There are many great summer Olympic memories, and I'm sure everybody has one or more favorites. From the Fosbury Flop in the high jump in the 1968 Mexico City games, to Nadia Comăneci's perfect 10's in women's gymnastics in 1976, to Louisvillian Mary T. Meagher's golds in 1984 in Los Angeles, to the Dream Team in 1992 and Michael Phelps 8 gold medals in Beijing in 2008, picking favorites among these great performances are like picking from among the stars in the sky.
For me, there are two moments that stand out in the summer Olympic games since I have been watching them -- the first, infamous, and the second, ecstatic.
The infamous moment came in the 1972 Munich games in a basketball contest between the then USSR and the United States for the gold medal. That game still lives in history as a clear example of wrongdoing where the team from the USSR was given 3 opportunities to win the game in apparent contradiction to the rules. I saw that game and remember being angry for weeks afterward, and blaming the Soviets for the debacle. Of course, that was the height of the cold war and Americans were pretty much blaming the Soviet Union for everything you can imagine, so my anger with them was more groupthink by a young teen than anything else. The Soviets were not to blame, but bias against the success of Team USA basketball over the years was.
It just so happens that the advent of the 2012 Olympics will represent the 40th anniversary of that game. Here is a retrospective on that infamous contest, for those maybe too young to remember, produced during the 1992 games for its 20th anniversary that explains the events very well.
It's amazing to see Doug Collins, now the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, as a young college player competing in the Olympics. Some people may forget what a truly outstanding player Collins was, but he was an idol of mine back in the day.
Moving on to my favorite moment, which came 4 years later in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Back in those days, I hung around with four of my friends most of the time, and we spent that summer playing golf and watching the Olympic games at the house of my newly-married best friend. The four of us have a long and storied history, and just yesterday we played our golf foursome in a match that has been going on annually since the late 1970's.
Our favorite Olympic sport that year was boxing, and our favorite boxer that year was "Sugar" Ray Leonard. The USA had come into the Olympics with high hopes in boxing thanks to a young but talented team. But they were not the favorites to win the most gold medals -- that distinction belonged to the marvelous Cuban team. Back in those days, the US Olympic boxing team would use young USA Boxing, Golden Gloves and AAU boxers rather than professionals, as Olympians.
The Cubans did not have "professional" boxers in a strict sense, they just had a permanent amateur system which created the equivalent of professionals, copying the system of the Soviet Union, of which Cuba was a client state at the time. The Cuban fighters all had long records of Olympic and international experience, and they were considered the best team in the entire games, and in the world, followed by the USA.
This particular match was the gold medal fight between Leonard and a spectacular Cuban boxer named Andres Aldama. Aldama had been so superior against his foes leading up to this game that most boxing observers at the time felt Leonard, despite his legendary quickness and agility, would lose. Aldama was a southpaw, and had a devastating left hand which had used to dispatch every one of of his earlier victims, and in the match just before the one with Leonard sent a Polish fighter to the mat with a massive, clean left of such force that he had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher.
Leonard had been mostly spectacular in dispatching his opponents with a bewildering accumulation of blows from his lightning fast hands, and had used his quick, balletic feet to escape any serious damage from stronger opponents. But the style had taken a toll on Leonard's hands, which were swollen and sore from throwing so many punches and boxing so many rounds. Aldama had a habit of knocking his foes out early, and had not thrown nearly as many punches in his contests.
It is against this backdrop that, if you have the time, you will see one of the great boxing matches in Olympic history. It is presented here in two parts of about 6 and 9 minutes, respectively. The match is announced by the late, legendary Howard Cosell, and color commentary provided by the unforgettable heavyweight champion, George Foreman. I'm not sure if it was because of disdain for Cuba or communism, or pure jingoism, but Cosell never mentions Aldama's name after the first introductions, referring to him only as, "the Cuban."
The first part contains the introduction, round 1 and the first half of round 2.
The second part contains the second half of round 2 and all of round 3:
That fight demonstrated, in stark relief, the technical and tactical brilliance of Ray Leonard at the time. Leonard was very careful to circle left, neutralizing Aldema's thunderous left. He also fought as much of the fight as possible inside, staying away from the end of the Cuban's punch where his power had been so dazzling during the tournament.
This was my most unforgettable Olympic moment, born out of my youth, that carries on to this day. After that match, we all went out in the back yards, put on gloves, and had our own little "tournament" of sorts, being careful to dial back the force of our blows. All this together made the 1976 Olympics, crowned for us by Leonard's stirring victory, a memory which will never fade.
What's your favorite Olympic moment?
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