We are preparing to watch the Rio Olympics now and to see all the wonderful performances by athletes from around the world.  Whether you are a soccer fan, a gymnastics expert, a fencer, or a fan of just about any summer sport, there is something for you in Rio.

My first Olympic experience was as a spectator at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.  I was a competitive swimmer in college so I was really looking forward to seeing Shirley Babashoff, Jill Sterkel and Wendy Boglioli swim. (In fact, I named my cat Boglioli in Wendy’s honor!)

Shirley Babashoff was one of the greatest freestyle swimmers of all time and, since my specialty was freestyle, I was anxious to see her race.  Babashoff set 37 national records in her career and for some time held the US records in all freestyle events from 100m to 800m.  At the 1976 Olympic Games she won gold in the 4 x 100m free relay and silver in the 200m free, 400m free, 800m free, and 4 x 100m medley relay.

Along with our tickets to swimming events in Montreal we had tickets for Opening Ceremonies.  We weren’t especially excited about that but made what turned out to be a wise decision to attend.  The Opening Ceremonies in Montreal became the second most impactful sports experience in my life (Number One was the 1999 Women’s World Cup Finals where the US emerged victorious).

We went in to the stadium that night not knowing what to expect.  The stands were filled with people, noise, and colors.  As the athletes began to file in, I realized we were witnessing a beautiful celebration of the sport experience.  All of the laps swum, weights lifted, injuries overcome, and challenges met had led to athletes sporting their country’s colors, fans cheering their teams into the stadium, and smiles, smiles, smiles.  Surely all the hard work had been worth it!

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, 6,084 athletes participated.  Of that number 4,824 were men and 1,260 were women. (NOTE: In the 2012 Olympics in London, 10,768 athletes participated with 5,992 being men and 4,776 being women.  A similar number of participants are expected in Rio.)  Not all of the 1976 athletes participated in the Opening Ceremonies, but those who did and the fans who witnessed them had an unforgettable life experience.

In 2016 I know I will be looking forward to watching Katie Ledecky swim, to seeing if the US Women’s Soccer Team can bring home the gold, and to Tamika Catchings’ final Olympic experience with the US Women’s Basketball Team.  But I also will be watching the track events, water polo, field hockey, and those great human interest stories from the athletes who represent 28 sports in 306 events during these Games.  And let’s not forget the Paralympic Games also being held in Rio in September!

When the cheers have died down, the venues are empty, and the athletes have returned to their home countries (many to pick up training again), remember the stories you heard about the sacrifices these athletes make to compete in the Olympic Games. Remember that participation in the Games IS the great accomplishment for each and every one of these 10,000+ participants and remember that you cheered for all of them as they entered the stadium that first night ready to do their best as they represented their countries. I can’t wait!

By Pam Noakes
Board Member