A FORWARD TO THE OLYMPIC SAGA

    With the Athens Olympics just around the corner, I thought I would go back and revisit one of my writings from my past.  If my body of literary works are viewed as rock and roll albums, the Olympic Saga will probably be regarded as my Tales of Topographic Oceans.    It's long, sprawling, all over the map, at times brilliant and at times you wonder "what is he talking about?"   It will be the one that freshmen discuss the most in the college class where they study all of my classics (laugh here)  With the Olympics arriving, eight years will now have passed since the 1996 Atlanta games.  It certainly doesn't feel like it was that long ago.

    Seeing as that time of my life is quickly becoming ancient history, let's visit back to that era and get a little historical context behind The Olympic Saga to understand what was going on when it was written.  The arrival of the Olympic Games proved to be a financial boon for Georgia Tech and especially for my fraternity.  With contributions from the Olympics and a generous loan from an alumnus, Theta Xi was able to build a totally new house on campus that the Olympics used to house officials and athletes.    Before 1996, the fraternity had two houses, each at least 40 years old that held at most 10-12 people each.  After the games one of those two houses was new with a new kitchen, dining room, and dorm space for over 40 people.   I was fortunate enough to join when the chapter had 23 brothers and leave behind a chapter of 74 brothers when I graduated.   Since then, the chapter has grown even larger, breaking triple digits and earning much renown on campus.  The new house should take some of the credit for enabling the chapter to grow to the size it is now.

    Despite the benefits of building a new house, we did go through some pretty intense growing pains as we adjusted from a small fraternity to a large fraternity.  The Chapter definitely had some identity issues and a little bit of an inferiority complex (hence the reoccurring gag where people would confuse us with Theta Chi, something that really did occur quite often on campus until a couple years ago) as we tried to establish ourselves as a successful fraternity.  We were essentially without a house for over a year and it did instill some resentment with the Olympics when we got this brand new house and weren't allowed to move into it until the Olympics were complete.  In fact, the Olympics as a whole were a pretty big inconvenience to all Georgia Tech students.  Summer quarter was shortened to a nightmarish eight weeks and fall quarter after the Olympics ran all the way up to the weekend before Christmas, leaving very little winter break.  Additionally, many parts of campus were closed off to students as construction built and rebuilt many buildings.  And the construction, oh, the construction.  If I had a dollar for every morning that I woke up at 6AM to a jackhammer outside of my window...  Students were really given the short end of the stick with the whole summer (you're on your own to find a place to live during the summer, bud!) and many students began to resent the Olympic games.  I even remember NBC doing a film shoot for a promo commercial featuring a gospel choir outside of our dorm building and  Mark Massaro leaning out his window and screaming "Go away!  The Olympics suck!  Screw the Olympics!"    Not me.  I love the Olympic games.  Always have.  I love drama and competition and the games have them in spades.

    In the summer of 1996, I was starting a new co-op job with IBM.  This job would be much more enjoyable than my days in Florida working on OS/2 and the PowerPC for IBM.  I was rooming with Rick Copeland and Randy Layman, two of my fraternity brothers (and sometimes with Alex Wyatt who would crash on our couch and eat abnormal amounts of cereal for all three meals while he was in between his graduation and the start of his new job)  in an apartment.   Earlier in the year, the girl I was dating walked away from me and I had no inclination at all that she would walk right back into my life a month or so later down the road (softer than a cannonblast, indeed)  So, at the time of the Olympics, I was single and relatively happy to be so.  I had no prospects for dating and that was just fine.  I was enjoying the freedom and other than work I really didn't have any big responsibilities so there was plenty of time to enjoy spending time with friends and dabble in some hobbies such as writing.

