My memories of the Los Angeles Games are remarkably hazy. I put this down to three things. The first is that they were held in a place with a time difference of eight hours, meaning that everything happened whilst I was either working or asleep (or on holiday, but more of that later). The second is that I was simply too busy to pay much attention, as having begun work at McDonald’s some four months earlier my life pretty much revolved around there rather than at home where the television was.
The third and perhaps most significant reason, though, is that everything seemed to be overshadowed by the controversy over Zola Budd. I remember feeling decidedly awkward about this. Despite what I felt in 1980 (see Wednesday’s entry) about politics and sport, I had been brought up knowing that South Africa deserved to be isolated from sport because of the political system there and I was torn between having someone on ‘my’ team who might win us a medal and having someone on that team who probably shouldn’t be there.
That ambivalence was not helped by the fact that the race was portrayed as a great contest between Budd and the American Mary Decker-Slaney, who I loathed because she seemed so obnoxious. When I awoke the morning after their final I was astonished and what had happened, but secretly pleased that Decker-Slaney had not won.
My two big memories of the Games come from the very start of the event, though. At the time it all began I was on holiday in Germany (West Germany as it was then), staying with my penfriend Gerd. We decided that we wanted to watch the opening ceremony, despite the fact that it would be taking place at an even dafter hour than it was in the UK, and both got up in what seemed like the middle of the night to watch it. And very quickly became very bored as neither of us appreciated just how long these things can go on for. I remember the astronauts flying around the arena with jetpacks on their back and that it seemed very sunny, but nothing more. Looking back on my notes from that trip, I fell asleep after an hour. London 2012 it wasn’t!
Gerd had given me a radio tuned to BFBS, the British Forces radio service, to listen to in my room and it was listening to this one morning that I heard that the shooter Malcolm Cooper had won gold in one of the rifle events. That was the point at which it really dawned on me that there was more to the Olympics than just the popular sports and it remains the only non-musical thing that I can remember hearing on the radio during my visits to see Gerd.