Olympics inspire like no other event


Patrick Reed has just finished his final round at the Scottish Open and I have something I need to tell him.

He has announced his intention to compete for the U.S. Olympic team, to dive headlong into the unknown, to do something no player has done for more than a century.

Reed, like most people, has seen the unique pomp and circumstance in the buildup to the Games, but also heard meaty discussions about scheduling and safety and mosquitos. I corner Reed and get serious. 

“You’re going to love it,” I tell him. “You’re going to love going to the Olympics.”

I don’t know why I feel compelled to say it, but it just spills out of me, reporter to player, sports fan to sports fan, right beneath that cloudy Scottish sky.

I try to share some wisdom with Reed.

I went to my first Olympics as a boy in 1984, collected pins and buttons and boxes of cereal. Twenty years later, I went to the Olympics as a journalist and took evening walks to the Parthenon.

All these years later, I have never covered a better sporting event. Not a major championship or a Super Bowl. Not an NBA Finals or a chase for the pennant.

Reed, who arrived at Inverness in a window seat while sporting a USA cap, listens to my misty water-colored memories, cracks a joke, and leaves to grab some lunch.

2016 Rio Olympics: Videos, articles and photos

I am left with my reverie about a journey that still inspires me.

As with Rio, there were deep concerns on the eve of the Athens Games in 2004, worries about large crowds in a post 9/11 world, handwringing about infrastructure and crime and traffic. 

At the New York Times, we went through our own security protocols, sobering sessions that forced you to look outward and inward.

But when I finally arrived in Athens, the overwhelming feeling was one of inspiration. It didn’t take me long to realize I was stepping into a moment that I just couldn’t duplicate anywhere else.

The joy came in the simple and the profound, from dinners with strangers where a half-dozen languages were spoken, to stumbling upon the best gyro I’ve ever tasted, to listening as a wrestler from Japan named Chiharu Icho described her disappointment in a silver medal. (“My emotions are full of regret,” she said.)

What Reed, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and 116 players are about to encounter is something even they can’t fully grasp.

If stories of players withdrawing dominated a few too many news cycles, they now give way to those who will be there alongside athletes from urban centers and tiny villages and everywhere in between.

“I think one of the coolest things about the Olympics are the personal-interest stories,” Kuchar said Wednesday at the Travelers Championship. “The guy from nowhere that’s kind of come from nothing that’s now turned himself into an Olympian.”

Fowler once described competing in the Olympics as “a dream come true I haven’t ever dreamt of.”

Now he can, and they all can.

I hope they find their own favorite pastimes around Olympic Park, watch judo and badminton and synchronized swimming. I hope they are as moved as I was - and as I remain to this day - about the Olympics.

For golf, at long last, is returning to its ancient roots.

Let the Games begin.