Although John Ellis’ football career had previously taken him to foreign countries and big stages, it was different. For one thing, there was no game involved. That was the opening night of the 2000 Olympic Games, when he joined a 600-strong US delegation – and about 10,000 other athletes from around the world – to march onto the floor of Sydney Stadium Australia. “That gets the adrenaline pumping,” recalled Ellis, a resident of Bonnybrook village, who was the top assistant to the US women’s team at the time. “It’s almost a symbol of the world,” he added, “that we can come together, play together, we can be kind to one another.” Not that one had to wear a uniform to experience the unifying force that leans over an Olympic city. Other villagers who left to watch fondly remember the benevolence shared under the five rings.
For Tom and Diane Bore, it was meeting athletes on the streets of Montreal. For Susan and Randy Mistele, it hosted an athletic family in Atlanta. For Pat Monti it was nights in German bars with a random line-up of Olympic enthusiasts.
“It was the international flair and the friendliness,” said Bud Smith from the Village of Hawkins, who took part in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. “This is one of the memories I cherish – a diverse group of people from around the world who mix and support their teams.”
Ellis said, “The bigger story is being together. Sometimes there are countries at war, but their athletes have come to play sports together. That’s the great thing about sport, for which the Olympic Games are, so to speak, the highlight. “
Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals in swimming, each setting a world record. … The Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut wins gold three times and becomes a media darling. … Controversy ruins men’s basketball as the Soviets knock down Team USA for gold by scoring on the third iteration of the last three seconds. … The games are briefly interrupted when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches are taken hostage and later killed.
Monti hit the jackpot and was selected as one of 15 YMCA directors from the United States to attend a world conference on physical fitness that focused on raising young children and exercising. The trip was combined with an extended stay to see the Olympic Games.
“That was amazing,” says Monti, who lives in the Village of Virginia Trace. “As a 24-year-old kid it was a dream.”
Bill and Mary Pauldine (Village of Ashland) were newly married and ending an extended honeymoon that had taken them through Italy, Switzerland and Austria before returning to Germany.
“We thought it was electric,” said Bill. “At that time the (Berlin) Wall was still standing and Munich wanted to present itself well.”
In fact, the Munich Games were nicknamed “The Cheerful Games” – which emphasized warmth and openness in the midst of the Cold War. Spectators could even mingle with the athletes in the Olympic Village.
“It was just great to see how the athletes were looked after,” said Pauldine.
Monti had tickets to about a dozen events, including one of Spitz’s gold medal performances. The Pauldines were there when Korbut – largely unknown even in the gymnastics community – stepped into the limelight.
However, all of this was destroyed when members of the Black September terrorist group took the Israeli delegation hostage. The games were suspended for almost two days while the tragic drama unfolded.
“We didn’t understand a lot,” remembers Monti. “Some of us finally figured out that there were problems. We went to Munich, turned around and came back straight away – everything was canceled. “
Monti and his group were brought home early. The Pauldines had returned just a few days earlier.
“We were stunned,” said Pauldine. “We looked at each other blankly. We were there less than a week ago. “
Nadia Comaneci, only 14 years old, is the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 for a total of seven. … Bruce Jenner wins the decathlon with a record number of points. … US men win all but one gold medals in swimming; Surprisingly, the GDR women get up to two gold in the pool. … Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers help US boxers take home five gold medals.
Tom Bore remembered chatting with someone from the US gymnastics delegation when asked if they had tickets to the women’s all-around final.
“The next thing we knew we had tickets,” said Bore, who now lives with Diane in Hemingway Village. “We watched Comaneci. All eyes were on Korbut, but Comaneci had those perfect tens. “
The couple had driven the five hours from their Maine home to try the games and were staying with a relative who lived outside of Montreal. They also attended US basketball games, swimming, biking, and water polo.
And although security was tightened after the Munich massacre, it wasn’t uncommon to encounter an athlete in the Montreal Olympic Park.
There they met Leonard and Leon Spinks and destroyed the time near boxing.
“You could mix with anyone,” said Tom.
Los Angeles 1984
Carl Lewis wins four gold medals in track and field, matching the performance of Jesse Owens in 1936.… Gymnast Mary Lou Retton becomes a star by winning women’s all-round gold – first from a non-Eastern Bloc nation. … Joan Benoit wins the first women’s Olympic marathon. … The Soviet Union and East Germany are among the 14 absenteeism from the Eastern Bloc, in retaliation for the US-led boycott of Moscow in the 1980s.
