Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series, Part 1

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Our travel expert, retired attorney, John Wilson will be a 9-time Olympian soon!  Not as an athlete, per se, but definitely as an adventurer! He has been traveling to the Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games.  John will be fondly reminiscing about his Olympic past in an exclusive ICLEF 4-Part Series leading up the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, from which our correspondent will regale us with what he learns from his Russian adventures.  Please join us each week for a new installment. Click to read Part 2 & Part 3.

THE OLYMPIC SERIES, Part 1
By John Wilson 

Sochi 2014 will be my ninth Olympic trip. But let’s start at the beginning…

Montreal, 1976

We were three years out of law school in 1976.  There were ten of us: Jack O’Bryan, Lafayette; David Carter, Indianapolis; our respective wives and girl friends, another guy and another girl lawyer along with Mary Ann Carter’s teenage sister and niece from Virginia.

Those friendly Canadians had set up a billeting exchange.  We stayed in the upper floor of a five bedroom house while the home owner and his family occupied the bottom two floors. The accommodations worked out fine, but there was a little unneeded tension to start.  Because we only had five bedrooms, the guy and girl lawyers who were friends, but not in a relationship, shared the fifth bedroom.  It would have worked better had the teenage niece from Virginia known the difference between a “prosecutor”, which the lady lawyer was and a “prostitute”, which she was not.

Having been to a number of Olympics, I am asked which do you like better, Summer or Winter? Summer.  What is my favorite event? Track and Field, which is called Athletics in the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympics Series Part-1, Montreal Olympics Seal Poster 1976

In Montreal, the Athletics stadium is still an icon, although its costs almost bankrupted Montreal and the roof was only afforded many years later.  Over 60,000 spectators watched a five ring circus of the best track and field athletes world-wide competing simultaneously.  It was a golden age for men’s track and field with Lasse Viren, Finland, winning both the five and ten thousand meters.  From Cuba, Alberto Juantoreno, won the 400 and 800 meters.   A relatively unknown from Trinidad and Tobago, Hasley Crawford won the 100 meters and his country went wild.  The East Germans were at the height of doping on the women’s side so it was less interesting. The longest race for women in 1976 was 1500 meters.

Moscow, 1980  Los Angeles, 1984  Seoul, 1988 and Barcelona, 1992

After 1976, work, family and politics got in the way of Olympic adventures.  In 1980, the Americans boycotted Moscow, then, big surprise, the Russians boycotted Los Angeles in 1984. Seoul was 1988 and Barcelona 1992. The logistics for those two didn’t happen.  It never occurred to me to go to the Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics in Sarajevo would have been great in its pre-Bosnian War heyday.  Ten years later the Olympic venues were part of their war.

Atlanta, 1996

In 1996, the O’Bryans, Carters and Wilsons, who had gone to Montreal, packed up the family cars and headed down the road to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics.  In the intervening twenty years, we had amassed children of various ages, who joined us.  While we went to a variety of events including volleyball, tennis, platform diving, wrestling and rowing. Athletics was once again the highlight.  Michael Johnson won the 200 meters in a world record, and the 400 in an Olympic record. Carl Lewis won his fourth Olympic gold medal in the long jump. He and Al Oerter are the only two Americans to win the same event in four Olympics.  For women, Gail Devers won the 100 meter. Women now ran up to 10,000 meters (but not the marathon).

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympics Series Blog Part-1, Track & Field events at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games        ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Diving event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games

The Atlanta Olympics is where Hillary Clinton lost my vote.  She attended a day session of athletics that our children also attended.  The day sessions are when the heats are run with the finals of the event occurring that evening.  Day sessions are usually pretty quiet as was this one.  Our kids approached Hillary’s entourage to ask for autographs and were turned away.  I know its not good to be a one issue voter, but it was my daughter.  Sorry, Hillary.

Sydney, 2000

Sydney is one of the great cities of the world.  Having the Olympics there in 2000 made it irresistible. It also was the Olympics where I started to understand two added Olympic phenomenon.  One related to housing and the second to the international party that surrounds the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Flags from varying nations at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

I packed up Messrs. O’Bryan and Carter and my friend, Bruce Glor.  The wives passed.  My friends made the mistake of letting me plan the trip unsupervised.  The two and a half weeks was the longest vacation I had taken since I started working in 1973.  We spent the first couple of days in Melbourne and watched the Opening Ceremony there on TV.  We don’t go to the Olympic City on the first few days for two reasons.  First, the opening ceremony is just too expensive, and second, arriving after the events have been going a few days allows the organizers to work out logistical kinks.

Next we went to Tasmania.  As many Tasmanians themselves asked us, “Why would you go to Tasmania?”  Answer:  I had never met anyone from there, I had never been there, and didn’t expect to meet anyone who had. It was great. At least I thought so.  One  evening in the town of Hobart, we watched Olympic swimming on TV in a pub with the local rugby guys.  Thankfully the Aussies beat the Yanks.  It was free beer and Waltzing Matilda all around.  Had the US won, it might have been Bruce and John all around.

