The unthinkable and the entirely unexpected happened—I won a running award that was not just for showing up! I actually placed second in my age category in a masked, socially distanced race. And though I have always joked that the only way I will place is if only three women run, I always secretly hoped for just such an eventuality. Frankly, I thought I might have to wait a couple more decades for the ranks to start thinning. Turns out I just had to wait for the pandemic that would turn most races virtual. The point in my favor was that with no more than 100 runners, the competition was not that stiff. However, I have to clarify that there were seven (7) women that showed up in my age category. And I still placed second (2nd). There were five (5) entire women slower than me, which is an amazing improvement since gym class. https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/04/run-your-own-race/
The race itself was actually pretty brutal, and not something in which I would participate under normal circumstances. I mean, I did not know how crazy it would be because as always, I carefully read the directions about where to park, where to stand to socially isolate at the start, and when to wear the mask. I blithely overlooked the facts that the race was (1) at night, and (2) in the woods. Words like “moonlit”, “9 pm”, “trail”, and “forest” did not cause any alarms to go off, so excited I was to just run in an actual race. And so, I literally stumbled through the dark jungle, leaping (and I use the term loosely) over tree roots, trying not to slip in the mud (as it rained shortly beforehand), alternately praying and swearing. It was also extremely hilly. Pure adrenaline moved me forward, based on a desperate desire to not perish in the woods. This was easily the most exciting thing that happened to me since the plague came to town.
The real twist in all of this is that this past weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the Moscow Olympics. I tend to see symbolism and omens in everything. For me, it seemed auspicious to run—and “medal”!—on such an august (see what I did there?) occasion.
The year 1980 was one of the best, if not THE best, year of my life. It was the last year of my childhood, and my childhood was pretty wonderful. The Olympics lent the entire year the aura of magic, camaraderie, and celebration. These were the first Games to come to Eastern Bloc, and are the only Summer Games that took place there to this day. They were a tremendous big deal for The Soviet Machine. We all know now how that worked out, sadly, and from then on. But for those of us in close proximity to the Big Event, it was a truly exciting time.
There were several things that made it so. First, the merch. You literally could not buy anything that did not have the Olympic logo on it. And everything that had the logo cost more, even if it was just a few kopeks. It was a cunning plan to raise money, I suppose. We normally call such a scheme a “load”, but during that glorious year, people were eager to buy even dinner plates that had the discreet stylized image of the Kremlin with the five rings under it. I myself was a proud owner of a messenger bad with the logo. I mean, everyone had one, but I was not usually cool enough to have anything that other kids had. Yet that year, I did! And of course, Misha the Olympic Bear was the best mascot, because bears are awesome, and he was the cuddliest of bears. I dreamed of owning a stuffed toy, but that was an unattainable dream. I did get a rubbery squeezable one, which we duly brought to the US among our very limited possessions, and which is still lurking somewhere in my house, not having been properly appreciated by my kids. Fun fact: the mascot of the sailing regatta, held in Tallinn, was Vigri the Seal. Since my grandmother and I spent part of the pre-game summer in Tallinn, I am a proud owner of a small wooden Vigri. He also crossed the Atlantic and lives in my basement.
Second, the food. Because of my hometown’s close proximity to Moscow, https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/28/the-three-monuments/ we were getting food. Not the regular food like meat and potatoes and apples, but tiny portions of packaged food like butter and jam, as well as juice boxes. These were intended for the athletes, but were siphoned off to the periphery both before their arrival and after their non-arrival. These were items that you would see outside the Soviet Union in an average, non-fancy diner at breakfast. To us, they were ambrosia. I was under strict orders from my grandmother to not tell my friends that we had a supply of this amazing stuff, else we would have an infestation of neighborhood kids in search of mythical juice boxes. (I received the same orders when we bought a color TV and a car, and whenever we had bananas in the house).
I still think of Moscow Olympics every time I open a tiny jam container when I have breakfast at a diner. And I still think of that glorious summer of plenty and exhilaration when I think of the Olympic Games. And I still say, whenever anyone Russian asks me when I left the Motherland, “After the Olympics”. And everyone understands.
 The plague took my friend who was slower than me in gym class. I mourn her more than anyone will ever know, and for reasons that have nothing to do with anything that has yet been written…
 Five countries have been represented at all Summer Olympic Games – Greece, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, and Australia, but only Greece has participated under its own flag in all modern summer Olympic Games. Good for Greece, rising above the fray! https://oldladywriting.com/2020/07/30/the-wrong-way-to-the-parthenon/
2 thoughts on “Personal Best”
Fantastic writing! Brought so many memories. Remember all this packaged food including butter ( sold in the grocery store in our building in those tiny packages by kg). Ya, all this was magical to us.
So great that the pin collection survived but unfortunate, it’s meaningful only for you and me. 😘