The summer of 1972 I was twelve years old and about to enter the seventh grade. That would be a big lifestyle change as it meant moving from the comfort of little Sinclairville Elementary to Cassadaga Valley High School. In a way, it was my last summer of childhood, before moving on to the grown up world of the high school building.
That summer, I discovered Olympic love. It was quite the year for that. I did not come by my Olympic love without precedent. Even though I have always been the chubby kid, I do love the sports. There are some that I cotton to better than others, but I can watch and enjoy most any of them.
ABC was the place to watch the Olympics back then. Jim McKay, with his yellow blazer, was the nice gentleman that introduced us to the games each night. I think from day 1 of the games, I was hooked. Looking at pictures, I have vague recollections of the opening ceremony. The American team entered to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching In” with snappy red blazers and white skirts for the women (and a nice purse) and white blazers and red pants for the men. 7,113 athletes from 121 countries participated in 193 events in 23 sports.
The German’s chose “The Happy Games” as their slogan, hoping to build a whole new persona for the country that had last hosted the games during the Nazi regime in 1936.
The opening ceremony was on August 26 and closed on September 10. Each night I would watch the days offering, and each day I would read the recaps in the newspapers, cut out the articles and every picture, and paste them into a scrapbook. I think I got supplemental material from the Life magazine that came to our house.
The scrapbook came to hold some amazing stories. Of course there was that tremendously good looking Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals. No one thought that would ever happen again.
For me and millions of others, the other major star was Olga Korbut. She was darling and strong. Her performance on the uneven parallel bars was a revelation – how could anyone possibly do the things that she could do? As it turns out, her Korbut Flip where she kind of stands on the high bar and throws herself backward is illegal now. The big thing about Olga Korbut was how cute and smiley she was. This was a person from the Soviet Union getting all kinds of love, and making the Americans forget about our own cutie, Cathy Rigby. It was all sorts of melting the fear of the Soviets for a few days.
On September 5, the happy games came to a halt when terrorists took members of the Israeli team hostage. It lasted for 18 hours and in the end, all of the hostages were dead. It was horrible and shocking. There was discussion about what to do with the games after that. They ended up going on, but it was different. In a sense, making it through was a competition in itself.
When the Olympics ended, the scrapbook ended. My parents thought it was something. I was proud of it too. I don’t remember if it was my idea or not, but I sent my scrapbook to the United States Olympic Committee. A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. It was from the director of communications telling me that they had received my “most interesting scrapbook.” They were sending me a book commemorating the 1972 games and one of the athlete exchange pins. The letter ended with him letting me know that my scrapbook would be placed in the official archives of the US Olympic Committee “as a fine example of what young Olympian enthusiasts can do.” That was a great mail day for me. I still have that letter … in a scrapbook.