Charles E. Richardson

Olympic dreams and memories fulfilled by another generation

Tony Rambonga, Charles Richardson and Greg Rambonga, circa 1969
Tony Rambonga, Charles Richardson and Greg Rambonga, circa 1969

Every time I hear Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream” — some call it the “Olympic Fanfare”— I get chill bumps. It captures the spirit and heart of the athletes who train for years in an attempt to attain a medal. For most, however, it’s an unfulfilled dream, but still, they dream and they inspire others to dream as well.

This past week has been a welcome Olympic respite for me. Instead of watching the continuing political devolution, I’ve been watching the greatest swimmers and gymnasts in the world. When Michael Phelps brought home the gold and recaptured his 200-meter butterfly crown I cheered. It was his 20th gold medal. About an hour later he would win his 21st gold in the men’s 4X200 freestyle relay. He was so exhausted he could hardly get out of the pool. On Thursday, it would be gold No. 22 in the 200-meter individual medley, and it wasn’t close.

I could feel him. Lo, many years ago, I felt the burn of swimming the butterfly and freestyle and anything else our coach, Stan Rasmussen, asked us to swim. Tony Rambonga and his brother Greg, Leo Free, Frank and Fred Pascua, Glen Barawed, Richard Balbin, Lawrence Ente, Francisco Verduzco, and other Viking swimmers had high dreams, too. Other swim teams would mock us. What could Filipino, Asian, Mexican and black swimmers (our lone white guy was Leo) teach them about swimming? We taught them one thing — how to win.

Our coach, Mr. Rasmussen, didn’t know beans about swimming, but that was OK. He gave us a precious gift that none of us fully appreciated: He gave us his time. I had a little outside help from Steve Donahue, a swimmer at the University of the Pacific. He was the chief guard at McKinley Park where I worked during the summers. He taught me how to do the butterfly correctly. Greg, Francisco, and Tony were naturals at it. I was a freestyler.

During one summer meet, even as he coached another team, Donahue told me what I had to do to win the race. It worked, from lane six. Believe me, every swimmer knows what it means when another swimmer says their arms and legs feel like Jello.

I can swim, but I can’t even fathom gymnastics, and the five young American women gymnasts, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian made taking the team gold look easy. Such bright, engaging smiles. And then for Biles and Raisman to come back Thursday and take gold and silver in the women’s individual all-around was out of this world. I have no clue how anyone learns to double twist this and triple somersault that and land squarely on their feet.

Of course, social media trolls pulled out their daggers. Instead of recognizing the young ladies’ sacrifices for their country, some focused in on what they, in their tilted, twisted minds think is important by majoring on the minor. They raised a fuss Tuesday because Douglas didn’t put her hand over her heart while “The Star Spangled Banner” played. I want those same people to correct the folks around them at the next football game they attend — and I’d bet those folks will not have just finished competing on the world stage in the Olympics.

Douglas handled the slight brouhaha well. She responded, “I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I’m so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!”

And then on Thursday, another Simone entered the picture, this one with the last name Manuel. When the 100-meter freestyle began, no American woman had won gold in the event in 36 years — 52.70 seconds later, she had set a new American and Olympic record. She and Canadian Penny Oleksiak hit the wall at the same time.

When Cullen Jones won gold in 2008 in Beijing, I cried. When he won two silvers and a gold in London, I cried. Thursday night, I cried again. Dreams are not necessarily meant for you to fulfill, but when fulfilled, it is oh so sweet.