17 August 2008

Phelps, Spitz and my memories

Watching Michael Phelps has brought back some very fond memories of my childhood.

I was quite the swimmer as a child, but I didn't start out that way. I remember my first lessons at the Central YMCA (now called the Austin YMCA at 501 N. Central, Chicago) where I cried my eyes out because as I would reach for the side wall of the pool, I'd get whacked with a long pole.

But then I moved on and became very good and did the annual "Swim for the Heart" fundraiser at the Lakeside Pool & Tennis Club (long gone, turned into condos) where I'd take my Mom and Dad's friends money and raise a ton each summer. It was from this love that my parents decided for no really apparent reason to bring my Brother and I to see the Olympic Swimming Trials at the Portage Park Pool (4100 N. Long Ave, Chicago) on an early summer night in 1972. This is a more current aerial shot, but it's nice to see it's still there, just north of Irving Park Road and just east of Central.

I only have a few memories from this night, but I do still have an Olympic patch that says Munich 1972. Of course, those Olympics are remembered for two things. The death of the Israeli team members at the hands of the Palestinian terrorists and Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in Swimming. I remember the coverage on ABC Sports and my parents reminding us that we saw him qualify for some of the events he won.

I think fondly of those days. They were fun (well, not the Israeli team part clearly), but I couldn't say Munich and called it Munch, I really had a love of swimming and I think at 6 years of age, I actually started figuring out what world records and Mark Spitz were all about.

So now 36 years later, I'm watching someone who ALMOST could be my kid reaching incredible heights of fame and success. Of course, it gives NBC the chance to throw Mark Spitz back onto the satellite to talk about his success. It's a weird passage of time for me. It truly does seem like yesterday but it clearly is NOT.

There's plenty of coverage about Phelps so I won't go into him, but Spitz... The thing about Spitz that I just learned from my Dad yesterday is that he really was a son-of-a-bitch. His teammates (except for maybe Gary Hall) hated his guts and thought he was arrogant, and he was. It's sort of funny then watching him talk to Michael Phelps last night on tv. You'd never know and I guess that's what makes history fun. Although it can't be re-written, people CAN make up for the sins of their pasts and move on. It was surreal seeing one of my childhood heros on tv last night congratulating a man who likely is a childhood hero for many many children around the world now.

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