As the Tokyo Olympic Games Approach, A Look Back at Our Favorite Olympic Memories

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the way, we took a trip down memory lane sharing our favorite early Olympic memories

As we get set for the Tokyo Olympics later this summer, NBCLX storytellers Ngozi Ekeledo and Chase Cain made a pit stop in their home state of Georgia to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which they both attended as children. Known as the “Centennial Games,” the 1996 Summer Olympics marked the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics and were the fourth Summer Olympics held in the United States at the time. Their trip inspired us to take a trip down memory lane to share some of our favorite early Olympic memories. What's yours?

Connecting to Ancestral Roots

So my first Olympic memory is coming to the ’96 Games and watching soccer. My family are huge soccer fans. We were rooting for Nigeria. My dad is from Nigeria. I was born here – I’m Nigerian-American – but there is this duality that when I think about those games it sort of presented for me.

- NBCLX Storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo

Trouble Pronouncing 'Lillehammer'

One of my first really memorable Olympic moments was the Winter Games in 1994.  I was just getting my start in journalism, putting together short weekly reports for a kid’s radio show, “Kid Company,” on Boston’s WBZ radio.  

I can’t be sure if any Americans other than Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding actually competed that year since it was the only story anyone in the U.S. seemed to care about. But for me, the most vivid memory was the difficulty I had pronouncing the name of the host city, Lillehammer.  

See, I had trouble with my 'L’s' in middle school, and no matter how many takes I recorded, I couldn’t help but to say “Wiwwehammer.”  Fortunately, there was no such thing as YouTube or mp3s back in those days…and much like my terrible early ‘90s wardrobe, I eventually outgrew my speech issues.

- NBCLX Political Editor Noah Pransky

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Where's The L.A. Traffic?

I was 11 years old when the 1984 Summer Olympics came to Los Angeles. The Soviet Union and most of the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Games in response to the American-led boycott of the Games four years earlier in Moscow. It didn't matter to an 11-year-old. Politics aside, it's a unique experience living in a city that's hosting athletes from around the world.
One of my most vivid memories from the time had nothing to do with the competition.  The mayor and the Olympic organizers encouraged Angelenos to stay off the roads except for necessary travel. It worked better than anyone could have hoped. I can still remember my parents getting excited about the significant reduction in traffic during the games. It's Los Angeles. It took 28-years and a global pandemic before that would happen again.
Tickets were hard to come by, and I was fortunate to attend several different events. At the time, NBA players had not yet formed the "Dream Team." But that year was definitely a dream team in the making. While only college players made up the USA Basketball roster in 1984, you may have heard of some of them. Michael Jordan from North Carolina at guard. Patrick Ewing from Georgetown at center. Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin also played. I was too young to follow college basketball, but I certainly remembered seeing them play when they went pro.
The LA Memorial Coliseum was the home to track and field events. Other than the clothes, you could almost see the same scene playing out in ancient Greece so long ago. I remember being surprised that multiple events were happening simultaneously. Athletes were running around the track, high jumpers were trying to break records, and the javelin folks tried not to spear anyone. At least that was my worry as s a kid... followed by, can I get a javelin? That would have been a "no." But no question, seeing Carl Lewis run was the highlight of that day. He would go on to win four gold medals equaling the 1936 performance of Jesse Owens.
I'd like to think I appreciated the historic nature of these competitions at the time. But being 11, I'm sure I didn't. I do remember the frenzy over Olympic pins outside the venues. Companies and organizations created a limited run of unique Olympic pins, and the people at each venue would trade and barter for them. Some were being sold for hundreds of dollars, if not thousands. I still have some of the pins from the Games. I will occasionally take a look at them and think about how everything else in the world seemed to stop for those few weeks. My parents stopped worrying about the Cold War and all the stuff parents worry about. Watching the best athletes of their time, in some cases of any time, was all we needed for that moment in time.

- NBCLX Managing Editor Matthew Glasser

Remembering Family

I have a brick that says, “Chase Cain, 1983." It’s really cool! I haven’t seen that brick in fifteen years. And then next to it I see bricks of a couple of my relatives who are no longer with us, so that is a little bit of an emotional moment, but it also just reminds me of the beautiful memories of coming down here with my family – some of whom aren’t here anymore – and getting to experience what an Olympic Games is like.

- NBCLX Storyteller Chase Cain

I Still Want My Magic Cup!

So my first real Olympic memory is collecting Dream Team cups from McDonald's.  I was 10. I was not a big sports fan at all at the time. But I would beg my parents to go to McDonald's to get Extra Value Meals just so I would have a chance to get the cups. McDonald's was a big no-no in my house. We ate home-cooked meals a lot. But my Dad would sneak us to McDonald's from time to time and give me a shot at building my Dream Team cup collection.

I wanted the Magic Johnson one so bad but kept getting guys like Laettner, Ewing and Bird (Boo Celtics). The cups really worked on me because I remember watching as many highlights of those basketball games as humanly possible.  The Dream Team will always be legendary, but I still don’t have my Magic Johnson cup (And I still hate the Celtics).

- Director of Digital Video, NBC Local, Jeremy Berg