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My first assignment to cover the Summer Olympics didn't happen. Back in 1980, while I was working at the Gazette, a fellow staffer went to the Winter Games in Lake Placid. I chose to cover the Summer Games in Moscow — and then President Jimmy Carter ordered an American boycott because of the Soviet Union's aggression in, uh, Afghanistan.

It was unforgettably sad, seeing many U.S. athletes — in particular the women's volleyball players, then living at the Olympic Training Center — suffer as politics dashed their gold-medal dreams.

Luckily, there have been other opportunities to cover the Olympics, five summer and two winter. The opening ceremonies, without fail, have set a breathtaking tone, from Los Angeles in 1984 to Vancouver in 2010. For pure drama, nothing could top Barcelona in 1992 when an archer's flaming arrow ignited the cauldron. Then again, when Muhammad Ali appeared at the climax of Atlanta's opening in 1996, overcoming the tremors of Parkinson's, he seemed to inspire the whole world.

This time, as the 2012 Summer Games begin Friday night, it's a strange feeling. I had been granted credentials for London, but when a hoped-for partnership to share the hefty expenses didn't work out, we withdrew. Instead, Colorado Springs offers a different opportunity (see p. 22) , with its downtown celebration and enormous outdoor screen for everyone to watch NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony.

Surely the Brits, with their special flair, will deliver a night — and an Olympiad — to remember. But still, trust me, there's nothing quite like being there.

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