I originally published this post on what was supposed to have been the 2020 date for the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Not being able to watch the Olympics during Summer 2020 was one of the top things I missed due to the pandemic. One year later, it is extra sweet to celebrate the Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally happening in July 2021! In honor of the resilience of our world over the past year and the belated kickoff of the Tokyo 2020ne games starting this weekend, I want to reminisce on some of my favorite moments of Olympics past. Here are my top 10 Summer Olympics memories over the years:
1. The Magnificent Seven wins the first-ever US team gold in women’s gymnastics.
The 1996 Games in Atlanta were the first summer Olympics I really watched. It was extra special that they occurred in the southern United States. I even got to see the Olympic torch relay in my hometown. However, nothing stands out about the 1996 Olympics quite like the Magnificent Seven’s victory in the women’s gymnastics team final. This was the first time the US won the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics team competition. I vividly remember watching an injured Kerri Strug land her vault on one foot to secure the US victory in the nail-biter final.
This victory was also huge because back in 1996, the US was not the dominant force in women’s gymnastics that they are today. During this time, former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries were the favorites in worldwide gymnastics competitions. So it was really significant that the US beat out Russia and Romania to earn the top spot on the podium.
2. Swimming competition in the 2000 Olympics
It’s harder for me to recall exact events in Olympic swimming, because there are so many more medals awarded in swimming than in gymnastics. But watching swimming during the 2000 Olympics especially sticks out to me because I was a sophomore in high school at my heaviest point of involvement in the sport. At this time, I had been swimming on a year-round club team, and had one season of high school swimming under my belt. Although I knew at the time I wasn’t Olympic caliber or even college scholarship material, it was still special to watch Olympic swimming while actively participating in the sport. I remember coming home from swim practice and then watching Olympic swimming races.
And even though I was never anywhere close to being an Olympic contender in swimming, I still gained so much from it. My time as a swimmer taught me several life lessons. Specifically, I learned that you don’t have to be the best at something for it to be a worthwhile experience. For instance I didn’t win any state championships in swimming. But I persevered and came back from an eating disorder and depression to finish my high school swimming career on a high note. You can read more life lessons I learned from swimming in this post.
3. Carly Patterson wins the women’s gymnastics all-around gold medal in 2004.
Carly Patterson was not the first American women to win an all-around gold medal in women’s gymnastics. However, she was the first to win this title in my lifetime. During this particular competition, I was visiting my friend who was going to be my sophomore year roommate at Furman. I remember watching the all-around final at her house and seeing Carly nail her fun & upbeat floor routine to conclude the competition. As soon as it became clear that Carly’s score secured her gold medal, instant joy erupted in the arena. I could feel the electric atmosphere even in my friend’s living room. And I still remember the footage of Carly’s coach hoisting her up on his shoulder as she waved to the crowd.
4. Nastia Liukin & Shawn Johnson get gold & silver in the all-around competition.
During the 2008 Olympics, I had to balance watching the Games with studying for my comprehensive exam in grad school. But I still got to witness some exciting gymnastics victories. Nastia Liukin’s gold medal and Shawn Johnson’s silver medal marked the first time American women gymnasts had gone 1-2 in the individual all-around at the Olympics. This was especially redemptive after the US women fell short of the gold medal in the team competition.
5. Shawn Johnson wins gold on the balance beam.
Shawn Johnson was originally the American favorite to win all-around gold in the 2008 Olympics. Although a silver medal is nothing to hang your head about in Olympic competition, I was still really happy that Shawn Johnson got to walk away with an individual gold medal as well.
6. Missy Franklin dominates in backstroke in the 2012 Olympics
Missy Franklin was definitely the darling of the USA swim team in the 2012 Olympics. I loved watching her win gold in backstroke. Plus she wore pearl earrings while swimming. And her personality in interviews was simply precious!
7. The Fierce Five wins team gold in women’s gymnastics.
It had been 16 years since the Magnificent Seven won team gold for the US in women’s gymnastics, so it was sweet to watch the Fierce Five bring the Olympic title back to the US in 2012. I also thought the quintet of Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Makayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Aly Raisman was a lot of fun to watch!
