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Kevin Schnepf, Published July 27 2012

Schnepf: Olympics can often provide break from everyday stress


There’s something about the Olympics that helps most of us – at least for a couple weeks – forget about the stresses of everyday life.

Perhaps the Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte clash in the swimming pool will help us forget about our battle with rising prices in the grocery store. Perhaps watching Oscar Pistorius run around the track on artificial legs will motivate us to take a walk on our good legs.

Perhaps watching 17-year-old Missy Franklin make a splash in the pool will help some people forget about the drought. Perhaps watching Usain Bolt run faster than my beat-up Chevy Lumina will help us slow down our fast-paced lives.

But despite the notion that life is way more complicated than it used to be, it seems so simple when compared to the era of the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics. That’s when people needed the soothing comfort of the Summer Games more than ever.

In 1968, America was filled with protests over a war in Vietnam and civil rights. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were shot to death. Richard M. Nixon was nominated for president.

That was a plateful for Americans to handle. Yet, for a couple weeks in Mexico City, the Summer Olympics provided us with some relief.

American Bob Beamon soared through the high altitude of Mexico City in the long jump, sailing 29 feet, 2½ inches – shattering the previous world record by nearly two feet. It remains an Olympic record.

An American high jumper introduced the world to the Fosbury Flop, an unconventional technique that is the standard way of jumping today. Dick Fosbury took gold.

It marked the first Olympics in which a synthetic all-weather surface was used for track and field events. So long cinder. It also marked the first time in which the closing ceremonies were televised in color. So long black and white.

But like so many other times, the Games could not escape the issues of every-day life.

In the medal award-ceremony for the men’s 200 meters, African-American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos took a stand for human rights and were eventually banned from the Olympics for life.

That image of Smith and Carlos, heads down, raising their black-gloved fists in the air during the national anthem is as memorable as the image of an armed, masked PLO terrorist standing guard on a balcony in the Olympic Village.

That occurred at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, where eight Palestinian terrorists took 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostage in their Olympic Village apartment. All the hostages, five terrorists and one West German police officer were killed.

So much for the 1972 Games’ motto: “The Happy Games.” But as Olympic president Avery Brundage declared after a several-hour suspension: “The Games must go on.”

And remarkably, they did.

American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals. Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut became a media darling. American Dan Gable won a gold medal in wrestling without having a single point scored against him.

And in what was called “the most controversial game in international basketball history,” the United States lost its gold-medal game to the Soviet Union. The U.S. believed it had won 50-49, but confusion over a late timeout gave the Soviets a few seconds to score a winning basket.

As devastating and shocking as the loss was to Americans, The Games still helped them – for a moment – forget about the Watergate scandal that eventually forced Nixon to step down as president, forget about a Black Hills flood that killed 238 or comedian George Carlin being arrested in Milwaukee for obscenity.

Thankfully, The Games did go on. And thankfully, The Games keep going on.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com