Revisiting old Olympic memories
USA hopes to create more in Beijing Summer Games
The chocolatey Cherskogo Mountains of Siberia are down below, barren and waiting for snow. Kamchatka is 939 miles to the West, according to the seatback status screen.
Looking out the window, 10 hours into a flight with 4:26 to go, you close your eyes and think about all those moments that never go away:
Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon at Montreal in 1976, and his victory lap.
Muhammad Ali in the Opening Ceremonies at Atlanta in 1996 -- 35 years after he won Gold as Cassius Clay in Rome.
Kerri Strug nailing a landing on an injured leg, and Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10s for the Romanian powerhouse.
Florence Griffith-Joyner, aka "Flo-Jo," showing her ebullient smile in the final 10 meters of her 100- and 200-meter dash victories at Seoul in 1988, a decade before being lost all too early.
The Summer Olympics.
Vasily Alexeyev hoisting unthinkable weight over his head for the Soviets in 1972, and terrorists doing unthinkable things there in Munich. Then Alexeyev winning Gold again four years later, the quintessential super-heavyweight powerlifter.
The Dream Team of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone and more in 1992 at Barcelona.
Lionel Ritchie singing "All Night Long" to close out a 1984 party dominated by the hosts in Los Angeles.
Crying. It's that made-for-TV event that turns you into a human gusher. Whatever national anthem is being played, it doesn't matter, it's the story of incredible willpower and courage and devotion, and as you watch them absorb it all on the medal stand, you feel it with your tears.
Ben Sheets dropping to his knees after completing a three-hit shutout to give the U.S. its only Gold medal in baseball to date, in 2000 at Sydney.
Maybe they will win again, as baseball makes its last stand as an Olympic event, starting on Aug. 13, with the opener against Korea. Maybe Cuba will rise again as the traditional power. Two dozen Minor League players with Major League dreams will be dreaming about something else for a fortnight, of a simple golden medal.
The Summer Olympics.
Mary Lou Retton and a box of Wheaties.
Bob Beamon flying through the sky forever into immortality, setting a long-jump record at Mexico City in 1968. It was the same year that Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) each raised a Black Power fist into the summer sky on the medal stand after the 200 meters. "They wanted us to be good ole boys," Smith said years later, recalling the days of the Civil Rights movement in America. "I don't think so."
Mark Spitz's seven medals in the 1976 swimming competition at Montreal, a record that now stands in front of Michael Phelps. All of the hype says it is a record in jeopardy, and, as always, talk means nothing and who knows who will win?
Mia Hamm going out in style with her soccer teammates in 2004.
Sebastian Coe vs. English countryman Steve Ovett in the 800- and 1500-meter running events in 1980 at Moscow.
Jimmy Carter's U.S. boycott of the 1980 games at Moscow. Easy Gold for the Soviets, in case you watched, anyway.
The referee who helped the USSR to a 1972 victory over the U.S. basketball team to win Gold, a year before Watergate.
The Summer Olympics.
Those McDonald's game cards. For many Americans, it was a traditional way to grow up with the Summer Games. Let's say you had a pentathlon or rowing event on your card. If the U.S. won Gold, you got a Big Mac. If they won Silver, it was fries. If they won Bronze, it was a drink. Maybe the best corporate sports promotion ever.
Rulon Gardner upsetting Alexander Karelin of Russia in the Gold medal match of Greco-Roman wrestling in 2000 at Sydney -- and then leaving his shoes on the mat in the traditional farewell style after winning Bronze four years later.
Jim McKay. Jim Lampley. Bob Costas. The Olympic musical theme.
Carl Lewis, possibly the greatest Olympian of them all.
Jennie Finch and the U.S. Softball Team, about as dominant within a sport from Olympiad to Olympiad as a nation can be. Now gearing up for a final Olympics competition, a swan song for this event.
Jesse Owens taking over in 1936 at Berlin. It was like watching vintage black-and-white reels of Babe Ruth, trying to imagine what that must have been like. It doesn't get any more black-and-white than this one, as Owens proved superior to any athlete, including those of Hitler's Nazi crowd who watched, scoffed, ignored and moved on with catastrophic ignominy.
Tonique Williams-Darling winning the 400 for the Bahamas in 2004 at Athens. And that magical Opening Ceremony in the place where the Olympic ideal was born.
Briton Paula Radcliffe pulling up lame and in tears late during the 2004 women's marathon. The same Radcliffe who would proceed to win the 2007 New York City Marathon in the same year she had a baby. What humans are capable of.
The Summer Olympics.
Every four years, your whole life. The memories wash over you, and really more than anything you remember the emotions and the fulfillment, the happiness of the Opening Ceremonies and the bittersweet pangs of a Closing Ceremony.
Global politics mostly subside. Respect for all others endures, and you learn more about other cultures. Inspiration arrives with fresh faces.
"One World One Dream," is what it says all over Beijing now.
You look out the window. You have flown near the North Pole and over the glaciers of Queen Elizabeth Islands and far north of Mount McKinley and across the International Date Line, and you still have more than four hours to fly. Members of the Cincinnati Pops orchestra, 37-strong, are milling around in wide spaces on the jet, and a teenaged girl is doing laps with her iPod. A man from Texas holds a National Geographic book about Beijing in one hand and a second helping of chicken sandwich in the other and regales passengers with tales of Austin swimming powers.
Closing your eyes, you remember the Kurt Thomas Flair on the pommel horse and Al Oerter's discus and Michael Johnson pumping those arms in the 200 and 400 victories at Atlanta, in a class all his own.
It is a long way to go for some baseball games.
But these are not just any games. They capitalize them.
It is time for the Summer Olympics again. There is nothing like it in the world.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.