8. The Final Five wins team gold in women’s gymnastics.
In 2016 I loved watching the Final Five do what US women’s gymnastics had never done-win back to back Olympic team gold medals. This was another fun group to watch compete together. I will always remember Simone Biles’ energetic floor routine clinching the US team title. Also, it was really cool to watch Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas make the Olympic team for the second time in a row. This was the first time in 16 years that American female gymnasts had made back to back Olympic teams. I remember having a friend over to watch the competition. In addition, I purposely stayed off social media so I wouldn’t see spoilers!
9. Simone Biles and Aly Raisman win gold and silver in the individual all-around competition.
It was such a thrill to watch Simone Biles completely dominate in the 2016 Olympics individual all-around competition, and then Aly Raisman come in second. Of course it was exciting to watch the US finish 1-2 in Olympic gymnastics’ marquee event again. But I was especially happy that Aly Raisman finally got an individual medal in the all-around competition after narrowly missing the podium in 2012.
10. Michael Phelps puts Chad Le Clos in his place.
The 2016 Olympics was basically one big victory lap for Michael Phelps. He capped off a remarkable career and further established himself as the most decorated Olympian of all-time. But the most memorable Michael Phelps moment of the 2016 Olympic swimming competition was when Chad Le Clos, a South African swimmer, nonverbally “trash-talked” him in the ready room before the 200m butterfly. Chad Le Clos “shadow-boxed” in the vicinity of Micheal Phelps, and then Phelps responded by glaring in the corner. Micheal Phelps’ “death stare” turned into a viral meme. Then Michael Phelps put Chad Le Clos in his place by winning the gold medal in the 200 fly.
Fun fact-I definitely had a crush on Michael Phelps way back in the day. But then when my brother got older and people started saying he looked like Micheal Phelps. I got weirded out and wasn’t crushing so hard anymore.
A Word on Gymnastics
It’s obvious that most of my top 10 Olympic memories feature women’s gymnastics. In retrospect, there’s definitely a dark side to all the achievements of USA women’s gymnastics over the past 24 years. I recently watched “Athlete A” on Netlix, which further delves into the toxic culture of USA Gymnastics. I was aware of how the culture of elite gymnastics perpetuates body image issues and disordered eating. However, the uncovering of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal added another whole level to the toxic culture of USA Gymnastics.
As exciting as it was to watch all of these women’s gymnastics moment at the time, it’s still heartbreaking to think about everything happening behind the scenes that we now know about. In addition to the sexual abuse that Larry Nassar inflicted upon some of these Olympic gymnasts, Bela & Marta Karolyi emotionally abused elite gymnasts over the years. Some critics have said that Kerri Strug should’t have been forced to vault while injured.
So knowing what I know now, it does seem a bit weird to celebrate these gymnastics events when the physical and mental health of athletes was sacrificed in the process. However, this behind-the-scenes darkness doesn’t take away from how courageous and talented these gymnasts are. Also, I’m hopeful that moving forward USA Gymnastics can create positive change and foster an environment conducive both to athletic success and the mental and emotional well-being of girls and young women!
Flashback to 2016 Opening Ceremony
Here’s a throwback to the 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony. I was at the beach with my best friend, and dressed up in a patriotic outfit for dinner. We then went back to the house to watch the Opening Ceremony. It was fun to spend the first few nights of the 2016 Olympics watching them from the beach with my bestie!
I’m actually at the same beach with my same friend for the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Summer 2021!
I hope that you enjoyed reading this post about my love for the Summer Olympics and my favorite Olympic memories. Each night for the next two weeks, I will be glued to the TV watching NBC Primetime coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games! In addition, I will be limiting social media and news sites during the days when there are swimming and gymnastics competitions I’m excited about, in order to avoid spoilers before the Primetime coverage. I’m looking forward to seeing what new favorite Olympic memories I will be adding to my list over the next 16 days!
What are your favorite Olympic memories?
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