(Say "hello" to Bruce Rauscher and Felicity the Cat, appearing in "Visit to a Small Planet")I am a cartoonist, but I started out a musician (a Baskir Musician at that). These days I have a spare-time career in the theater. In fact, a show I'm involved in, Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet", will be opening at the American Century Theater this Friday in Washington, DC (or rather, Arlington, Virginia). I have a small but crucial role. I don't play the lead, I'm not a supporting actor, I don't even have a bit part. I'm not the producer or the director or the sound man or the lighting designer or even the guy who builds the set. But if you need five bags of dry ice and two coolers, I'm your man! Mind you, it's better than my last gig. That one was a musical in which I played a bishop who gets beaten, choked with a cane, stomped on and set on fire at the end of the first act (It's also a musical that reliable sources tell me had its debut at the Alley Theater in Houston back in 1991; see if you can guess the name of the show).
Now on with tonight's post:
The 1976 Olympics were the only Olympic Games that occurred while I was at MIT. I was a sophomore in high school in 1972, and I was already off to my professional career by 1980, the year of the Miracle on Ice, when a team of US amateurs went up against the mighty Red Army and defeated the Russians on the field of ice hockey, thus proving once and for all that our system of government was better than theirs, so there! It was also the Year Without a Summer Olympics for the Americans. Back in those days, the Summer and Winter Olympics were scheduled for the same year; recently the Winter and Summer Olympics have been scheduled two years apart, and we are due for a Summer Olympiad in 2012 in London.
For many years, US sports fans tended to ignore the Winter Olympics, because the US team was not very good at things like curling and biathlon, while the Evil Red Menace was. MTV had not given us snowboarding yet (it wasn't even around), but we could be counted upon to occasionally produce a decent figure skater or two, and they captured our interest.
No, the action was always in the Summer Games, when we could be counted upon to bring home a huge haul of medals - Mark Spitz personally brought home seven Golds as a swimmer in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The Munich Olympics are indelibly linked with tragedy and terrorism, after members of the Israeli team were kidnapped and died violently at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. But there was one bright spot - 16-year old Olga Korbut, who won 3 Gold medals and a Silver with a stunning display of gymnastics that had most of us awestruck (and later led to a tour of the United States, a small victory for Henry Kissinger's Kremlin Strategy).
Korbut was the darling of the world of gymnastics - until someone came along who was not just better; she was perfect. In Montreal in 1976, the world got to see a 14-year-old nymph from Romania (Ceaucescu's Romania!) named Nadia Comaneci, and she made us forget all about Olga Korbut. Nadia Comaneci was the first gymnast in Olympic history to record a perfect 10.0 - and she did it six times. She won three Golds and a Bronze, and became the youngest Olympic champion the sport had ever known. And will ever know; because of the stresses placed on young gymnasts by taskmasters such as Bela Karolyi, the rules for the Olympics were revised to require that all athletes be 16 years old in order to compete. And that all female gymnasts stay away from helium balloons.
Nadia Comaneci went on to win a couple more Golds at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which we boycotted to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (why did we ever go to all that trouble, when we could have simply enlisted a young eager fighter by the name of Osama bin Laden?) She largely disappeared behind the Iron Curtain after those 1980 Olympics, only to emerge rather suddenly in 1994, when we all found out she had defected, was living in Montreal (where she'd been for five years), and had become engaged to an American after having lived a life worthy of the Kardashians for the previous decade. Her coach, a Svengali named Bela Karolyi, had defected some years earlier in 1981 and was best known for having set up a boot camp for gymnasts just outside Houston. These days, he has moved a bit further north - to New Waverly, Texas, and many an aspiring gymnast has come there seeking the moves that will gain them entry onto the American gymnastics team. His camp can be found not far from Joe Tex's old place in the woods, and he will only pick you up from Bush Intercontinental Airport, so no flying Southwest, you peasant!