Days of abandon and the one grim day they did abandon
Match-up of the day: BBC commentator Barry Davies and IoS columnist Alan Hubbard will be setting their own Olympic Games records. Here they pick out the highs and lows from Tokyo to Sydney. And now for Athens...
Sunday 08 August 2004
They are the doyens of Olympic reporting. When the BBC's Barry Davies commentates on the opening ceremony in Athens on Friday he will be attending his ninth Summer Games. For Alan Hubbard, who will be there for the "Independent on Sunday", they will be his 10th - a British record. They first met as junior sub-editors on "The Times" 40 years ago, and last week they met again at Davies's Thameside home to swap Olympic memories...
Alan Hubbard: My first Games and, I think, the last untainted Olympics. Really enchanting. Sometimes I still hum the jingle that woke us every morning: "Good morning Tokyo, happy to be greeting you". It really was a happy Olympics, especially for Britain. It seemed to be raining medals, 20 in all, with the long-jump double of Lynn Davies and Mary Rand, Ann Packer in the 800 metres and the walker Ken Matthews, whose wife ran on to the track to embrace him. There was no hype and no hassle. My great personal recollection is how I almost ended the career of a future world heavyweight champion. I was wandering around the athletes' village - it was possible to do that then - when hurtling around a corner on a bike came this bloke with the biggest thighs I've ever seen. He swerved to avoid me and promptly fell off. So I was the first man to put Smokin' Joe Frazier on the floor. Fortunately he wasn't hurt, and fortunately for me too, he wasn't looking for a fight. "Sorry man," he grinned as he got up.
1968: Mexico City
Barry Davies: Things were pretty relaxed in Mexico, my first Games. I was working for ITV and was even able to get my wife, Penny, into the commentary box. Mind you, I did have a rather embarrassing personal moment as a new boy when our producer, Bill Ward, after introducing the main commentators, added: "And we also have two people who will be able to turn their hands to anything - Neil Durden-Smith and er, er..." He clicked his fingers, and the late John Bromley had to whisper to him "Barry Davies". From then on I was known as Barry Who. But there were some grim moments and perhaps a foretaste of how things were to change with the Black Power demonstration and the massacre of the demonstrating students in the infamous Place of the Three Cultures.
Hubbard: Because of those student demonstrations you mentioned, the Mexican government wanted to show they would stand no more nonsense and planned to have armed militia everywhere. But the IOC stepped in and said this was not allowed. No guns must be visible. So dotted around the stadium at 20-metre intervals was a whole platoon of Boy Scouts, but they were the biggest Boy Scouts you had ever seen, all 6ft-plus complete with toggles - and bulging armpits.
Hubbard: The grimmest Games, with the killing of the 11 Israeli athletes by the members of the Black September Movement. Terrorism had scarred the Olympics for life. At the time I felt the Games should have been abandoned as a mark of respect. It didn't seem to me that sport was worth the shedding of anyone's blood.
Davies: I know what you mean, but I tend to disagree. There was a one-day break, but then business as usual on the insistence of the dictatorial IOC president, Avery Brundage. But if the Games hadn't gone on, it would have been a victory for terrorism. Sadly, the Germans made a huge mess of things. It was the Olympics' 9/11.
Hubbard: My vivid memory is of the helicopters flying overhead and being told that a deal had been done and the athletes were saved. Then came that terrible shoot-out at the military airfield and the subsequent blowing up of the helicopters. But it also bought home to me just how blinkered some athletes can be. One Briton even remarked that the affair had "spoiled a bloody good day's athletics".
Davies: On the more positive side, Munich will be remembered for the way little Olga Korbut brought another dimension to our TV screens. It was almost as if she had invented gymnastics. She certainly put it into the top four Olympic sports, with athletics, swimming and boxing. I've worked on around 15 sports in the Olympics, and gymnastics is one of the most enjoyable.
Hubbard: We also had the first of three gold medals by Cuba's Teofilo Stevenson, the heavyweight I dubbed "Castro's right-hand man".
Hubbard: By the time Montreal came we not only had stifling security because of what happened in Munich, but the first of the boycotts, by the Africans, which threatened the structure of the Games. From then on politics and the Olympics were even closer bedfellows.
