SOME THOUGHTS ON THE OLYMPICS
There is little doubt that the 2012 games were a great success. Team GB won a total of 65 medals (29 gold) – their best haul since 1908, also held in London, when they won 146, including 56 gold, mainly because they were the only competitors participating in many events! In 1908 GB had 676 athletes, compared to 541 in 2012. The medal haul was a distinct improvement on the previous games in St.Louis, USA, in 1904, when we won just 2 (1 gold, 1 silver), both by Irishmen, Ireland then of course still being considered part of Great Britain. A huge upgrade also on Atlanta 1996, when just 1 gold medal was achieved*.
The 1948 London Games produced just 3 golds for the host country, 2 in rowing and 1 sailing – all sitting-down sports. For a while in 2012 this looked like our only route to success. It wasn’t until our clay pigeon shooter won gold, midway through week 1, that GB actually won a standy-up competition (though this was more standy-still). A beanpole son of a Dorsetshire farmer, he looked like a throwback to the days when ‘sport’ in Britain meant the privileged classes rampaging through the countryside slaughtering defenceless animals. In the 1900 Paris Olympics live pigeons were actually used, over 300 of the unfortunate birds being massacred, 21 by the winner from Belgium. Some may argue this is a discontinued Olympic sport in need of a revival.
It wasn’t until Super Saturday, when poster girl Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, that GB finally won a runny-and-jumpy gold medal, closely followed by the ginger bloke and Gooner Mo. The cyclists and rowers were brilliant (more sittee-down sports), whilst the overfunded swimmers splashed about to little effect. The best value for money was clearly at Eton Dorney, where there appeared to be two events going on simultaneously – the rowers heaving and paddling on the pond and a bicycle race on the embankment (where was Bradley Wiggins?). These cyclists required a specific skill, i.e. having to watch the boat races rather than where they were going. I awaited a massive pile-up and plunge into the drink, but sadly it didn’t happen. Perhaps we should enter Cavendish in this, then he might actually win something apart from SPOTY**.
GB won yet more gold in the Horse Dancing and People Kicking Each Other, though Tom Daley looked far too pleased at getting only a bronze in the Jumping Into A Swimming Pool. Our boxers won a couple of contests on what was termed ‘countback’, which seemed to imply that, in the event of a tie, the fight should be awarded to the GB Boxer.
There were some irritants in the jargon department: athletes spoke of ‘executing’ races, fights, etc., whilst Wiggo had me briefly baffled when he spoke of cyclists being ‘DQd’. Let us not descend into the American nether world of universal initialisation (in footy there will be PKs, FKs, CKs, OSs and cricket ROs, HWs, etc.) Also, can we please have seperate races for athletes with hyphenated surnames.
But by far the most exciting contest was in the superlative sprints, where our blubbing, gushing gold medallists sought to outdo each other in adjectival excellence. For a while there was some doubt over the winner. Old favourite ‘amazing’, given the royal endorsement by Zara Phillips on SPOTY many years ago, had clearly seen better days, whilst ‘over the moon’ seemed something of a relic from the time when competitors were all amateurs. The US entry ‘awesome’ was DQd for gushing out of idiom. ‘Stupendous’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘phenomenal’ never looked like getting better than a bronze and it soon became clear that ‘unbelievable’ was going to be the Usain Bolt of superlatives, with GB the clear team winner and the individual gold going to the father of the South African swimmer who beat Michael Phelps. A barely comprehensible, grizzled old Voortrekker, he unbelievabled his way into Paul Merson territory in world record time.
In the endurance superlative event ‘I can’t believe this has happened’ just pipped ‘It hasn’t quite all sunk in yet’, with ‘I’ve been working/training four years for this’ taking the bronze. ‘Unbelievable’ just about outdid ‘legacy’ as the most overused word of the Olympic games, but it was all worth it in the end.
* Inevitably, Pinsent and Redgrave in the cockless pairs.
** Sports Personality Of The Year (see what I did there!).