When I was a mediocre but devoted shot-putter in the middle of the 1980s, I loved to leaf through this huge Olympic Games photography book in my high-school library. The book covered the past few summer gatherings—Mexico City, Munich, Montreal, Moscow—and I would imagine the lives of these hippie-looking jocks, men and women from all over the world, with their long hair and extra-large Afros and flowing beards. From the vantage of the Reagan Revolution, they seemed sprung from some liberated, golden interregnum. They’d leapt past the crew-cut conformity of the postwar order and now existed in some sublime limbo of rude health and freedom, with no knowledge of the cultural and political clampdowns that would plague the lame decade to come. Here were the beautiful and strong doing revolution.
It was a silly projection, of course, as it’s clear now that the late sixties and seventies were no utopian picnic. There was the Cold War, for instance, playing out everywhere in horrible ways, especially in Eastern Europe and in the anticolonial struggles of Southeast Asia and Africa. There were Watergate and the ongoing fight for racial justice in America, the Cultural Revolution in China, energy crises. My notion was also misguided because I was assuming that a Greco-Roman wrestler with unkempt hair and muttonchops couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have voted for Richard Nixon. I was confusing style with politics. I didn’t know that Caitlyn Jenner, who appears in a few shots of the fascinating and weirdly revelatory Visions of Eight (1973) and appeared on my Wheaties box many childhood mornings, was a longtime Republican.
And yet, seeing all of the astonishing footage of young athletes in Visions of Eight, one does sense some new vibrancy in the air, and not just due to the multiethnic array of the planet’s most physically splendid humans hanging out, making new connections in their beads and sunglasses and bandannas, though that’s definitely got something to do with it. (Google “sex in the Olympic Village” and you will find numerous articles, stretching back years, about what has been repeatedly, if inadvertently, one of most erotically charged—and active—planned communities in history.) But there were other kinds of electricity in the air. While it’s hard, watching Visions of Eight, not to think of what’s about to happen—the attack on the Israeli team by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September—it’s also important, on a political level, to recall what had already occurred.
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