Run Zola Run

July 29, 2012

The first summer Olympics that I recall in more than fuzzy detail was the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

For me, the first thing that comes to mind from those games isn’t Carl Lewis or Mary Lou Retton, it’s Zola Budd.

It must have been in Sports Illustrated that I first read of Zola, a diminutive South African teenager who had broken the women’s world record in the 5000 meters, a record that was unrecognized as it had taken place in a race in her homeland.

I found Zola fascinating as she wasn’t much older than I was and, at an age when five years was forever, this gangly, curly-haired sprite was apparently smoking the adult runners against whom she competed.

And she ran barefoot.

I was a sixteen year-old kid in a small town in the American midwest and on the high school track team and this was exotic stuff.

In the days before constant media, Zola was a mystery to most of the world, and – in this pre-internet, pre-ESPN world – I don’t think I’d even seen footage of her running.

But she was in the sports news a lot in the time leading up to the 1984 Olympics, for record-setting performances and for being granted UK citizen to be able to compete in the games.

(South Africa athletes being banned from international competition because of their country’s apartheid system)

I was watching the night of the 3000 meter finals which had been hyped as a showdown between Zola and American Mary Decker.

Decker had been Zola a decade earlier, a teen-aged running prodigy in pigtails, who had missed chances for Olympic glory due to injuries and the 1980 US boycott of the Soviet games.

And I was watching when, halfway through the event, with Zola leading a pack including Decker, the two became entangled as Decker clipped Zola’s bare heel, sending the American tumbling in a heap into the infield.

As Decker writhed in pain at the side of the track, the race continued as the massive crowd of 85,000 spectators viciously booed.

It was brutal to watch.

Zola had been the target of ongoing protests because of being South African, but this was different. She had described Decker as her heroine and had posters of the older runner on her bedroom walls.

She led for another lap or two but faded to seventh, later explaining that she couldn’t quit, but that she couldn’t face receiving a medal in front of the hostile crowd.

That summer was one were my musical interests were continuing to undergo a shift. For the first time since I’d begun to really care about music a couple years earlier, Top 40 radio was losing sway with me.

Sure, I’d still listen to Top 40, but more often than not, it were the album rock stations that were favored and, once the sun set, I’d tune into the modern rock of 97X. It might have been the most unconsciously open-minded I’ve ever been about music.

Scanning through the Billboard Hot 100 chart for this week in 1984, most of it is familiar. Here are four of those songs…

Scandal featuring Patty Smyth – The Warrior
from The Warrior (1984)

My buddy Beej had turned me onto the debut mini-album by Scandal and not long after the band was getting a lot of radio attention with Goodbye To You and Love’s Got A Line On You. Their full-length debut pushed lead singer Patty Smyth to the forefront.

The Warrior might have been goofy – and the video didn’t help – but the song is an earworm and Smyth was the kid sister Pat Benatar might have had.

(and, oddly enough, as I watch the 2012 summer Olympics, tennis great/commentator John McEnroe – who is married to Smyth – is hanging with Bob Costas)

Bananarama – Cruel Summer
from Bananarama (1984)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

I dug Bananarama, though I didn’t own Deep Sea Skiving as, for quite some time it, was an expensive import. And I dug the loping Cruel Summer (as well as Robert De Niro’s Waiting… from earlier that summer)

(then the group got involved with producers Stock Aitken Waterman and I was out)

The Cars – Drive
from Heartbeat City (1984)

I recently posted several songs by The Cars and there was great outrage over my neglecting to include Drive. Actually, the only reason that it didn’t make the cut was that I knew I had written about the song before.

However, Drive is certainly among my favorite songs by The Cars and I took note of it the first time I popped in a copy of Heartbeat City not long after the album was released in the spring.

The song was so atypical for the band, a lush, dreamy ballad sung by bassist Ben Orr. As pretty as Drive is, it has a desperate, dark undercurrent to it which was reinforced by the video which seemed like something Rod Serling might have conjured.

Quiet Riot – Mama Weer All Crazee Now
from Condition Critical (1984)

No metalhead was I, but there was a bit of hullabaloo surrounding the release of Condition Critical, Quiet Riot’s follow-up to the mega-selling Metal Health from the year before. That album had brought metal to the mainstream, topping the album charts and spawning a Top Ten single with the group’s cover of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize.

I recall a few of the rock station’s hyping the arrival of Condition Critical and MTV – which we had just gotten access to earlier that summer – heavily playing the first single, another Slade cover.

I was mostly indifferent to Mama Weer All Crazee Now as most of the public proved to be as well. Ratt had become the token hard rock act on pop radio that summer with Round And Round and both Condition Critical and Quiet Riot were summarily relegated to the cut-out bins.

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