July 01, 2010

Moscow Olympics

during the summer of 1980 my mother unexpectedly gave me a ticket to the Olympic qualifying rounds for swimming. Nobody in our family was particularly interested in swimming, and I had no idea who the current champion was or what styles the competitors I would be watching would swim. When I asked why I had to go to the Olympic pool, my mother replied with astonishment, “You have to experience the atmosphere of the Olympic games.”

The atmosphere did not prove very captivating, at least for me. True, a week or two earlier, along with my mother, my 80-year-old grandmother, and a friend of my mother’s who had come specially for the occasion, I had stood at the window of our eighth-floor apartment on Kutuzovsky Prospect and watched with a certain curiosity as some guy in what looked like underwear (he was probably a famous athlete wearing the uniform of his sport, but from my vantage point he just looked like a guy in underwear) passed the Olympic torch to another fellow who must also have been a famous athlete. We were so intent on our watching and were waving our arms with such enthusiasm as we cried “Look at that!” that we accidentally broke a pane of glass. The shards rained down on the street below. My grandmother started wringing her hands and saying, “Now, they’ll come, now they’ll come…” Nobody came, and certainly not for lack of personnel. The street was cordoned off by a horde of police and some people in blue shirts rumored to be KGB cadets.

For me, that broken windowpane became a symbol of the Moscow Olympics. We were excitedly watching a senseless action performed in front of our building while at the same time this act, the passing of the torch, was being watched by hundreds of secret police agents assigned to protect Moscow. But from whom? From everyone, of course – from American spies, who would certainly be planning some despicable act. Since President Carter had announced a boycott of the Moscow Olympics (and been joined by a multitude of countries upset by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), it was only to be expected that he would also send spies or terrorists to disrupt the games.

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