By Tim Wason, BASOC Volunteer
His athletic playing field is a 15 by 45 foot room at Valencia Street Muscle and Fitness in San Francisco, across from a pink housing project. Along one wall are vertical scaffoldings that hold horizontal bars with round colored metal disks on them, straining to return to earth. Men and women yank the bars and plates from the floor upward, vertically, in a direction even shorter and more limited than the floor dimensions of the squat, tiny room.
It was in rooms like this that Jim "Butch" Curry became an Olympian. It's where he continues to lift, now edging towards fifty. No concessions here- he has only twice competed in age group competitions. Rather, stubbornly, he continues to compete in the open category, against everyone.
A quote on the wall warns intruders of the real purpose of the room. It quotes Curry's coach Jim Schmitz, himself an Olympian, "I will not rest while gravity threatens my people". They cheat gravity here, it's not just about lifting huge disks of metal. Curry qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in weightlifting, the Olympic Games that politics and Jimmy Carter marooned in America. At his best, the 198 pound Curry could lift 333 pounds in the snatch, and 418 in the clean and jerk. In time, cheating gravity caused injuries that will never heal. He has a photo of an x-ray of his artificial shoulder in his wallet, a gruesome little snapshot, but a testament to the enormous, consuming effort it took to become an Olympian. This lifting was and is a passion, a hard joy, the intensity of which almost no one really understands but his fellow Olympians. But watching and listening to him hints at the size of the Olympic Dream.
What did you miss most about not being able to compete in Moscow in 1980?
The Chance. Simply the chance to compete. Not to win necessarily, but for me-and everyone else-- to have the opportunity, the once in a lifetime chance to compete against the very best. In 1980 I was ready to lift, but by 1984 I was injured and could not compete at all. Thank goodness for the Romanians, they lifted way more than I think I could have done, otherwise, if I hadn't been injured, I thought I had a chance to win. I bought a July 27, 1980 Moscow Olympic ticket on E-Bay a while ago, the day I would have competed in Moscow, but couldn't, because of the boycott. I never forget that date. It turned out I only had one chance...
What has made you proudest about your involvement in Olympic Sports?
I'm a dreamer, and I went for it.
If the Olympic Games come to the San Francisco Bay Area, what will the value be to the Area?
For the area, mass transit will get better, the economy will get a boost, and there is always an art festival that brings in the best cultural events. But most importantly, everyone who comes will see positive people, who set goals, who act. The Olympic Games are the greatest peacetime movement there is. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
How do you continue your involvment in the Olympic Movement?
I worked at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, 12-14 hours a day, smiling every moment of it. I am on the Athletes Advisory Council of the USOC Board of Directors, and I am a SME (subject matter expert) for the San Francisco Olympic bid. I went to the weightlifting venues and made suggestions and recommendations of how the competition should be set up. The bid reflects an athlete's view of how to set up the platform, the venue.
Why host the Olympic Games in the Bay Area, why not somewhere else?
As a person who grew up in New York, I think the Bay Area is unique, it has the best facilities, the technology, and it is a good sports area. The sailing in the Bay would be fantastic.
What friendships did you develop along the way in sport?
The Bay Area Olympians are a great group. They are just Olympians, folks who understand what the Olympics are about, who lived and live it. Along the way, I got to meet a lot of the figure skaters, and I cheered them on, and they encouraged me. I remember Scotty Hamilton and a group of the girls yelling, again and again, "You can be an Olympian!" They helped me believe I could do it. I've only sent four telegrams in my life, and they were all to skaters before competitions. There is a bond in all sports, even as different as lifting and skating might seem to be.
If we were to drop in on the 2012 Olympic weightlifting competition, what would we see?
In 1984 in Los Angeles we sold out all the scheduled competition sections. Now there is women's lifting and there would be a lot more lifting to watch. It would be a good ticket, the best of the best, there would be music and rock and roll, screaming and yelling, world records, and the best weightlifters in the world. It'll be the best show in town.
You worked 12-14 hour days at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, what would you do at the Bay Area Olympic Games of 2012, if they come here?
Anything they wanted me to do. Absolutely anything.