Welcome to Day 4 of WIN Magazine’s countdown to the 2023 Final...
BVK: Don’t miss historic Olympic history
By Bryan Van Kley
I have to admit, I’m hooked. I really am. I absolutely love the Olympics. Like most of you, wrestling is my passion. But in addition to that, I truly enjoy sports in general. So the Olympics to me is the ultimate. And I’m fortunate that by the time you read this, I’ll be at my fifth straight Games.
I really got hooked in the summer of 1996 when the Games were in Atlanta. Having grown up in Iowa, I naturally followed now Iowa-coach Tom Brands. And since I had a close college friend living in Georgia, it was the perfect scenario for me to spend the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college working in Georgia so I could attend the Olympics.
I wasn’t the publisher of WIN then, so I was purely a fan. And boy was I fortunate to be exposed to the Olympic experience big time.
I didn’t get tickets to all the wrestling so I missed a couple amazing moments when Kendall Cross and Kurt Angle won Olympic gold. However, I did get so see Brands accomplish his life-long dream of winning Olympic gold in dominant fashion, and also saw Bruce Baumgartner go out in style winning his fourth Olympic medal (bronze). It was amazing being a part of the mostly U.S. crowd, cheering the Americans on to one of their greatest Olympic performances as a team ever. They won the freestyle team title on home soil in a rowdy arena, making for an electric atmosphere.
In addition to that, I was fortunate to find someone that sold me a ticket at face value to track and field the night Michael Johnson set the Olympic record and won gold in the 400 meters with his infamous gold shoes. And that happened to be the same night Carl Lewis won the long jump in his final farewell as one of the U.S.’s all-time greatest athletes and king of the track-and-field world. I remember it all like it was yesterday.
It was partly because of that 1996 experience that I’ve come to love the Olympics so much. However, over the years there’s been numerous wrestling moments that will forever be etched in mind as well.
Being that the first part of my trip to the Sydney 2000 Games also was my honeymoon, that Olympics was the most memorable.
Literally the first session my new bride Rachel and I went to, was the Rulon Gardner “upset” of Karelin. There was all the “pomp and circumstance” of one of the most decorated Olympians likely to win his final Olympics beforehand. And it all came to a glorious crashing end when the barrel-chested farm boy from Wyoming spoiled the party.
Fans near us apparently had started celebrating even before the evening session began were saying, “he’s going to beat the Russian bear” as the final seconds ticked off the clock with Gardner leading 1-0. The atmosphere was indescribable. It was one of those moments where it got so loud and you knew you were witnessing something so special that the hairs on your arm were standing on end! You couldn’t help just get totally wrapped up into the entire experience. Then the U.S. coaches swarmed Gardner on the mat after the final whistle, followed shortly after by him doing his celebratory cartwheel.
I’ll forever remember the Athens Olympics in 2004 for Cael Sanderson finally accomplishing his boyhood dream of Olympic gold. Sanderson’s normal workmanlike approach towards competing made him the expected favorite that year. And then he went out and did what’s so hard to do — actually come through and win it. That was also the same year that Gardner won bronze, leaving his shoes at mid mat signaling his retirement.
In 2008, it was Henry Cejudo who stole the show and the nation’s attention as one of greatest U.S. stories of those Olympics. Coming from a very poor family of Mexican immigrants, Cejudo’s elation and tears after winning our sport’s highest honor was moving. Obviously overcome by the magnitude of it, he ran around the three center mats with the U.S. flag draped around his shoulders, flapping behind him. It’s a scene I’ll never forget (see page 23).
It truly is an honor and privilege to be there to witness these moments, and one I don’t take lightly.
So here we go again, the once-every-four-years moment is finally here. The U.S. team is riding a lot of momentum. And coaches are optimistic that despite being fairly inexperienced at a number of weights, we’re on our way back to international wrestling prominence with Russia
As fans, coaches and wrestlers…here’s your job: follow every session of the wrestling closely, and grab a younger wrestler or buddy and have them do the same. The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport, as we all know. Many of these Olympians have dreamed of this moment since they were a little kid.
Have you ever thought for a moment how those Olympic dreams start? Most likely a big part of it was a parent or coach who put them in front of the television to watch wrestling, knowing that it would ignite a spark in their highly-motivated youngster.
The same can happen this year. All the sessions will be video-streamed over the internet by NBC. And game-time decisions are usually made by NBC to move wrestling into prime-time spots on the main network when Americans do well and win medals. (see NBC schedule on chart above).
Also make sure you’re also going to WIN-magazine.com to get my daily reports. You’ll get access to interviews from U.S. athletes each day, and first-hand information about the action in London. If you’re not already getting our free weekly eNews releases, go to the website today and join our free eNews group available to WIN subscribers. There will be exclusive Olympic content available to that group that won’t also be on our main website or in the printed magazine after the Games.
So invite a group of your friends over to watch the matches on TV. Or if you’re a coach, invite your team over for a party at your house. There just might be a 2012 Olympic moment that all of you will never forget. And it could be one that positively changes the course of a young man or woman’s life and wrestling career forever.