The Olympic Moment


April 26, 2012 by David Gillaspie

Once an Olympian, Always an Olympian, Never Former, Never Past  (posted on

If you drove the 405 Sunday in downtown Portland, you saw what’s become a standard view: A line of people marching across the freeway bridge with their flags flying.

You’ve seen this before with Occupy Portland. You’ve seen it with Free Tibet. The group on Sunday were marchers of a different stripe.

Their flags weren’t made of bed sheets and paint. They weren’t marching in protest.

The people out on a beautiful Sunday carried the five rings on their Olympic flags as part of the U. S. Olympic Associations ‘Walk To London.’ It’s a series of twenty walks across America to build awareness of the coming London Olympics.

These events help bring Oregon Olympians down from Mt. Olympus to join their communities in celebrating lifelong fitness and exercise. During an era of ‘too fat’ and ‘too lazy’, these people could really rub it in. But they don’t.

For most, meeting an Olympian is a rare thing. The Bing Lounge was full of them on Sunday. And guess what, they seemed like very normal people. They were friendly, even outgoing. You’d never guess there was anything different about them.

If you need to find something odd about Olympians, focus on folks showing up on a warm Sunday to spread the Olympic word. Athletes and fans mixed on a day where most everyone had something else to do. Except these Olympians.

One man on a mission was Alan Zell. While not an Olympian, he is a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, also the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee. You could call him an Oregon treasury of Olympic history.

Mr. Zell had a revealing take on Olympian involvement in the U. S. Olympic movement. According to him, non-medal winning Olympians are more involved than gold medalists. This makes sense when you see the opening ceremonies; only a few will collect the gold, the silver, or the bronze. Everyone else comes home with a participant medal, a normal life, and the willingness to share their experience.

Imagine yourself as a high profile Olympic gold medalist. For some it might seem like winning the lottery. You start hearing from strangers and people you haven’t seen in years. You might have a few business offers that weren’t available before you won.

Maybe you make a mistake or two after you step down from the podium. Doubt creeps in where confidence once lived. Trust shrinks smaller than a s-medium t-shirt on an extra-large frame. You start building walls. You have ‘people’ instead of friends. The post-Olympic life takes on a strange celebrity-like quality where not many know who you are, but those who do have expectations.

The small group gathered for the Walk To London were as open and friendly as anyone you’d find gathered at neighborhood picnics. From Olympians, to Olympic medalists, to gold medal winners, they did what they know how to do. They showed up for the Olympics, past and future. They were big-time athletes minus the big-timer glow.

The Olympian walkers on Sunday had a secret to share. They knew the moment their sport reached out to them the same way they reached out to their sport. They knew the instant when they thought, “I can do this.”

Olympians know what it takes to train when they don’t feel good, to go to bed early when all their friends head to the big party, who know the balance between school and sports. That is the sort of boost for kids you can’t buy in a nutrition store.

The young couples on Sunday with kids and baby strollers knew they were surrounded by greatness. You could almost see them ten years from now showing a picture to their emerging athletes and saying, “This is the day you met the Olympians, the day I knew you could be one, too.”

If kids understand a fraction of the Olympic history Alan Zell delivers, and meet an Olympian in a relaxed environment, they’ll focus on the Olympics.

When a child hears encouragement from their parents at the right time, they want to prove something. Becoming an Olympian might be years away from the middle school track, but they’ll take the first steps in their next race. With a little Olympic power in the gas tank, a young athlete tries harder. They listen better.

Sunday was perfect. People were outside. Traffic whizzed by on the surface streets and the freeway below on 405. More than one kid in a car had to ask, “Mommy, what is that white flag with five rings?”

More than one parent had to answer, “It’s an Olympic flag, honey.”

“What are ‘lympics.”

“It’s where people from around the world meet and run, and jump, and wrestle. They dive, and swim, and fence.”

“Can I do that, too?”

“Yes you can, sweetie. You sure can.”

“I want to be like them.”

“We all do, dear. It’s called an Olympic Dream.”

The Walk to London 2012 will start in Los Angeles, then San FranciscoSacramentoPortlandSeattleBoiseLansing,DenverBostonDallasBirminghamChicagoIndianapolisNew YorkTampa, and finally WashingtonDC.


2 thoughts on “The Olympic Moment

  1. markmmullins says:

    Good to know, thanks for the info and your take on “regular Olympians”

    • David Gillaspie says:

      When I think of regular Olympians it’s Eddie The Eagle, the ski jumper from England in the winter Games. He was so bad they changed the rules. But he made the team.

      As youngsters watching the Olympics on television, the athletes seemed like they came from another world. Then we go to college and maybe meet some Olympians and they seem normal enough. As we get older, they seem like they’re from another world again. A better world until you hear how hard and heartbreaking it for most everyone with an Olympic dream.

      Doing an Olympic sport is hard enough. Make an Olympic team? Who does that?

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