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updated: 9/4/2012 11:34 PM

Berland's inspirational story still gleams

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  • Bob Berland, who won a silver medal in judo for the United State at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, will be speaking at the Vernon Area Public Library on Saturday.

      Bob Berland, who won a silver medal in judo for the United State at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, will be speaking at the Vernon Area Public Library on Saturday.
    Submitted photo

  • Bob Berland

      Bob Berland

 
 

Bob Berland's Olympic dream had suddenly spiraled into a nightmare.

After all, how was he going to flip his judo competitors on their backs without a flippin' leg?

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While training for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, Berland tore his ACL. A scope of the knee, which involved not repairing the torn ligament but rather removing debris, would allow the 6-foot-2 Judoka to keep kicking and fighting on the competitive stage.

But then it got scary. Four days after his knee was scoped, Berland developed a full-blown staph infection. Doctors told him that they might have to amputate his leg.

Hollywood would have to do without the tall, handsome, athletic, tough guy.

Berland wasn't about to go quietly, however. So he did sit-ups and pullups from his hospital bed, read positive articles, studied video of his opponents.

Then on Aug. 8, 1984, the dreamer realized a dream. He competed as an Olympic athlete.

Berland left sunny L.A. with a shiny Silver, which remains the highest medal ever won by an American in the sport of judo.

Today, the Olympic experience, particularly the privilege of participating in the opening ceremonies, still makes him beam.

"When you walk out onto that track, and the world's eyes are on you, and you are now among the world's greatest athletes on the planet, representing your country and your country's colors, it's amazing," Berland said.

He's experienced it four times.

"It's ridiculous," he said, humbly.

Saturday at 11 a.m., at the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire, Berland, a Lincolnshire resident, will share his many stories about his many Olympic experiences. The event is open to the public and priced right (free).

Ask Berland about his dreams -- and the Dream Team.

Four years after competing for the United States again in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, he was elected by all athletes of the 1992 Olympic team to represent them as an athlete liaison. In Barcelona, Spain, he marched into a packed stadium for the opening ceremonies for the third time in his life.

Then after Michael Jordan and his Dream teammates refused to sign an athlete code-of-conduct document, Berland marched again.

Upon request, he went to the Dream Teamers.

"I stood up and said, 'Would you PLEASE sign the code of conduct?' " Berland said with a laugh. "Then I said, 'Can you guys give me one good reason why you won't sign the code of conduct?' (Charles) Barkley said, 'I'll give you 8 million good reasons -- the $8 million that Nike pays me not to wear another (corporate) logo.' "

Twelve years later, Berland was named the United States' judo coach for the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. With his family -- wife Helen and daughters Taylor, Carlee and Morgan -- with him in Athens, he coached Jimmy Pedro to a Bronze.

When Pedro went to receive his medal, Berland ran up into the stands, found his family and wrapped his large arms around them.

"It was just an emotional moment," Berland said. "There was so much that went into it -- all the sacrifice that all of us made -- because I was gone so long. While Jimmy was receiving his bronze medal on the podium on the Olympic stage, we found ourselves on a podium of our own."

Berland's Olympic dream was still alive and well as recently as a few years ago, when he was elected to the board of directors for "Chicago 2016." He flew to Beijing, China, in 2008 as part of the international relations team, whose job was to convince IOC members why Chicago would be the correct choice to host the 2016 Games.

He experienced the business side of the Olympics, "mingling with kings and queens and royalty of the globe," he said.

Just before Chicago learned it lost its bid, he met President Obama.

"He was awesome," Berland said. "He walked up to each and every (member of the pitch team), shook our hands and said, 'All right, we're all on the same team. Let's get this thing done.' "

Can't wait to start Saturday.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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