan Benoit. However, the narration shares a fact rather nonchalantly that made me stop in my tracks and do some research. American Julie Brown was one of three US competitors in the marathon. Just four years before, she qualified for the 1980 Olympics at both the 800m and 1,500m races. Anyone who knows racing that there are almost no similarities with those distances and a marathon. What incredible range for Julie Brown!
  • Evolution of the Olympics– The US women’s gymnastics team won the team silver, and the clutch Mary Lou Retton won the all around gold medal. As a child who really remembers the 1992 Olympics and beyond, it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that before the success of the  ’84 Olympics squad, the US women’s program was just another nation competing.

 

  • – In June of 1984, the movie The Karate Kid was released. Watching this documentary, I think I could convince most humans that the 1984 US Men’s Gymnastics team either inspired, or were inspired by, the dojo of Cobra Kai. I think both squads would view that as a compliment.

 

  • – The 1984 Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Strange to think that nation doesn’t exist anymore and hasn’t for nearly three decades. There are several other countries in the Opening Ceremony that prompted a bit of research.

 

  • – There is no way that West German decathlete Jürgen Hingsen would have not received interest from a major sports team in the US. At 6 foot 7 and 225 pounds, and unbelievably built, I would put my life’s savings on an NFL team calling him for at least a tryout.
  • Evolution of the Olympics
  • The LA Coliseum looked outstanding, flaunting a neon type of motif that looked like the colors of the San Antonio Spurs (Pink, orange, turquoise). Fitting for the location and 80s. I hope they bring it back in 2028.

 

  • – I had never heard of Connie Carpenter-Phinney. My goodness, what an athlete. She was a gold medal cyclist at the 84 Games, a sport she took up after her Olympic speed skating career was derailed due to injuries. In 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, she placed 7th in the 1,500 competing as a 14 year old. Quite the resume.

 

Interested in “16 Days of Glory?” Click HERE to stream on the Olympic Channel.

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