OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — When the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games began, a swimmer from Roeland Park, Kansas, walked into Centennial Olympic Stadium in awe.
“It was incredible,” Catherine Fox said. “We walked up, you could see the lights, then all of a sudden you're on top of it, and then they announced the US, and then the flag and the place went bananas.”
Fox, who was 18 at the time, would go on to win two gold medals at those Olympic Games, the only ones in which she’d compete. She now lives in the Caribbean island country of Barbados where she plans to watch much of the coverage.
This year, athletes competing in Tokyo will walk into an empty stadium during the Games’ opening ceremonies, as leaders decided not to allow spectators at events in Tokyo in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
When Fox walked into the stadium in 1996, more than 85,000 people filled the seats. Still, she believes the athletes this year will feel a sense of pride, excitement and accomplishment during the ceremony.
“This is history,” she pointed out. “It’s going to come with new challenges and then a new situation.”
In 1996, fellow swimmer Janet Evans passed the Olympic torch to retired boxer Muhammad Ali who then lit the Olympic cauldron.
Fox said the opening ceremony required a lot of standing and she was mindful she wanted to preserve strength in her legs for her swimming competitions later in the week.
“I was like, ‘I don't care,’ and I sat down on the ground. I looked around and, all of a sudden, everyone’s sitting next to me like, ‘Yeah, this is ridiculous, we'll just fix this and sit down,’” Fox remembered.
It's one of many special memories Fox will revisit as she watches the Games this year.