Lifelong friends continue Olympic tradition in Rio

Stephen Arlington didn’t even have to finish his question.

Arlington had just returned from his first Olympic Games in London in 2012 and was going to a local bar with lifelong friend Tom O’Connor for a U.S. soccer match. Standing at the front of the bar, Arlington started to ask how O’Connor felt about going to Sochi in 2014.

But O’Connor already knew. Before as the words came out, he cut off his friend with a “yes.” The two went to a corner bar later that night and started researching for their first Olympics adventure together.

Four years later, Arlington and O’Connor are in Rio de Janeiro for their second straight trip to the Olympics — something they’re not looking to end anytime soon.

“It’s incredible to feel like an Olympic veteran,” O’Connor said. “Realizing now that I’ve seen a summer and a winter, it’s a dream come true. The types and the contrasts between them couldn’t be any more different, but they’re both awesome.”

***

The Olympic Games have always been a family affair for Arlington and O’Connor.

Some of O’Connor’s earliest memories are watching the Games on TV with his extended family on summer vacation.

“The whole family crowded around the TV watching gymnastics,” O’Connor said. “It’s always been a consistent part of my life, and I’ve had a lot of support from my family with the trips.”

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Stephen Arlington and Tom O’Connor have been friends since they were kids in Buffalo, and have now been to the last two Olympics together.

For Arlington, his Olympic influence came before he was born. His father, Dave, served as a volunteer at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Wearing his red volunteer uniform that matched the hockey ushers, Dave Arlington was able to watch the United States defeat the Soviet Union in the semifinals from the stairs of the arena. At the time, it was just a fun hockey game.

Sports Illustrated has since called the “Miracle on Ice” the top sports moment of the 20th century.

“He basically got to witness that by like crouching on stairs as a volunteer that wasn’t supposed to be there,” Stephen Arlington said.

Dave Arlington said it’s hard to tell as a father what will rub off and what will stick. But a love and appreciation for the Games has resonated with his only son.

“I got a nice volunteer medal from those Games. I know when he saw that, he was like, ‘Wow,’” Dave Arlington said. “It just stuck. You don’t know why sometimes; it just does. Things from the father rubbing off on [the son].”

***

The strong bond between Stephen Arlington and O’Connor started long before their trip to Sochi together in 2014.

They grew up five houses down from each other in Buffalo, New York, as youngsters who swam on the same club team. O’Connor and Arlington attended different schools but were good friends and big sports fans.

 

Stephen Arlington was still in high school when they announced London as the host site in 2012. But he graduated college early, got a job and made the trip happen.

“Something just clicked in late 2010 or early 2011. And I was, like, I can maybe pull this off,” he said. “I started looking into it. And you learn more and more.”

They planned most of this trip on the phone, as Stephen Arlington was in graduate school at Northwestern and just started a new job in Washington, D.C., while O’Connor was in Buffalo.

Regardless of location, both were happy to arrive in Rio de Janeiro on Monday. Together.

“Stephen grew up five houses away from me and was a month older, so I don’t think I can get away from him even if I wanted to,” O’Connor said, laughing.

***

Dressed in Team USA shirts, shorts and bandanas, Stephen Arlington and O’Connor certainly stood out on the crowded Copacabana Beach on Monday night.

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Arlington and O’Connor are going to about 30 events together in Rio de Janeiro. They were looking forward to swimming, as they used to swim on the same club team.

They’re used to this process by now. But this time will be different.

The people, the geography — it’s all part of a unique experience this time around.

“It being the first Olympic Games in South America, it’s sentimental,” Stephen Arlington said. “It’s one of the more beautiful areas you could have an Olympics. Now they have a lot of political and social challenges with that. So it’s an interesting sort of dichotomy.”

They’ve learned a lot from their past experiences, whether it be make more pins to trade, hand out social-media cards or take a picture with everyone they meet.

Their blog captures everything from meeting new friends to attending one of their 30 schedule events.

“You have so many memories that even by the end of every day, it’s so hard to remember the details,” O’Connor said. “But when you have pictures and you have a blog, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a great memory we totally forgot!’ I think it’s just really trying to live in the moment but taking some quick notes so you don’t forget all the cool stuff.”

And when it’s all over, it’s on to the next one.

“Maybe we can make this a three-year or four-year run,” O’Connor said. “So by the time we get off the plane from this trip, we’ll probably be starting to talk about Pyeongchang in 2018.”

Jake Fox 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.

Authors:
Jake Fox

I'm Jake. A reporter and writer at heart, but I'm always willing to learn new things. Lover of sports and social media who's always striving for improvement. Everybody has a story. Tell me yours, and I'll put it into words.

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