sportstravel & foreign lands

More jet packs please- memories of Olympic glory

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Ever since I was a wee zygote, I have had zero interest in sports. Soccer? Swimming? Table-tennis? Nah. It’s only during the Olympics, when the coverage is so overwhelming that I become aware of what’s going on in the world of running and jumping. And indeed, when I look back, I see that in spite of my indifference I actually have numerous memories of Games past.

Take the Moscow Olympics of 1980 for instance. I was five years old and a girl from my small Scottish town was doing something over there. Our teachers told us all about it. Anyway, she didn’t win a medal, but they did name a street in a rubbish suburb in her honor fifteen years later, so her glory is undiminished, although I can’t actually remember her name.

Then came 1984 and the LA Olympics, which made a big impact on me because I was really enjoying “V,” a TV series about alien lizards disguised as humans, and they kept broadcasting athletics instead, which was annoying. I actually remember a few things about the actual sport – the UK had several excellent runners at the time, all of whose names began with “S” and we also had a man called Daley Thompson, who I thought was superhuman since he was a gold medal decathlete and thus good at everything.

But what I really remember about LA was the bit when a man flew about the stadium on a jet pack. Wow, I thought, soon, we’ll all be flying to school on jet packs! Of course, nothing of the sort has happened, and the way the world economy is going we are more likely to end up riding about in carts hitched to the backs of donkeys, Cuban-style.

They lied, Dave Stevens died. Not that I think there was any connection, in case lawyers are reading this.

Seoul was next, I think, and who knows what happened there? I presume North Korea boycotted it. And I think Ben Johnson got disqualified after failing a drug test, making Carl Lewis the winner of the 100 meters by default. Who cares? The point is: there were no jet packs.

Next I get really confused. At some point Athens, Barcelona, Syndey, and Atlanta all hosted the games. I believe Athens got a nice new subway system out of it, but they still haven’t paid for it, and never will. Barcelona, the weather was nice and sunny. Atlanta, well, I remember thinking it was unfair that the US got to host the games again so soon after LA, and why were there no jet packs? Then came the closing ceremony- Stevie Wonder was performing “Happy Birthday,” but his microphone had gone AWOL and nobody could hear him as he grasped at the air. A voice over the PA shouted “Somebody help Stevie” and a man ran on stage, pushing the mic in the Motown legend’s face.

The year 2008 was good for the Olympics, or at least that the Chinese put on an impressive opening ceremony, which was the only bit I watched. I remember the March of Ethnic Minorities, all of whom were later revealed to have been majority Han Chinese in fancy dress. Child cruelty may also have been involved somewhere along the line. And then there was Michael Phelps, enjoying his bong.

And that brings us to 2012, and London, but not before a detour. Some of my most vivid memories of the Olympics are from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s doomed campaign to host the 2012 games. He’d stuck posters and banners all over town, and whenever the rotten folks from the IOC flew in he’d close huge palaces and parks to the public and treat the Masters of the Olympics like actual gods from Mount Olympus. I imagined all kinds of decadence taking place, and smiled at the thought of the usually arrogant Luzhkov playing the unctuous boot licker.

The Russian media was awash with reports that Moscow was a shoo-in for victory, though a cursory glance at the foreign press made it clear that the city wasn’t even in the top three candidates. Luzhkov actually organized a victory rally on Red Square as the final selection announcement was being made live via video link… only for London to win. Massive disappointment followed, and the confused crowd staggered home, not quite sure what had just happened. I went for a walk on Red Square later that day, gathering abandoned pendants and flags for souvenirs, which I pinned to the walls of my toilet.

And now the London Olympics are underway, and in spite of the preliminary fiascos, things appear to be going quite well. I didn’t watch Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, though from what I saw afterwards, it looked like the usual post-modern dribble that flows from the slack jaws of the UK’s cultural establishment. Was it amusing to see the Queen coming down from the ceiling with James Bond? Not really. It would have been better if she had landed on a dinosaur, ridden it around the stadium, and then gotten it to bite Mr. Bean’s head off. Now that would have been very good, and could only have been improved if she had flown away on a jet pack.

Originally published at RIA Novosti, the home of awesome


Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, who currently resides in Texas after a ten year stint in the former USSR. Visit him online at
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