Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympics Over

I know a number of people who simply don't do sport and saved up their box sets to watch over the last fortnight. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is never easy. I find trying to grasp what it would be like to go to your death as a Brit without the last fortnight in your head almost impossible. Even though I enjoyed the Olympics mainly through TV, radio (well done BBC5live you were excellent) and social media I would describe it as a highlight of my my life.

To begin with it has given me a conversation topic. I don't really like small talk. I am comfortable enough asking questions that get others to disclose. I like finding out what people are passionate about and enjoy hearing about their expertise, whether that be barbershop singing or sitting volleyball refereeing. But nothing for me is more fun than engaging with a stranger by discussing a shared experience - 'What did you think of the closing ceremony?' will be a good topic for a day or two.

But it has also given me a tinge of regret. When you watch the Olympic games in your late fifties as a sport-lover, but under-achiever, it makes you realise how important some of those decisions were that you took in your teenage years. I moved from sport to sport at school, sampling hockey, squash, rugby, cricket, canoeing, table-tennis, tennis, shooting and football. If I had settled for one of them I may have reached a standard. If I was still in my teens today I think I would be joining a handball club - looked brilliant. I remember Tokyo 64 but only vaguely; Mexico 68 didn't have inter-active links to get involved by joining your local club and anyway all I can remember is the athletics and David Coleman's commentary on it.

Having given the world a great sporting event, preceded by Danny Boyle's brilliant visual history of how Britain got to 2012 in his opening ceremony, we ended by reminding the world what we have given it outside the sporting arena - comedy, fashion and great music. It mattered not that the performances on the night were slightly short of brilliant (everyone seems to have had their favourites). In this multi-cultural mash-up where bhangra, batman and ballet blended and passed the baton to Brazil's shuffling samba there was something for which every athlete present could thank Britain.

I feel like I have been through an emotional Magimix this last fortnight, more often than not shedding tears not at failure but at success. Why is this? Probably because gold is so rare. Most people are losers in competitions but it doesn't make them losers at life. 132 entrants got through the qualifying process to round one of Wimbledon. 131 matches later there are 131 losers and one winner. I met a woman yesterday who told me she fell short of being selected for the British Olympic team in 1948. She was a county-standard sprinter at 100 and 220 yards. When you are best in your school it is a step up to be best in your town, county, country, continent and world. By and large bronze and silver medallists are disappointed immediately after their events are over but on the podium they get some perspective and realise what they have achieved. If you are not called Hoy or Redgrave it doesn't make you a failure.

I head into the rest of my life determined to try a bit harder to make a difference, make others happier and over-achieve. There won't be a podium for the sort of stuff I can do but that is not the point at all for most of us. But looking at the newspaper pull-outs and hearing the radio and TV retrospectives I am profoundly grateful for the experience and memories. There is a legacy of the mind. Thanks LOCOG - it's been a  blast.

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