Monica Roberts

Olympic Junkie

Filed By Monica Roberts | August 12, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media, Politics
Tags: African-American, LGBT history, Monica Roberts, Olympics, sports, transgender

One of the things that hasn't changed about me since transition is that I'm a huge sports fan.08j li Ning.jpg

While it's not at the same intensity level now that I've been an estrogen-based lifeform for the last 10+ years, whether it's college or professional baseball, football, basketball or whatever's on ESPN that piques my interest, I'm in front of the TV watching it..

And every two to four years, Must See TV for me is spelled O-L-Y-M-P-I-C-S

As I'm composing this post I have the TV on in the background flipping back and forth between several cable channels looking for Olympic news or any event being televised.

Ever since I was a nine year old kid watching the opening ceremonies of the Sapporo Winter Games, I've been crazy about the Olympics. I loved the combination of history, pageantry, compelling stories and sporting excellence wrapped up in that two to three week period where the world seemed to get a little smaller, even during the nuclear hair-trigger MAD (mutual assured destruction) days of the Cold War.

I'd feel like a kid on Christmas Day unwrapping a new toy when I'd watch the opening ceremonies of the Games. When the Olympic flame was extinguished during the closing ceremonies I'd feel a little sad that it would be four more years before I got to see another set of winter and summer Games.

Now it's every two years since the winter and summer Games no longer happen in the same year, but the emotions for me remain the same..

I grew up during the Cold War, so the US versus USSR and later the steroid-fed East German Olympic teams from 1976-1988 and other Communist nations was the dominant narrative. It still didn't stop me from cheering for Olga Korbut during the 1972 Munich games, marveling at Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson's knockout power, rooting for the Chinese and gymnast Nadia Comaneci at the 1984 LA Games or being upset (still!) over the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.

And who among my generation doesn't remember when we beat the mighty Big Red Machine in Lake Placid in 1980?. In addition to celebrating the unexpected hockey win on home soil, I looked at it as revenge for Team USA getting screwed out of a gold medal in basketball in 1972.

And does the name Greg Louganis ring a bell, people?

The Olympics are not just any sporting event. Cities and nations spend millions to land them and billions to put them on. Others have used the Games as a showcase and a coming out party to the world as Tokyo did in 1964, Seoul did in 1988, and the current Beijing Games are for China. Chicago is in the final four cities to get the 2016 Games along with Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid. My hometown has been trying to get them since 1996.

florence-griffith-joyner1.jpgThey're also special to me because some of my people's history, our civil rights struggle and our tradition of athletic excellence is also intertwined with the Olympics as well. Jesse Owens destroying Hitler's 'master race' idiocy by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games. John Carlos and Tommie Smith giving a black gloved Black Power salute while on the medal stand during the 1968 Mexico City Games. The long legacy of sistah sprinters stretching from Wilma Rudolph in 1960 to FloJo in 1988.

And what's the common thread between Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard? All of them were Olympic champions.

Eventually, I hope to see in my lifetime the first open transgender athlete standing on the Olympic medal podium. As many people are aware, transgender people since 2004 have been eligible to compete in the Olympics. Drawing on the lessons from my people's history, I'm a firm believer that transgender people competing and excelling in international (and national level) sports will open the door for civil rights advances.

So I'm going to enjoy what's left of the Olympic coverage and the unfolding narrative that's developing so far. I'm looking forward to athletics (aka track and field in the States) starting. Can the 'Redeem Team' restore US supremacy in men's basketball? Can the US women win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball despite a motivated Australian team gunning for them? Will Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals? Who will be the unknown and unheralded athlete that has the performance of his or her life and ends up on the medal stand? And who will be the favorite that falters under the glare of the Olympic spotlight?

One thing I am missing from the Olympic coverage is 'Mr. Olympics,' Jim McKay, who passed away on June 7. NBC dedicated their coverage of the Beijing opening ceremony to him, but it's been odd to not see him anchoring the nighttime coverage and doing those human interest stories.

As the Olympic flame is extinguished on August 24, I'll be looking forward to the Vancouver winter Games in 2010 and the London summer Games in 2012. Like everyone in the Chicago area, I'll be looking forward to October 2, 2009. That's the date the IOC decides at their meeting in Copenhagen which of the final four contenders gets the 2016 summer Games.

And it will be a painful withdrawal once again from Olympic junkie status until then.


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I actually have a fantasy in regards to the Olympics. As you pointed out, transgender people can particpate, based on some very detailed restrictions, none of which are too difficult for a person to overcome. I would love to see an opening ceremony, where the various countries come into the stadium, each with a little flag of their country, and the first transgender athlete comes in with the flag of their country in one hand and the Transgender Pride Flag in the other. I would truly break down and cry at that moment.

I must correct you, Miss Roberts:
Nadia Comaneci was the Olympic gold medalist for Romania at the 1976 Montreal games, scoring the first perfect 10 in gymnastics competition, and competed less successfully in Moscow in 1980. She didn't make it to LA in 1984; that was the year of Mary Lou Retton.

The Olympics Rock.

One of the Olympic venues not mentioned here was in Sarajevo. The opening ceremonies were also spectacular in their own way, but I shall never forget the sight of a small fireman's band from Lake Placid entering the stadium playing, "When the Saints come Marching in." I was deeply moved by that sight. Some years later I saw pictures of the stadium and it had been completely destroyed by the madness of war.