I admit it, I love the Olympic Games. The sport, the over-hyped commentary, the fancy-dress national costumes - it’s two weeks of every four years that I anticipate with excitement.
In many ways, the Games have been the story of my life; a marking point for reflecting upon where I was at, what I was doing, and where I was going.
At each closing ceremony, I would (and still do!) gasp at the thought of being four years older at the next Olympics. What would I be doing then?
My first Olympic memory was watching the men’s 100m sprinting final at Seoul in 1988. US legend Carl Lewis was the hot favourite going in, but was beaten into second place by the Canadian, Ben Johnson. But the real story emerged three-days later when Johnson was disqualified for returning a urine test containing samples of the banned steroid, Stanozolol.
I vividly remember watching this unfold as a six-year old, and peppering my parents with questions to help me make sense of the situation. Why isn’t he the winner anymore? Why can’t he take that “medicine”? Why did he take that “medicine”?
It was one of those “losing of innocence” moments, akin to the unveiling of the tooth fairy, and the discovery that my very own existence appears to have resulted from my parents doing the … ahem … horizontal cha-cha.
It was a steep learning curve for a six-year-old - the Ben Johnson incident, that is - with the end result being a deep understanding that not everything in this world is what it seems.
The Barcelona Olympics in 1992 coincided with my Year 6 camp, and forever in my mind they will be linked. I still can’t listen to Amigos Para Siempre (a song written especially for the Games) without the smell of baked-beans on a campfire smacking me in the nostrils. As if Jose Carreras’ astonishingly lively eyebrows weren’t compelling enough!
Atlanta came around in 1996 and the standout memory was Kieran Perkins’ swim in the 1,500m event. Perkins, the winner of the 1992 gold medal, was severely out of form, and only just scraped in to the final. I watched this race at home with my family, while packing a bag for my footy game later that day.
For international readers (as the only Australians who wouldn’t know this must have been in a cave, blindfolded, and with their fingers in the ears screaming “la la la”), Perkins dominated the event from start to finish, creating one of the most powerful moments in sport.
While that swim was memorable enough, what truly sticks in my mind is the footy game I played later that day. Our coach – a man not blessed with the gift of clear and eloquent speech - attempted to channel Perkins’ swim earlier that morning as inspiration for his pre-game rev up.
“Fellas”, he shouted, “who saw Kieren Perkins’ swim this morning?” A roar went up around the change room, as we eagerly anticipated a dissection of his tactics and how it applied to our own battlefield that afternoon.
“Fellas”, he offered again, “that was the best f**king swim I’ve ever seen”. And with that, he sent us on our way. It wasn’t much, but we knew what he meant. As a 14-year-old, it was just about the best lesson that I could have received.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 was a moment of extraordinary importance for Australia; a chance to showcase our wide, brown land to the world. But, I confess, these Olympics for me weren’t so much about what happened on the field, but about what happened off it.
You see, my parents had decided to drive to Sydney for the Games, leaving my brother and I – two 18-year-olds, discovering the wonders and freedoms of that age – as Lords of the Manor for a good couple of weeks. Or should I say, a great couple of weeks.
While we made sure that, for every party, the couches were covered with drop-sheets, in retrospect I doubt these would have made much difference when we decided to try our hand at fire-breathing.
Thank you, Cathy Freeman, for the freedoms you gave us.
From helping a six-year-old understand more about the world, to assisting an 18-year-old extract everything he could from the world, the Games have been a constant companion in my life.
Yes, the Olympics are an over-hyped carnival of advertising (sorry, I mean Olympics™). And yes, some of the sports can be a tad obscure (synchronized diving? Huh?). But I love the Games. They’ve been the soundtrack of my life. And, my bet is that this is true for many of you too.
I can’t believe I’m going to be 34 by the time of the Rio Games.
You can read more of Andrew’s work at his child development blog, From placenta to play centre.