Texas native attends his 11th Olympic Games

Ron's Sign

Photo by Madi Grosh

Ron Isbell leans over the barricades stretching to sneak a peak of the TODAY show broadcast live at Copacabana Beach. Wearing his Rio 2016 gear, he looks like most tourists.

But Isbell also clutches a sign, which reads, “Rio is my 11 Olympic Games.”

“I won a trip for two from a radio station to the 1988 Olympic Games in Greece,”Isbell said. “10 days, two tickets to 10 events.”

Isbell then attended the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

“I thought, ‘well geez, I need to go to Sydney now,’” Isbell said.

He has been to every Olympic Games since then. The recently retired accountant says his favorite Olympic Games was Beijing in 2012.

“The people were so friendly,” Isbell said. “They had all these college students, and they just loved to help you because they got to practice their English.”

Isbell was at the event that made Usain Bolt a household name.

“The first time Usain Bolt won both the 100 and 200 meter races, I had moved to seats that were right above, looking down on the finish line,” Isbell said. “So I’ve got pictures as they’re coming down the track, and then one of him crossing the finish line.”

Like many who attend the Games, Isbell trades pins and makes new friends along the way.

“I see some of the same people here trading pins that I have seen at other Games.”

He also always visits the host country the year before to see all the tourist attractions.

Isbell said he is not worried about security despite recent events in the world.

“You got to live your life,” Isbell said. “Everybody said the same thing about Sochi,— the terrorists, it was so close to Iraq. Where is it safe to go: a church, a movie theatre? You can’t go anywhere.”

He has noticed the improvements of security through the years at the Olympic Games.

Photo by Madeline Grosh

Photo by Madeline Grosh

“I remember in Sydney, that was before 9/11 and they had the metal detectors, and we just walked right through it. They didn’t check bags, pockets anything,” Isbell said. “Then it completely changed for Salt Lake City in 2002 right after 9/11.”

On the back of the sign he held up in the TODAY show crowd showed a black and white photo with a man carrying the torch. Isbell is not only a spectator at the Olympic Games, but he revealed that he was chosen to be a torchbearer on Dec. 12, 2001, in his hometown of Arlington, Texas.

For the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, The Coca-Cola Co. took nominations for people who had done charity work to be torch bearers. Isbell had his friends write in, and he was selected to run with the torch through his hometown. The Coca-Cola Co. also purchased the outfit and a model torch for him to keep.

“I ran 400 yards, and boy, it goes by so fast. Then you hand off the flame to the next person,” said Isbell.

Nearly 200 of his friends came to cheer him on. He even bought 25 disposable 35-millimeter cameras and passed them out to all his friends so they could take pictures.

Isbell says being in Brazil is a great atmosphere. He went to the Brazil vs. China soccer game on Aug. 3.

“If you’re at an event with Brazil playing they go crazy,” Isbell said.

As the Olympic Games continue through Aug. 21, Isbell has tickets to 40 events, the most he has ever gone to.

There is currently no world record for number of Olympic Games attended. However, Harry Nelson of the United States set the record for most summer Olympic Games attended with 17. Isbell is well on his way with seven.

The next Olympic Games will be in 2018 in Pyeongchang. The 56-year old does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon on his traveling.

“I’ve been to everyone since 2000 and I plan to keep going.”

Elizabeth Wyman is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.

Elizabeth Wyman

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