It was an athletic missionary trip to Guatemala that took Smith to LA ’84.
The visit included a tennis tournament with fellow pastors, and Smith accidentally drew a doubles partner who also held a role on the Guatemala Olympic Committee. They have won.
Months later, the mission received a call. Guatemala downsized its delegation to Los Angeles; would they want their additional tickets for the mission to be sold at face value?
“We bought some of these tickets,” said Smith, “and planned to stay with some friends and attend events.”
The climax came on the last full day of athletics when Lewis won his historic fourth gold medal with the US 4×100 relay.
“I wasn’t a big athletics enthusiast,” he said, “so I didn’t appreciate it then as I did later.”
Two other memories stand out. Not far from Smith that day at the Coliseum sat OJ Simpson, still a sports icon and 10 years after his legal demise.
Plus, getting around the LA freeways has never been easier.
“I think people either rented their houses for a week or just left town,” he suggested. “It wasn’t a problem getting around LA”
The US “Magnificent Seven” win team gold in women’s gymnastics, Kerri Strug the decisive jump with a sprained ankle. … Michael Johnson sweeps the 200 and 400 meters on the track and thus sets a 200 world record. … Muhammad Ali lights the kettle and later receives a replacement gold for his 1960 boxing triumph. … A pipe bomb explodes in Centennial Olympic Park, killing one and injuring 111.
Susan Mistele’s memorabilia includes a ribbon that carried flowers from the men’s field hockey medal ceremony. The flowers were passed on by the Australian Damon Diletti to his mother, who in turn gave the ribbon to mistletoe.
“That was kind of cool,” said Mistele, who now lives in the village of Poinciana. “The family was wonderful. We just had a ball with them. “
Australia won bronze in field hockey, with Diletti seeing minutes as a reserve. When he did, Mistele remembered, his mother’s calm demeanor changed completely.
“When he was in the game she was like a wild woman,” said Mistele. “It also started to rain and they stopped the game. The husband said, ‘You are a bunch of wimps.’ “
Lightning may not be that important in Australia.
They also attended a tennis day at Stone Mountain and saw both Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. As an IBM employee, the mistletoe was also part of a program that transported customers to various venues.
“Usually it was basketball,” recalls Susan, noting that she had seen a lot of China and Greece, but not a US dream team.
However, Tom and Diane Bore had Dream Team tickets and watched as Team USA’s second all-NBA squad won every game by at least 20 points. “That was a big deal,” said Tom.
Cathy Freeman, an Australian Native, lights the kettle and 10 days later wows the nation with gold in the women’s 400. … US wrestler Rulon Gardner gives Russian Alexander Karelin, who has not lost for 13 years, a breathtaking surprise. … Marion Jones wins gold three times in athletics, later snatched from a doping scandal. … the British rower Steve Redgrave wins gold at a fifth Olympiad.
When April Heinrichs was named coach of the U.S. women’s soccer team, inheriting the squad that won the 1999 World Cup, one of her first steps was to reach out to Ellis as her top assistant.
Their relationship stretched back more than a decade when Ellis’ daughter Jill – a future US national coach herself – played for William & Mary and was Heinrich’s assistant there.
“She had never worked internationally and I had,” said Ellis, a native of England who founded one of the first US football academies in the 1970s.
As a competitor, the US team adhered to a very disciplined schedule. They played their first two games outside of Sydney before moving to Olympic City for their final games.
“As coaches, we had to be very creative,” Ellis recalls. “There is a lot of downtime and you can’t just walk to the next field. We had to come up with lots of creative games and activities. “
Ellis has come up with a golf competition in the team hotel – with a twist, of course.
“Instead of using golf balls, we used soccer balls,” he said. “And you had to kick it. Some of the games we came up with were pretty amazing. “
The favored Americans reached the gold medal final, but were turned 3-2 by Norway in sudden death. Twelve minutes in overtime, Norwegian Dagny Mellgren caught a foot on a loose ball that had slipped off her arm and slipped into the net.
The game would have easily gotten into video review these days. But then not.
Despite the initial disappointment, Ellis still appreciates the silver medal in his possession.
“There have been many (memories),” he said, “but the awards show is the highlight of your life.”
Senior Writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119 extension. 5283, or firstname.lastname@example.org.