I enjoy watching televised Olympic competition as much as any sport, with the possible exception of College Basketball in March. It is extremely inspiring to see the athletes who have spent their whole life to make the Olympic scene compete under their country’s banner. I love watching oddball sports that I rarely get to see such as fencing and curling, however the best part of Olympic competition is when you catch an athlete from your country turn in a dominating or highly memorable performance live.
Since I’m American, I have watched our athletes win more than a fair share of Olympic gold. It almost cheapens the event, which is ultimately the pinnacle of the winner’s career. There are a handful of performances that stand as landmarks in my life. The most profound for me is Michael Johnson ‘s 200m sprint at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The great thing about the 200m race is that after the first turn, the remainder of the race is run on a straightaway. As the runners made the turn, it looked like Frank Fredericks from Namibia would take the lead. As the exited, Johnson jumped ahead and never looked back. His gold shoes and the gold chain bouncing on his neck foreshadowed the medal he earned as he shattered the world record that he set a few days earlier in Olympic trials.
The 200m was Michael Johnson’s second gold in the 1996 Summer Games. He captured it on August 1st, which was the day before my birthday. Gathered with friends who were staying the weekend in front of a newly purchased 50″ Hitachi projection TV, we were all ecstatic at what was essentially our first real glimpse of American greatness in sports aside from watching Michael Jordan perform acrobatics in the NBA. The 19.32s time stood as a world record for 12 years until Usian Bolt ran it in 19.30 in 2008.
It only took Johnson a few seconds after crossing the finish line to realize what he had accomplished. A 19.32s 200m sprint happens so fast that he was taking a victory lap holding the American flag before he even started sweating. As an 11 year old athlete among friends who I competed with at everything, we were measuring out 200m the next day to try and best his time. Even with the subsequent photo finish comeback Michael Phelps turned in at the 2008 Summer Games, Johnson’s 200m victory still stands as my most electric and memorable Olympic spectatorship. Considering the circumstances, I don’t know if another performance will ever top it.
1996 Olympic 200m Record Breaking Race, Youtube