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Rising To Great Heights
Frank Deford
December 24, 1984
For Olympic champions Edwin Moses and Mary Lou Retton, 1984 was a year of expectations and a dream fulfilled
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December 24, 1984

Rising To Great Heights

For Olympic champions Edwin Moses and Mary Lou Retton, 1984 was a year of expectations and a dream fulfilled

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"Let's create a little excellence"

Unless perhaps, against your will, you've been locked up in Albania, or, of your own volition, been imprisoned in front of MTV, you are familiar with the one major development in sports this year, the single most important athletic phenomenon of our generation:

The Wave.

Yet it would be terribly provincial to claim that, even with this new state-of-the-art weapon in their arsenal, American fans are any more fervid in their passion for their teams than are the rest of God's ticket-buying flock. No. The only thing that has set Americans apart is that their devotions are invariably more local than national.

Indeed, the whole American nation has rarely assembled to cheer for an American team. The last time was four winters ago, in support of a guileless band of youths who would slay the Russian bear upon the bloodied ice. But even that was an anomaly: the U.S. as underdog. Nineteen eighty was precious; 1980 was quaint.

In 1984 Americans once again rallied behind and hollered for an Olympic team, but this time it was different. The cheering was for the whole damn squad, no holds barred. Nineteen eighty-four was the real thing and the right stuff and the hot dog and the bottom line: America bestride the free world—and let the devil take the hindmost. These were America's Olympics, America's show, America's fans, America's winners; and The Wave that rolled out from Los Angeles crested across a land full of pride and joy (and full of itself), and if there was some mean-spirited excess, some boorish jingoism, the President, anyway, was smart enough to understand that above all you should wrap yourself in the Olympic flag. Not, as it turned out, that he needed the Games, but his campaign began at the Olympics. Reagan met with the American Olympians one day in L.A. "You're heroes," he told them, "every one of you living proof of what happens when America sets its sights high and says, 'Let's create a little excellence.' "

It felt good. It resonated. It glowed. It played. Why, every day there were so many new American heroes to toast, so many new gold medalists shining under the conquering Leo moon, that even now it's difficult to sort them out.

Except for two of them, two originals.

Edwin Moses and Mary Lou Retton managed not only to win, but also to win our affection, for excellence was but one of the virtues they embodied and shared with us. Together, they call up a reflection of Colonel Washington A. Roebling, who suffered the bends while directing the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and thereafter had to supervise his life's work from his sickroom. In a letter to his son he wrote, "Nothing is easy, and nothing does itself. Character and action are everything."

But, apart from those two qualities and a shared citizenship, Moses and Retton are flip sides. If ever two athletes could run on a balanced ticket, something for everyone, it would be these two disparate personalities, who are the Sportsman and Sportswoman of 1984.

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