His first crush was Olympic swimmer Chris von Saltza. He saw track and field star Carl Lewis get his first gold medal in 1984. He put on his own games in his backyard with the neighborhood kids every summer.
For as far back as he can remember, Larry Brickner has been a fan of the Olympic Games. Rio de Janeiro will be the 11th games he will attend.
“He’s like a little kid,” his wife Sharon said. “He truly, truly is.”
Brickner, a 69-year-old engineer and Las Vegas resident, was watching the games in 1972 when the TV announcer said Montreal would host the Olympics in 1976. It would be the second time the Summer Games were in North America since 1932 and Brickner did not want to miss his chance.
“He said why don’t we try to go and I said that sounds like fun,” Sharon said. “My sister and brother-in-law and niece, they wanted to go so we made it kind of a family affair.”
The first trip to the games did not go as smoothly as they would have hoped. The bus drivers from their lodging to the stadium went on strike. The Brickners didn’t plan enough time for breakfast so they often ate hot dogs and popcorn in the morning. They overbooked and did three events per day.
When they arrived at their lodging, they discovered it had been converted into a hotel for tourists. None of the rooms had toilets or showers so they were installed in the closets.
The building was a converted brothel.
“We arrived and I showed up at the front desk and there was a lady in a negligee,” Brickner said. “All the rooms were totally red.”
Brickner and Sharon, a married couple of 48 years, have rarely missed an Olympics since 1976. Their son Mike, 45, joined in 1980. Sharon can no longer travel because of health issues, so Larry and Mike make the biennial adventures now.
In addition to the Olympics, they travel to see sporting events all over the country. The family went to Pasadena, California, in 2014 to see Mike’s Florida State Seminoles beat Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game.
But the Olympics is where his heart is.
“Even going to one is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Mike said.
Brickner and his son will take off the second week of August and stay a week and a half in Brazil. This year, they have tickets to almost 20 events, including the semifinals of the women’s soccer tournament.
One of the biggest activities the Brickners enjoy is collecting and trading commemorative pins with other visitors. Brickner has Olympic pins dating back to 1936 and his “pride and joy” is his wall of pins he got at the 1996 games in Atlanta, where he collected a pin from each of the 197 competing nations.
“Even if you couldn’t communicate with them, you would hold pins in your hand that you would trade and they would do the same, and you pick back and forth which ones you wanted,” Sharon said. “That was very cool.”
Sharon will have a friend visit while Larry and Mike are gone. She said she is nervous about the conditions in Rio and doesn’t want her husband and son to go.
Brickner has done his research, particularly when it comes to the Zika virus. He is staying on the 10th floor of a high-rise condo with air conditioning and is equipped with the highest-grade mosquito repellent.
Zika isn’t keeping him away, and there is not much that could. Brickner lives for the Olympics and he’s been planning his trip to Rio since the Winter Games in Sochi ended in 2014. Soon, he will start planning for Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.
“He’s going to go until he physically can’t go anymore,” Mike said.
“I can see him in a scooter going around from event to event,” Sharon said. “He really, really loves it.”
Justin Emerson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.