By Jeff Munn
Has it really been 20 years since Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics?
If your memory needs jogging, the Atlanta games featured a host of Arizona athletes. People like Kerri Strug, Amy Van Dyken and yes, Charles Barkley represented Arizona and took home gold in the process.
I had the great honor of being there, having been selected to be one of four public address announcers for basketball. It was three weeks I’ll remember the rest of my life.
As for what I’ll always remember….
I’ll remember the day I went to get my Olympic uniforms. We got two of everything – two pairs of slacks, two pairs of socks, two belts (in case we lost the first one) and three shirts.
When I asked the lady behind the counter three shirts instead of two, she asked “Have you ever been in Atlanta in the summer?”.
Later that afternoon, I got the message.
I’ll remember the Macarena. The dance craze was at its height during the games. I wasn’t too thrilled about it when my waitress at the Hard Rock delayed the arrival of my hamburger so she could do the dance with other patrons. I was decidedly against the Macarena from that point on.
I’ll remember the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies. Everyone who worked the Games got a ticket to go to the rehearsal, held the night before the real thing. We saw everything except who was lighting the torch.
I’ll remember the first game I announced. Croatia, led by then-Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc, defeated Yugoslavia in double overtime. It is definitely in the top five basketball games I have ever announced or witnessed. Not that you’d remember it. NBC never showed a second of it. It was then that I realized NBC’s Olympic telecast philosophy – if it’s not American, it doesn’t matter.
Oh, one other thing I’ll remember about that game…the young woman who tried the entire game to get Kukoc’s attention, and how far she was willing to go to get his attention. Enough said.
I’ll remember the park bombing.
I’ll remember the day after the bombing. CBS Channel 5 asked me to do a live interview near the main subway station. When I was coming out of the station, I could see people running. A police officer grabbed my left arm, and yelled “RUN!”. At that moment, if a cab had pulled up and asked if I wanted to go to the airport, I was ready to go home. The bomb scare was just that.
I remember the Middle Eastern gentleman (I don’t remember what country he was from) who was collecting Moon Pies, the Southern dessert delicacy, to take home.
I remember hot food. They didn’t serve us a lot of it when we were working. If you liked cold sandwiches, you were good.
I remember my French speaking partner, Francois Jeanson. Did you know the official language of the Olympics is French? At every venue, there would be two PA announcers, one English, one French.
The English announcer did the game, the French announcer would follow the English announcements pre-game, halftime and post game.
Francois was a world class wheeler-dealer. Mention an event, and he would immediately say he knew how we could sneak in for free. I was trying to follow the rules, so the night I attended the USA- Argentina Women’s Field Hockey match with Francois, I insisted we buy tickets. When we approached the turnstiles, wearing our Olympic ID badges, a ticket taker said we could go in the VIP gate free.
Francois was not pleased. As a result, I learned a lot of French words I can’t use.
I remember the poor stage manager with NBC assigned to sit on the floor next to me the night of the men’s Gold Medal basketball game. NBC had been alerted there would be a ceremony at halftime they would want to carry, but the people running things wouldn’t tell NBC what it would be. The network figured out, as the PA announcer for the game, I had to have a script for the event, so a gentleman I hope I never see again spent the entire first half literally hunched on my shoulder.
The event? Muhammad Ali was presented with the Gold Medal he lost from boxing in the 1960 Olympics.
My favorite memory? The day I flew home, I was worried my five month old son wouldn’t remember his Daddy, since we had been separated for three weeks.
As I approached he and his mother, Patrick broke into a wide grin and leaned into my arms.
I hope the Games of Rio give you the same feeling.