August 8, 2012
Here at the de Young, we know Gregory Stock as “Mr. Friday Nights,” but he used to be an elite collegiate swimmer. As we enter the final week of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Gregory shares with us some of his favorite Olympic memories.
As a young competitive swimmer, my adolescence consisted of waking up early for practice before school, spending hours training in the pool, perfecting my technique, and focusing on the ultimate goal of touching the wall first.
Though I never fulfilled that far-reaching Olympic goal, many of the swimmers against whom I competed have gone on to become Olympic champions, including Matt Grevers, who just set an Olympic record and won his first individual gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke. My dreams may never be actualized in the form of an Olympic medal, but I embrace the notion that an athlete’s journey continues throughout his lifetime. Once you have that drive as an athlete, it never seems to wane. I continue to push my body to the limits—I just completed my first Half-Ironman and plan to complete a full Ironman Triathlon in 2014.
There is no other competition in the world where more athletes test (and exceed) their limitations in search of greatness. My childhood dream is kept alive through the athletic and cultural inspiration of the modern Olympics. I am moved to compete when moments of pure athleticism create world history during that two-week period every quadrennial summer. This past week, the London Games were labeled the first “social media” games, so in that spirit, through the magic of YouTube, I can now relive some of my greatest memories of the Olympic Games and share them with you.
The preparation for every Olympics is always a matter of great secrecy, and one secret in particular is specially guarded: who will light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies? My first Olympic memory was the epic lighting of the 1992 Barcelona cauldron. I remember sitting in front of the TV in complete awe of the Olympic flame flying through the air as archer Antonio Rebollo lit the bowl with an arrow.
In 1996, I was a spectator at the Olympics in Atlanta. I had never seen so many people from so many different cultures before in my life.
Though I watched most of the games on TV, no one could forget the golden girls of the US women’s gymnastics team, especially Kerri Strug and her heroic perseverance through obvious injury on the vault that pushed her team to victory.
The Atlanta Olympics also provided me with the design for my very first tattoo!
As a swimmer, I have to say that the men’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay from the Beijing games was one of the greatest races in sports history. The victory was an epic feat for the United States team as they beat out France. It also propelled Michael Phelps forward on his winning journey to a record-breaking eight gold medals.
As we immerse ourselves in the spectacle of competition, we must remember the great wisdom of Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympic Games): “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."
One of the greatest examples of this ethos took place at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, when Eric Moussambani Malonga, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, competed in the first heat of the 100-meter freestyle. He had learned to swim just weeks before the games. Knowing the amount of training required to swim competitively, this athlete’s determination was particularly inspiring to me.
Though we can’t all travel to or participate in this summer’s Olympic Games across the pond, we can watch—often on the edge of our seats—as new champions are crowned. You can also experience the visual glory of the Olympic Games in Gifts from the Gods: Art and the Olympic Ideal , which is currently on view at the Legion of Honor.