Monday, November 26, 2007

Do Svidanya, Moskva!

Oh, the childhood memories. Forgotten at other times, they wait for the moment of weakness and quietly overwhelm you, pleasant or sad. Flooding you when you are sick, they safely retreat as you recover, only to strike again when you are at your most vulnerable.

One of my earliest childhood memories that did not involve my parents is the Moscow Olympics of 1980. I don't actually remember much about the sporting events themselves - I was too young to really understand or care, but I certainly remember the hype, before and after. The word "Olympiada", as the Games were called in Russian, firmly entered everybody's vocabulary. I remember reading a children's book "Where Olympiads came from", talking in colourful illustrations about the ancient Greek Olympics and beautiful child-safe myths and legends surrounding the Games of old. There was one particularly beautiful legend, for example, about a boy who would carry a calf around a stadium every day until the calf became a grown ox, which the boy (now a man) carried about to everyone's amazement.

Olympic symbolic was everywhere. There were olympic-labelled ruble coins, radios, cameras, TVs, apparel, kitchenware, toys, dishes, and just about anything else you could stick the pointy emblem on. The hype and build-up were so strong that I didn't even register the moment of the Games' opening. It was just all a logical conclusion, a continuation of some kind of a dream, which has long became normality in my 6-year old mind. All I was noticing with satisfaction and even pride was the inevitable successes of the Soviet athletes and smiles on everybody's faces.

What I do remember, however, is the closing ceremony. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that millions of people born in the USSR before 1975 would admit to crying even now when watching the ceremony in question. When Misha-the bear cub, the symbol of the Games, flew away into the August sky, my eyes were filled with tears, and everybody else's in the room, too, even the hardened uncles and seen-it-all grandfathers.

Years, and many other Olympics later, I learned about the insanely politicized character of the 20th Olympics, and the ridiculous US-led boycott and the even more ridiculous tit-for-tat boycott by the USSR of the Los Angeles Games in 1984. The names of champions were sliding into oblivion - such an ungrateful thing! - and the new ones would emerge, for all to cheer.

But the gigantic teddy bear in the sky with the balloons was, and has remained, the most prominent symbol of my childhood, even if I only reminisce about it now when ill with fever.


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