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Harry Nelson, right, has attended nearly every Summer Olympics since 1932. His journey to London next week will mark his 18th Olympics and a return to the city 64 years later -- when he traveled by ship to attend the 1948 London Olympics.
For eight decades, Harry Nelson has been chasing his own kind of Olympic dream: attending the Summer Olympics.
His journey to London next week will mark the 18th time that the Torrance resident will stand in the crowd of a summer Olympic game. But for Nelson, who turned 90 last Saturday, attending the Games is not about the numbers.
Rather, the former administrator at the University of Southern California said his commitment is about the thrill of meeting new people, experiencing a new environment and -- in his own words -- exploring his "nosiness."
"I'm nosy and want to see the world as much as possible," he said in a phone interview. "You get to see different parts of the world that are different from here, and you just meet all kinds of people."
Nelson's journey began when he was 10 years old after his mother managed to score four tickets to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The experience, Nelson said, colored his experience of the Games during a difficult period when his family fought to pay the bills.
"It was just great entertainment for us at that particular time," Nelson recalled. "We didn’t have any money because that was the [Great] Depression. My father had lost his job and we spent our time selling eggs from door-to-door. It was tough times."
Since then, the Pepperdine alumnus has managed to attend 17 games total, traveling around the globe to watch the world's premiere athletes compete at one of the most televised events in the country.
Nelson even made it to the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia, boldly ignoring then-President Jimmy Carter’s official decision to boycott the Games.
Though Nelson said he received a letter from Carter asking him not to attend, he said he decided to continue with his travel plans regardless.
"I looked at that letter and I did a dumb thing in some respects," Nelson remembered. "I said, 'I got a hobby and you’re not going to interfere with it, and I tore that thing up.'"
Nelson is now one of the few Americans who attended the 1980 Games, a memory that he wears proudly despite a continued grudge against the former president.
"Carter, that jerk," he grumbled under his breath. "Everybody's got a sore spot, and that's one of ours."
Returning to London
When Nelson steps foot in London on Aug. 1, he will be returning for a second time.
The long-time Olympic fan attended the 1948 Games in London, barely scraping enough money to finance the trip and traveling by ship for five days to watch the Games.
Nelson said he had to sell his Chevrolet for $600 to his uncle to make it to the Games, where he watched the Track and Field events -- his athletic activity in high school.
But, Nelson said, he and his friend neglected to purchase return tickets to the United States. As a result, Nelson said, he had to borrow money to buy a last-minute plane ticket on a Swedish airline to fly back into New York City.
"It was a little harrowing there for a while, but it worked out," he said.
The Olympics have since changed, Nelson said, and returning to London 64 years later means he has had to deal with more expensive event tickets and an increasingly inconvenient plane flight.
"I always look forward to going, but … flying is no fun anymore," he said. "Traveling is just not the same. It's a big hassle, and, of course, the continent is getting more crowded. It's a different world than the one I grew up in."
Still, Nelson has sought to include his family in his Olympics hobby. He celebrated a belated honeymoon with his wife, Dee, at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and brought his children to the 1972 Munich Games and 1976 Montreal Games.
Nelson's son, Chad, 53, said his father's hobby has been a "tremendous source of entertainment" that has brought "fascinating" stories to the family table.
He added that his father's adventures gave him the opportunity to travel overseas, something he said added a unique experience to his childhood.
"Just seeing all the Olympic events were just really neat, and there's always a source of pride when you know your nation finishes first, and you hear the national anthem," he said.
Though Harry Nelson has proven himself as a committed fan of the Summer Olympics, he said he is not sure what the future will hold.
The escalating costs of an Olympic ticket, coupled with his rising age, may make it difficult for him to attend future Games, including the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he said.
"My problem is, of course, that I've been retired almost 30 years now and everything goes up except my salary," he said. "It’s getting more and more difficult, but we’re still able to save things."
He added that he is "not an enthusiast" for big shows and considers the opening ceremonies "downright ridiculous." For him, the ceremonies represent an opportunity for the athletes to take an oath, but do not need the additional flourishes and festivities.
Nelson has also self-published a book about his experiences, titled "Following the Flame: A 76-Year Olympic Journey," that chronicles his adventures with the numerous Olympic games.
He has printed 400 copies of his book and currently has around 100 to distribute to his family, friends and anybody interested in his journey, he said.
While Nelson said he does not know what will happen in 2016, he remains optimistic about his future travels.
"It’s my hobby, and as long as we can do it, we will," he said.