Davies: I was still the odds-and-sods man for the Beeb then, but I remember John Walker's fabulous win in the 1500m, and of course Ron Pickering's greatest gaffe:"Alberto Juantorena opened his legs and showed his class" - which has always been wrongly attributed to one of David's Colemanballs.
Hubbard: The event I enjoyed covering was the modern pentathlon when Jim Fox, who was later to become a great friend, led the British team to gold. Most people had never heard of the event, but in many ways it represented what the Games were all about in terms of skill, athleticism and endeavour. It is so sad that Jim, such a dashing, handsome figure in those days, is now, like Muhammad Ali, stricken with Parkinson's Disease.
Davies: I missed Moscow when the BBC team was thinned down because of the boycott. These were the Games when the politicians really began to use the athletes as front-line troops. That boycott benefited nobody.
Hubbard: Absolutely. I went to Moscow and thought that in the circumstances the Russians handled them well. Ironic, isn't it, that Seb Coe won the first of his two gold medals and had to defy his future boss, Maggie Thatcher, to do so.
1984: Los Angeles
Davies: I think we'll probably agree that these, the first Games really to embrace commercialism, were pure Hollywood and were dominated by the chauvinism of the Americans.
Hubbard: Yes. The gymnastic hall was like the Colosseum in Roman times when Mary-Lou Retton was performing.
Davies: She went on to be a big star and to make a fortune from what we all thought was the most amateur of sports.
Davies: Gymnastics had become a major sport, and that was largely my beat, which pleased me because my daughter, Gigi [now the IOC's director of communications] had been Southern Area champion as a 10-year-old. Even though Korbut and Comaneci had gone, it was still dramatic.
Hubbard: A bit of drama on the track, too, with the Ben Johnson doping sensation. I had interviewed him only a few days before and you could see the redness of his eyes and the rage in him then, and you wandered, "What's he on?" Well, we were soon to find out.
Davies: Yes, I suppose the Johnson affair sowed the seeds of doubt in everyone's mind as to whether what they were seeing could really be believed. But for me the greatest memory of Seoul - and perhaps of all the Games I have been to - was the victory of the British hockey team. One of the most professional performances I've ever witnessed in sport.
Davies: Barcelona was memorable because it marked the return of a united Germany, and South Africa.
Hubbard: I loved Barcelona, too. It ran Sydney pretty close. Well organised, great atmosphere and a good Games for Britain, with Chris Boardman reinventing the bicycle wheel, Linford Christie, who four years before had been lucky to escape a ban after overdosing on ginseng tea, winning the 100m and Sally Gunnell reminding us that "Essex girls do come first".
Hubbard: I missed Atlanta because I was then sports editing another newspaper, but colleagues tell me I was well out of it.
Davies: Yes, absolutely right. A hick town. So crass. Too many jobsworths. The thing that housed the flame was like a tub of French fries, and the Olympic stadium was pulled down immediately to become a car park. What sticks most in the mind is the lighting of the flame by Muhammad Ali (right). I had mixed feelings about that.
Hubbard: I was glad he did it, because it clearly meant so much to him. I suppose one of my greatest regrets is not seeing him win his own Olympic title in Rome in 1960. Amazing that 40 years later, in Sydney where he was a guest, he was still stopping the traffic.
Hubbard: Why do you think everyone considers Sydney the best ever?
Davies: Because everywhere you went, everyone was smiling. They were proud to be part of it. And the night Cathy Freeman won must be one of the most electrifying evenings in Olympic memory. It was also the first opening ceremony I had done of the Summer Games. I may be biased, but I think it was the best ever.
Hubbard: For sheer getting-it- togetherness, Sydney takes some beating. Britain got it together too - from the moment cyclist Jason Queally won on the opening day to Steph Cook and Audley Harrison on the last, via Steve Redgrave and company. So, of the Games you've seen, which are your gold, silver and bronze choices?
Davies: Sydney, Seoul and Barcelona.
Hubbard: Sydney, Barcelona and Tokyo - they say you always remember your first. Wonder where Athens will slot in? Personally, despite all the problems they've had, I think they'll do it with great style and sophistication. The Olympics will feel at home there.
Davies: It is tough that they will be compared to Sydney, but the beauty of the Olympics is that while the theme remains the same each presentation is different and reflects the hosts. It is the greatest show on earth and I'm enough of a romantic to think competitors still want to win for the glory. See you there.
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