Over the next couple weeks, in addition to other Olympics content, we'll be posting a series of columns from our co-founders about why we love the Olympics. As the Games continue, Bryan weighs in.
But the bigger question to me is why the Olympics matter so much to me. Perhaps that last clip is a good starting place. As a child of the ‘80s, I grew up at the tail end of an era in which the Olympics were about more than just the games. The first Olympics in my lifetime was the 1984 Games boycotted by the Soviet Union. In those days, it wasn’t just about winning medals – it was about showing the superiority of our country and our way of life. In short, it was a more fun, safer proxy for the Cold War. And the best part: America was winning. A bit before my time, we had the Miracle on Ice. In 1984, Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton burst onto the scene. (I’m told that as a boy, I loved watching “Mary-Oo”). And in 1988, young Janet Evans overpowered the dominant (and roided up) East German swimmers, Flo-Jo ran by the competition, and Greg Louganis bounced back from his head injury to win multiple golds. I was just a little kid when all this happened – I can’t even say that I remember most of it – but I picked up on one thing: The Olympics mattered.
Of course we know what happened next… the Wall came down, the Soviet Union split up, and the U.S. has been largely unmatched as an athletic superpower ever since. But that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for the Games. In 1992, I (like every other kid in America) was captivated by the Dream Team. I collected newspaper clippings, I had a t-shirt – I was all-in. (You can count me among those who think the current team would have no chance against the original Dream Team). But it wasn’t just them. That was the first year I remember watching the entire Olympics. I remember archer Antonio Rebollo (supposedly) lighting the Olympic flame. I remember Derek Redmond limping around the track. I remember 16-year-old Jennifer Capriati winning gold.
After that, I was completely hooked on the Olympics. During the 1994 Lillehammer games, I was making slalom runs in my driveway on rollerblades after Tommy Moe won gold in the downhill. In 1996, I thought Michael Johnson was the greatest athlete of all time. During college, I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch (and be disappointed by) Team USA basketball. And in 2006, we started Fantasy Olympian, with the goal of getting even more involved in the Olympics and helping others enjoy the Games as much as we do.
Even though the political climate has changed, there is still something amazing about being able to say you are, without a doubt, the best in the world. I know in America we call our professional sports teams “world champions,” but that’s not really true. The Olympics present a rare opportunity to go out and prove that you can do something better than anyone else on the planet. Sometimes it’s amazing (Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Kerri Strug, Rulon Gardner, etc.), sometimes it’s just plain goofy (I’m looking at you, racewalking) – but in the end, you know you are watching the best in the world and you may see something that has never been seen before.
I am lucky enough to live in a country that tends to have the best in the world more often than any other country in history. Our country today is fractured on a lot of issues – politics, gay marriage, immigration, foreign policy, the economy… the list goes on – but sports is one thing that somehow seems to bring us together. I love the unity of the Olympics. For a few weeks, everyone is talking about something positive and everyone is on the same team. Despite whatever problems we have, I happen to think we have a pretty great country. And above all, perhaps that’s why the Olympics matter to me. It’s no longer about proving ourselves to the rest of the world – it’s about reminding ourselves of how great our country can be.
Through Fantasy Olympian, it has become clear that we are not alone in our love for the Olympics. It’s fun to touch base with guys like Jim Lehane, Jon Teitel, Derek Snow, Steve Hammond, and many other returning participants every couple years, knowing that they are just as excited about the Games as we are. What started as kind of a goofy idea among four friends has transformed into something we are passionate about. We’ve never made a dime off of Fantasy Olympian, but as Lee says, we now consider it a sort of “public service,” knowing that there are dozens of passionate Olympics fans from all over the world who will be playing on our site, as well as many more who are playing the game on their own. We have had more than 4,000 visitors to our site since we added a tracker in June, and we are hosting our game for more than 100 participants in 11 leagues. This year, the athletes are taking notice too. Several of our participants have been tweeting with Olympians in London, letting them know that they have extra motivation to cheer for Team USA. Tianna Madison, Allison Schmidt and the U.S. Men’s Sailing Team have all taken notice and tweeted back. That’s what this is all about – being a part of a community that shares our love of sports, our country, and the Olympic spirit. And that’s why the Games matter to me.