Next, we drove to Freycinet Bay National Park on Tasmania.  Its website says this, “Freycinet National Park consists of knuckles of granite mountains all but surrounded by azure bays and white sand beaches.”  Its an area where you can get local micro climate white wines, pick oysters directly from the ocean and have a kookaburra bird on your deck wake you in the morning.  My friends hated it and wanted to know when we were going to the Olympics.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Barilla Bay Oysters, 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

I made a pledge to myself while in Australia that I was going to be a much kinder and nicer person, like the Australians are.  After being harassed by my friends, I made a call to Qantas Airlines to get a flight to Sydney.  Here is the conversation:

Qantas lady (QL):  Hello. This is Vivian.  Who am I talking to?
Me:  John Wilson.
QL:  How are you today, Mr. Wilson
Me:  I’m fine.  How about you?
QL:  Very well.  It’s so kind of you to ask.  Where are you calling from Mr. Wilson?
Me:  Freycinet Bay.
QL:  That is spectacular.  I love Freycinet Bay.  How is the weather?  Are you enjoying it?
Me:  I am, but my from the States.
QL:  Oh, I love Americans. You have such great accents…

You get the idea.  We did get flights, but…

Let’s talk about Olympic accommodations.  Getting in the groove for my third Olympics, I realized that housing for the Olympics is counterintuitive.  The folks in the host city believe that there will be hoards of tourists clamoring for not enough rooms.  They raise prices and put restrictions like needing to rent for a month or not even being able to know which hotel you are staying in (you just get a class, like one, two or three stars).  The reality is that there is an oversupply of rooms.  First, no business person in their right mind is going to the host city during the Olympics.  The same for ordinary tourists.  That puts a pretty big hole in the normal amount of daily reservations.  Next, after all the building construction and road congestion building up to the games, a lot of the locals are ready to vacate the city making their homes and apartments available. Unfortunately, it takes until a month or so before the event for this reality to become clear to the property owners.  By the year 2000, I was conversant enough with the internet to be able to follow the owner/renter dance.  Even by the time the Olympics had started, there was lots of availability in Sydney.  We decided to arrive in Sydney for the Olympics with no room reservations.

In addition to being friendly and kind, the Australians can be a little nonchalant.  “The Olympics coming to Sydney.  No big deal.  I have no interest in going.”  After the first week, all of Australia got Olympic fever.  At the same time we were flying from Tasmania to Sydney, all those Aussies were flying, driving and probably riding kangaroos to Sydney from all over the country.  Housing dried up in a flash and we had no where to stay.  Being successful lawyers and businessmen, we had a back up plan.  Go to a college bar, meet some students, and offer them money to rent us their flats if they would stay with friends.  Luckily we didn’t get that low on the rental depth chart.  A bunch of telephone calls first got us a housekeeping apartment in Woolamloo (great name) neighborhood overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We spent the last days in Sydney on Coogee Beach in a sea captain’s apartment.

Once again, Athletics, with the exception of only serving Fosters beer in the venue (more on this in Athens 2004 in Part 2 of our series), was a great event.  Swimming was a strength for the Aussies. Their enthusiasm was contagious and the Americans did well too.  This was the Olympics when beach volleyball, on the famous Bondi Beach, morphed into the party it remains.  We even saw the curmudgeonly president of the  international olympic committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, do The Wave at a beach volleyball session.  Beach volleyball has multiple matches at each session.  We had made friends with some Aussies sitting close to us during the early match. The final match of the day was USA vs. Romania, they cheered (you don’t “root” in Australia in polite company, look it up) for Romania. Offended, we asked what was up.  They said, “We love Americans, but you always win. We’re cheering for the underdogs.”  It didn’t keep us from having beers with them later.

ICLEF Wheres Wilson Olympic Series Blog, Part 1, Face Painted at the Beach Volleyball events, 2000 Sydney Olympics

Sydney is where I wore my first Olympic medal.  The Aussies had done everything they could to make the Olympics a celebration and party, not just for the event attendees, but for everyone.  This was the first Olympics I had seen big screen TVs in as many public places as possible and collateral entertainment for all.  We were at one of those locations with some new Australian friends when one of their friends who was an olympic rower joined us.  He was wearing his bronze medal.  Everyone got a chance to wear it. Some of the time he didn’t know where it was.  I didn’t keep it.  I was as nice as an Australian by then.

Look in next week’s ICLEF e-mail Newsletter for continued coverage from our Olympics correspondent in Part 2 of Where’s Wilson: The Olympic Series.

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This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.

If you have travel questions or tips of your own that you would like to suggest please contact ICLEF’s travel expert, John Wilson, by Clicking Here.

Photographs © 2013, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission. 

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