From Nelsons to cabbies to babies, Barcelona was unforgettable


BARCELONA, Spain -- In no particular order, my top 10 memories of the 1992 Olympics, wacky, wonderful or otherwise:

* 1. Those crazy Irish.

They sang "Here we go, here we go, here we go," to the tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever," and that was before welterweight Michael Carruth even stepped into the ring.

Heaven knows how long the party lasted after Carruth defeated a Cuban for Ireland's first boxing gold medal, and first overall since 1956.

Let's just say the Irish were exuberant, apparently having chosen alcohol over sleep. One man with long hair kept beating a drum. He was probably 30. He looked about 90.

An Irish-American friend of mine just smiled and shook his head.

"There's a reason for some stereotypes," he said. "They're true."

* 2. Baby strollers at 3 a.m.

Having trouble putting the little one to bed?

Come on over to Barcelona, where parents walk their babies at all hours, lest they miss any fun. The kids don't seem worse for the wear. They won't sleep as adults, so why bother now?

* 3. Nelson Mandela.

It was stirring when the human-rights champion appeared at the first boxing match involving a member of the integrated South African team.

But it was even better when he reacted to the South African's defeat like any hard-core fan, ripping his fighter for not throwing enough punches.

* 4. Nelson Diebel.

You have to love a swimmer who sheds tears on the victory stand wearing a stars-and-stripes bandanna and three gold earrings.

Wonder what the family-values police thought of our Nelson, who started smoking pot at the age of 12 and was a self-described "rebel without a clue" before turning to swimming.

* 5. The 46-1 run.

Dream Team vs. Angola.

Enough with the angst.

It was fun.

* 6. "Welcome to the Noisy City."

A sign posted on an apartment building next to the boxing venue, which by the way, had nothing on the Pikesville Armory.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch hates boxing, so he stuck it in the town of Badalona, the last stop on a subway line.

The venue was in a residential neighborhood, and several apartment buildings ran smack up against the arena.

Another sign: "Dormir. Si. Gracias."

Sleep. Yes. Thank you.

* 7. Anytime Spain won a gold medal.

It happened 13 times at these Olympics, not bad for a country that won only four golds at the Summer Games from 1896-1988.

Favorite scenes:

The wild eruption at Olympic Stadium as Fermin Cacho carried Catalonian and Barcelonan flags on his victory lap after outsprinting a Kenyan to win the men's 1,500.

The celebration over Miriam Blasco's victory in lightweight judo, with the crowd chanting, "Mi-ri-am," as Blasco sat with King Juan Carlos I while awaiting the medals ceremony.

The charged atmosphere at the main press center yesterday, with Spanish volunteers openly cheering the country's water polo team as reporters tried to finish their stories.

* 8. Rock 'n' roll cab driver.

The cabbie spoke almost no English, but he cranked up the volume when Bruce Springsteen's "57 Channels" came on his car radio.

He turned to his American passenger.

He flashed a thumbs up.

"Bruce," he said, grinning. "The Boss."

* 9. The archer.

Some American cynics suggest the opening ceremonies are no more than a glorified halftime show. The fact is, like so much of the Olympics, they transcend sports.

Who among us wasn't moved when the archer lit the torch with his flaming arrow? So much occurred in the two weeks that followed, but it never got any better than that.

* 10. Carl Lewis in the relay.

All right, it did get better.

The sight of Lewis roaring down the straightaway to set a world record for the U.S. 400-meter relay team was indeed wondrous to behold.

Weird or not, the man will be remembered as the greatest athlete of his generation. He has competed in nine events over three Olympics, and won eight golds and a silver.

Can't forget King Carl.

Can't forget Barcelona '92.

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