    Rick, Randy, and I watched the Olympic games pretty much religiously during the two weeks it was on and I do have to admit it was really cool to see local landmarks on national TV.  I was even fortunate enough to get on campus for the water polo events and watch the gold medal game.  From my seat in the stands I could see my dorm and see a Swedish flag hanging from it (guess the Swedish national team stayed there.) I remember it was strange seeing my home behind chain-link fences ridged with razor wire and guarded by men with M-16 rifles.   Anyhow, we really got into it.  We read the newspaper, watched TV, even followed it on the World Wide Web (which at that time, was pretty new and fancy stuff)  While we watched the television coverage, all sorts of inside jokes started to emerge and before long we were saying things like "Wouldn't it be funny if people we knew were in the Olympic games?", "Wouldn't it be funny if David Hathcock was in the rifle competitions?", "Wouldn't it be funny if we put our intramural basketball team up against Team USA?"   Rick came up with some particularly funny short tales about him as an Olympic gymnast that had us in stitches.  I began to jokingly profess my love for some of America's gymnasts.  The stories began to spiral out of control.   Pretty soon, I realized that if we tied together all of these various stories, we had some pretty funny material.

     So I began to cobble together the inside jokes and stories into a narrative.  I certainly wasn't the first brother in our fraternity to create literature about the fraternity nor the last. Will McDaniel constructed a hysterical parody of the first Star Wars movie featuring fraternity brothers that was wonderful.  He also later worked out rough outlines for The Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Menace which were no less enjoyable.  Andy Coan wrote a brilliant reworking of Shakespeare's Hamlet with fraternity brothers.  However, I decided to take it one step further and do a completely original writing.  Well, original for a writing where I more or less ripped off jokes from other brothers and gags that had been going around the house for years (even going so far as to steal Andy and Will's sidesplitting caricatures of Billy Ray Podunk and Cleetus)   Regardless, where Andy and Will had existing scripts to work with.  I pretty much had to start from scratch.   Everything came together fairly quickly though.  The main themes of my failed attempt to romance a Romanian gymnast and the drama of pitting Theta Xi basketball against USA basketball lent themselves well to a very nice story arc and from there all I needed to do was flesh it out by including as many different brothers as I could think of doing as many different sports as I could think of, taking swipes at NBC's coverage and ACOG's organization whenever I could.  I think everyone enjoyed the idea of "sticking it" to ACOG and sneaking into the games.   I was fairly pleased with the story as a whole it seemed to be pretty fast moving and made an effort to involve a lot of minor storyines along with the main themes.  There were certainly some ridiculous and silly parts that a good editor probably would've cut out, but without them the story wouldn't be the sprawling long tale that it is.  Of course, breaking into Olympic security doesn't seem so funny given the tragic events of the bombing at the Olympic Park during the games, but I tried to keep things lighthearted and harmless with a little bit of comedic violence, but avoid altogether any of the serious implications of violating security within the Olympics. 

      Years later, this story still makes me chuckle.  I still get occasional e-mails from brothers who find it on my web site and reread it and laugh again and e-mail to let me know.  Even people who have no association with Theta Xi have read it and laughed without knowing any of the inside jokes or any of the real people that I used for "characters."  Sure, there's a lot of absurdity, but then again absurdity was what kept us sane during those stressful nights before exams and long hours of working on projects.  The story still brings back good memories of a bright, slow summer sandwiched between the two dark and stressful winters in my life.

      I've always wondered if there would ever be another Olympic Saga.  During the 2000 Olympics some brothers tried to put together a second Olympic saga, but it never came together.  Adriene and I toyed with Winter Olympic Saga during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City (including a particularly funny sequence where Jeremy Myers is sent to purchase about five thousand of those infamous "Team USA" berets that sold so quickly at the games), but I don't know, lightning strikes only once and I found myself reusing the same old gags again.  I've seen too many movies where the sequel was so disappointing compared to the original and so I decided to leave good enough alone. 

      So, if you were there in '96, reread and enjoy. If you're new to the story, I don't have time to explain each and every inside joke, but hopefully you'll let a guffaw or two at some of story.  Thanks to Rick and Randy for The Olympic Saga.  Read and laugh.

Or read some of my other writings.