SIDELINES: McDonald’s cultivated my love for the Olympics

The Olympics are an amazing spectacle, and I can’t take my eyes off of the TV.

As a huge sports fan, the Summer Olympic Games are the definition of what sports can be. It’s competition at its highest level. How can you get more dramatic than competing for your country in an worldwide event that happens once every four years? You can’t.

In all honesty, I could really could care less about Olympic sports like swimming, diving, team handball, water polo and the rest of them. If you offered me $1 million to name one of the girls on the United States’ gold-medal winning gymnastics team, I couldn’t do it. All I know is they are tiny and would get carded trying to see a PG-13 movie.

But I couldn’t wait to go home and watch them perform. There’s something special about the Olympic Games. The national pride, the hard work it took to even qualify and the stories about the athletes’ journeys to London are amazing to me.

Take South African 400-meter runner Oscar Pistorius, for example. Pistorius  is set to become the first amputee to compete on the track at the Olympics.

Pistorius will make his historic debut in London on Saturday in the 400 preliminary heats at the Olympic Stadium. He will also be on the South African 4x400 relay team after surviving a ban by the track and field commission, a court case that cleared him to run on his specially-made, carbon-fiber blades and a yearlong qualifying battle to make the South African Olympic team.

On the flip side, it was also awesome to witness eight female badminton players get kicked out of the Olympics Wednesday afternoon over charges of “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

I watched the players dump the shuttlecock into the net and onto the ground in order to get a more favorable draw going forward in the tournament. Spectators booed the players, and some demanded refunds.

It was awesome and it happened in badminton, the sport played at summer family reunions with a beer in one hand and the racquet in the other.

You can’t make stuff like this up.

This summer’s Olympics have also been a pretty good bonding activity for me and my family. For some reason, my wife and kids are actually interested in watching the coverage with me.

It’s hard enough to get my family to sit down together to watch a movie once a week. That usually only can happen if we “bribe” them with extra-buttered popcorn, ice cream and a 66-ounce pop.

But they can’t wait to turn on the Olympics. I guess I was the same way when I was a kid.

The first time I remember watching the Olympics came in 1984 when the Summer Games were held in Los Angeles.

And there are basically two reasons for that. The first was because my parents brought their 13-inch, black and white television to their lake property near Olympia so we could watch Olympics during our vacation.

The second, and more substantial, memory of the 1984 games centers around McDonald’s. The fast-food franchise ran a promotion entitled “When the U.S. Wins, You Win” where customers scratched off a ticket with the name of an Olympic event on it, and if the U.S. won that event then they would be given a free menu item. Items included a Big Mac for a gold medal, an order of french fries for a silver, and a Coke for a bronze.

For some reason, my family hoarded a bunch of the tickets and were able to eat free meals at McDonald’s for what seemed like months. The promotion became a near financial disaster even for McDonald’s due to the Soviet Union boycott, which led to the U.S. winning way more medals than expected (174 to be exact).

The “When the U.S. Wins, You Win” promotion was later parodied in a The Simpsons episode, where Krusty Burger ran a similar offer. The promotion was intended to be rigged so that prizes would only be offered in events dominated by the USSR, but a boycott causes Krusty to personally lose $44 million. To which Krusty vehemently promises “to spit in every 15th burger.”

It’s kind of crazy the memories that you associate with a certain time in your life. So, thank you McDonald’s for developing my passion for watching the Olympics.


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