Saturday, February 8, 2014

Where's Gorby?

Opening Ceremony, Albertville '92
The evening of February 8, 1992 – my mother's 76th birthday; she would have been 98 today – found me speeding up the many twists and turns of the alpine route from Lyons to Albertville, France. While the rest of my large party was already seated inside the Olympic stadium, being prepared for opening ceremonies, I was still on-duty.

Two ambitious young ad salespersons had decided that it was more important for them to take their seats early than to go to the airport to meet their clients. So, there I was, once more negotiating the route I had previously driven in snow, fog, and rain. Thankfully, February 8 was crystal clear.

Were these clients grateful for my efforts? In a word, non! They spent the first half of the trip ripping into their salespersons for not bothering to meet them as if I were not even there, and the second telling me to step on it, since they didn't come all this way only to miss the opening. After a while, I tuned them out to concentrate on the road, maneuvering the Espace around the curves.

At last, we came into Albertville with the stadium on the left before us, its light shining up into the darkening winter Savoie sky. Suddenly, the Espace began to shake and, for an instant, I thought we had a very ill-timed flat tire. We heard a tremendous roar and I thought the whole world was exploding.

Then, above us and to the left, I saw the fighter jets of the French Air Force headed for their flyover to begin the opening ceremonies. They had flown directly over us.

In a few minutes, using my sponsor credentials, I found some of our group outside the stadium and soon I was sitting in my seat with the other guests.


I was fortunate enough to be present at three more Olympic opening ceremonies – Barcelona, Atlanta,
Meribel, France '92
and Sydney – but my most distinct opening memory is of that night in Albertville. And, watching the opening in Sochi last night, seeing the small Russian girl flying through the sky, I recalled the French girl who rose out of the ground, and up, up, up on a floodlit pedestal to a point high above the ground.
All alone, she stood above us, singing the Marseillaise as President Mitterand and the rest of us listened in awe.

Well, at least I did.


I have to admit that I did not watch the entire show at Sochi last night. I only made it through the last of the athletes, the Russian team, walking into the stadium. I will watch the tape later. But, I saw enough to be reminded that viewing at home cannot approach the actual experience of being there in person. It is impossible at home to listen to the music and tune out the announcers drivel as they tell us what our eyes can see, our ears can hear, and recite ancient political commentary.

Spectators in the stadiums at Olympic opening ceremonies are lucky not to hear a single word of that. They have all received a package with props that will make them part of the ceremony, and they have all practiced before the cameras' red lights go on. No matter what their politics, they are bound together with the athletes. And, when the torch is lit, there are precious few dry yes in the house.


All you need is lyubov
Since I did not listen to David Remnick's (New Yorker Editor and former Russian correspondent for The New York Times) entire NBC commentary or see all the footage, I cannot say for sure that Mikhail Gorbachev wasn't there. But, he certainly seems to have been cleansed from Russian history, unlike
Boris Yeltsin whose wife was present at the ceremony.

Without Gorby, could there have been a Sochi Olympics? Could there have been a Putin?

Nyet, comrades.

Ed Note: Official Olympic pins are issued by sponsors and others before and during the games. There is a lively and sometimes lucrative trading market for pins. This one, issued on Valentine's Day 1992 was highly regarded and traded at the top of the market. I will wear it proudly next week.