Doug Nordquist recalls the summer of 1984, an L.A. Olympic experience
WHITTIER — Imagine standing all alone with nearly 90,000 spectators in the fabled L.A. Memorial Coliseum looking on as a 26-year-old makes his first attempt in an Olympic event.
Doug Nordquist was that young man in August of 1984 at the XXIII Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
No matter how much you prepared for that moment in your young life, it’s still an anxious moment.
“My first jump in the Olympic Games of ‘84 was probably the most nerve-wracking,” Nordquist recalled.
Nerve-wracking because it was an easy opening height of 6’10”. But nothing is easy in the Olympics.
Nordquist would finish fifth in the ‘84 Olympics, just behind his cousin Dwight Stones in fourth.
“I just wanted everybody to know that I wasn’t disappointed with my place,” Nordquist said. “I was just thrilled to be part of it.”
Flash back to that year’s USA Olympic team trials at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, just weeks prior to the L.A. Games.
Nordquist, who was making his first appearance in the Olympic trials that year, had one last attempt to clear the bar and join Stones, on the team.
His concentration was set on the bar, which was at 7-7. He cleared it and Nordquist was greeted with a big hug by Stones. Stones and Nordquist finished one-two for the U.S. Olympic team.
“When I went down to my knees after my jump I turned and saw my dad in the stands,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist dreamed of the Olympic experience at the age of 14 as Stones competed and took home a bronze in 1972 and later in the ‘76 games in Montreal.
“My dream was in ‘72, when I watched Dwight compete in Munich,” Nordquist recalled. “Because he was our cousin and we were all rooting for him, I thought that was really cool.
“The whole experience. Watching it (Olympics) again in ‘76 and being a little bit more in tune In ‘80 and being a collegiate (Washington State) athlete at the time and some of my peers going from my college team was special.”
That was a difficult time in Olympic history as the games were being boycotted by the US.
“Fortunately or unfortunately for me in ‘80, I was just at a critical cusp of being a national class athlete, but didn’t quite make it to the Olympic trials that year,” Nordquist said. “A lot of my friends did. I remember the heartbreak of a lot of the guys that didn’t get to go to Moscow because of the political environment.”
The United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics, protesting the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
While competing for Washington State, Nordquist was second in the NCAA Indoor Championships in 1982. Prior to his WSU career, Nordquist competed for Fullerton College and still has the team record (7’3 ½ “). He also won conference that year and a state junior college title.
His coach at FJC was Jim Kiefer, who helped him for a few years after Washington State (‘82) and through 1988. During that time he elevated himself to one of the top three high jumpers in the World in 1986.
Also, at one point in his career, Stones helped train Nordquist.
“He was helping me out in my training,” Nordquist recalls. “He took me under his wing and helped me raise my game.”
After he made the team in ‘84, Nordquist was a favorite in the ‘88 games. “I’ve got the dubious distinction of being the last national champion not on an Olympic team. I won the national championship two weeks before,” Nordquist said.
Nordquist had a PR (personal record) of 7’8” in the championships and came to the trials and only jumped 7’5” for 5th (place).
“That was very disappointing,” he added.
Recently, Nordquist retired from teaching after years in the educational field as Band Director at Cal High and his principal Bill Schloss had these words: “Reaching the Olympics as an athlete takes commitment and discipline beyond what most of us naturally possess. Doug brought his Olympic experiences to thousands of Whittier Union kids over almost 40 years as a teacher and band director. He focused his talents and energies on helping kids develop leadership skills as they enjoyed a strong sense of accomplishment. His sole focus was the success of his kids and he worked tirelessly to make their success a reality. Doug had a wonderful career and now he can enjoy more days on the golf course and traveling with his wonderful wife Marian. We will miss him terribly, but we wish him every happiness in retirement.”
Nordquist has plenty of memories on his wall in his home in Diamond Bar, but he reflected on a few from the ‘84 games.
“Being part of the village,” Nordquist remembered. “I remember since it was in L.A. I was living at home and I just go in and get the Olympic feeling, come home and calm down and train and keep my head on straight. And a couple of days before the event I went in and sent my first email in ‘84 in the Olympic Village. They had this new stuff, electronic mail that you can send to other people in the village.
“The diversity of all the countries and all the people that were there. We stayed at the village at USC, so that was kind of cool. Just being able to compete and almost medal. Just realizing that I was part of an elite group. One of the good memories was my dad being there, my family being there. Just to see that, to kind of give back to my father because he was my number one supporter, my coach for a long time. That whole summer, seeing him (walk) two inches taller, that was a nice thing.”
Nordquist talks of the road to success for an athlete goes way beyond what most people can’t even comprehend. He gives an example of a story he heard during a broadcast during the ‘84 Olympics.
“Most people don’t understand the drive and the goal-setting,” Nordquist said. “I remember watching a swimming event in ‘84 where a guy won. He didn’t set the world record. In his mind he was ready to, and he was disappointed in himself. I remember the TV (broadcaster) kind of getting on him for not celebrating the way he should. But, when you have a certain mindset and a certain goal that you have, achieving that goal is the main focus. If that goal is not achieved, there is a letdown. And he had that letdown on (worldwide) TV and was made fun of by this TV commentator and I was going, ‘you just don’t understand.’”
Nordquist relates that to his early teaching days.
“When I was younger and teaching, I was told I was too hard on the kids, that I was too demanding. From that point forward I matured and mellowed.”
He remembers saying, “I think I’ll be able to bring that drive, that goal-setting, that focus to the kids in a way that they can understand and do a little bit better with.’”
Nordquist always wanted the best from his students and he always reminded them, “…I want the best person for the position. If you work hard enough, you’re going to be successful.”
He used that for his numerous talented and highly entertaining bands through the years.
Near the end of his career in 1991, Nordquist was jumping two, three inches higher than he ever had, but after he tore his ACL, that was the end of the season and his career. He was 33 at the time.
Nordquist adds his thoughts on the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympics because of the pandemic.
“With the Olympics being every four years,” he said. “If you miss that one window, and hopefully they’ll have it next summer in 2021, most of the guys and gals will still be in good form. There’s (athletes) that would have been perfect this summer and next summer they could be injured or something and it’s just a shame. Because you have a window, and your window of opportunity sometimes closes before you get that shot.”
Nordquist does add a tiny footnote to his career as a high jumper – a family footnote – “I have the family record between us.” Final score: Doug Nordquist, 7’8 ¾” (1990 Nationals at Cerritos College) and Dwight Stones, 7’8”.
Nordquist proudly reacted to a statement referring to him as forever being connected as an Olympic athlete and how he would wear that.
He thought about that question for a few seconds, then said: “About three years ago they (The World Olympians Association) gave us the ability to put that after your name, like MD or PHD. So on my email it always says “OLY.” It kind of makes me feel like I have an accomplishment that I can share.
“It’s definitely a small community of people and you just get together with these guys and gals and you have a connection, because you’ve done something that few other people have been able to do.”