Do you remember Olga Korbut?
My children asked me if watching the Olympics was big when I was growing up. I told them it’s hard to explain just how big they were. On our farm in Iowa we only got three television stations. We only had good reception on the one out of Ottumwa. Suddenly to be able to watch sports every night was tremendous.
In rural Iowa, even the St. Louis Cardinals seemed a long ways away. To be able to see athletes from around the world was mind boggling.
Then there was communism. In 1972 it was the height of the Cold War. We despised the Soviets and East Germans. Winning was about much more than the sports. We grew up believing that a nuclear war with the Russians was a very real possibility. The Soviet Union was seen as a huge, impersonal, communist monster.
Losing to the Soviets was heart breaking. I still haven’t gotten over the basketball game. (We were robbed). To this day, it remains one of the most bitter sports memories of my life.
But then there was Olga Korbut and she stole our hearts. She walked into the gymnastics arena unknown by anyone in the West. She smiled and played the crowd. She charmed us and won medals. It’s hard to describe. The world was so much bigger place then. But we suddenly realized that some things transcend politics, like a lovely young gymnast in the 1972 Olympics.
I watched the video below. It’s not very impressive by today’s gymnastic standards. But some of you will remember watching this. Her performance on the uneven bars at about the 4:30 mark is what I remember. Forty years later, I can still remember the announcer saying, “That has never been done by a human before!”