Home again! Home at last. I spent three days on a Florida beach, and relished the opportunity to see nothing. I spent one day in Atlanta, and feel like I still haven't seen enough. It was a full day, and we had to choose our destinations wisely, but the one place I knew I wanted to see was Centennial Olympic Park.
I was in Paris in 2004. July, barely a month before the Athens games would start. We just happened to be in that city the day the Olympic torch was meant to be passing through on its way to Greece. So we at lunch in a Planet Hollywood, staring out the window until someone said "The torch is coming!" and we ran out to the street.
I expected the line of cheer-happy onlookers. I didn't expect the celebration. And standing on that Parisian street, pushing my way through the sea of bodies to catch a glimpse of the flame as it passed, it suddenly all made sense. What was about to happen in August wasn't just a game. It was a coming together of nations and a celebration of people, something I hadn't ever really considered before.
And it was great. I'm still not much of a sports fan, but as it turns out, I love watching people win gold medals. And I welcome the opportunity to be patriotic in a very nondestructive way. I can celebrate my country's wins, and that's okay. And I can mourn their losses, and that's okay, too.
I watched time stop when Greece won the gold for synchronized diving, and Thomas Bimis and Nikolaos Siranidis waved their flag from the diving platform in front of a screaming crowd of international supporters. I learned everything I ever needed to know about curling during Torino when Team Fenson played their way into a bronze medal. I awed over the vast majesty of the Beijing stage, and booed the seemingly endless stream of controversy (and yes, I sat on pins and needles waiting for Michael Phelp's eighth gold). And while watching close to 90% of the broadcasted Vancouver games (I swear, I said "aboot" for nearly a week after the closing ceremony), I learned that cross-country skiing can be pretty damn exciting. I've got a closet full of stuffed mascots and a handful of pins painted with the rings, and though London is still two years away, I'm counting down the days.
Centennial Olympic Park is almost a memorial. Some of that may be because there's an actual memorial on the grounds, to honor those caught in the bombing (our friend Steve points to an innocuous patch of grass and says, "It happened right there."). There's something quietly reverent about that stretch of land between the Georgia Aquarium and the World Of Coke museum, as if they knew, like I know, that the Olympics are not just a sporting event. It's one of those indescribable things.
At the far end of the park, away from the noisy street and giant Coca-Cola bottles, there's a dancing fountain, where children in bathing suits run over the inset rings surrounded by the flags of nations. When they scream, it sounds like cheering crowds. Somehow, it couldn't feel more appropriate.