OR A Big Sporty Party ‘Round Our House
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to gush a little more about the Olympics. I’ve already said a great deal in the comments of my previous post, but I’d like to take the opportunity to organise my thoughts and move on from just doing blogs about different countries all the time. This post is not particularly funny, per se,1 but I want to record my feelings at this moment so that I can look on them in years to come. You’re welcome to skip it, if you’ve had enough of all that, and you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a proper post going up very soon.
I’m not particularly athletic, and I’m not incredibly competitive either; the product of being a small skinny child. I never took PE lessons too seriously; I’d joke around or make up new sports or provide ‘hilarious’ commentary, and then play football all lunch instead. As far as my teachers were concerned, however, I was so unremarkable that I had two report cards that got my name wrong. And not ‘Kris’ wrong. ‘Thomas’ or ‘James’ wrong.
My relationship with most sport is that of a spectator: I love watching tennis and cricket, but out national sport is football (soccer) and I find it very difficult to get behind a ‘sport’2 that seems to encourage division along lines of where people are from and what colour t-shirt they’ve got on, and that rewards ludicrously overpaid pronks3 with the lifestyle, luxuries and ego of Joffrey from Game of Thrones, but if he had as much sex as the rest of the cast.
I find it too easy to respond with cynicism to people who a lauded to the upper echelons of celebrity purely because they’re good enough to be the public face of a sport-come-business venture. I’ve always responded to effort more than anything else: if someone’s doing something for love rather than money I can get right behind them, whatever it is.4 Amateur level sport, or even just non-mainstream sport is right up my proverbial street (and my literal street in the case of a few events).
It seems to be a very British Olympics. I’ve read a few American blogs on the subject, and (depending on the blogger of course) there’s a real thirst to beat China and prove that the US is the best in the world at sport. I love that we hope Team GB will come fourth in the Medal Table – that’s British values right there. We know exactly how good we are on the world stage, and our dearest wish would be to achieve the honours we feel we deserve, nothing more. We can do cycling5 and sailing and a bit of rowing, and we’re happy with that, thank you very much.
If there’s two things us Brits enjoy it’s Credit Where It’s Due and a Good Underdog Story.6 As a nation, we can get behind anyone who is a talented competitor, or anyone who deserves a good win. We don’t have to have a native attachment to Michael Phelps to enjoy watching him cruise to victory, and Usain Bolt is exhilarating, wherever you’re from. Us Brits will give a hearty cheer for whoever’s at the back of the race, because hey – they deserve it too.
What’s so inspiring is that these values are clearly echoed across the world; athletes who don’t win gold are humble and appreciative of talent, displaying a sportsmanship that appears to be absent from mainstream, moneyed sports like Football (soccer), and I imagine Baseball and American Football are similar. Team GB’s Rebecca Adlington conceded defeat gracefully twice, as she accepted bronzes in the two races she was excpected to win gold in, and just this afternoon I watched Roger Federer give a poignant post-match speech, singing the praises of Andy Murray.
To me, this is exactly what sport is about; it’s why I’m finding the Olympics so enjoyable – I am delighted to find myself able to root for somebody simply because they’re the best at something. That’s what good sport can do – think of all the crises and conflicts going on in the world, and everyone’s put their problems aside for a fortnight for a big party round our house.
If I may quote John Candy’s character in Cool Runnings:
‘…It doesn’t matter tomorrow if they come in first or fiftieth. Those guys have earned the right to walk into that stadium and wave their nation’s flag. That’s the single greatest honor an athlete can ever have. That’s what the Olympics are all about.’
In fact I only have two complaints about the whole shebang: I don’t see why a horse rider should get a medal and the horse should only get a sugar lump, and I’m a bit disappointed that Team GB is not nicknamed the Heebie GBs.
On the topic of national pride, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so patriotic as I have done this past week. Last Thursday, I wrote a short post belaying my cynicism at our country’s ability to put on an overzealous display of extravagance. My immediate reaction was evident in the comments, but I thought it was a triumph. It was doubly exciting for me, because thanks to WordPress, I knew I’d be able to share these experiences with people across the world.7
What international readers may not realise is that the Ceremony, the Torch and who would even bring the flame to the stadium was shrouded in mystery until the last minute. Our biting wit kicked in, and many of us, myself included, expected something similarly farcical to what went down later last week8 :
Britain is an eccentric little huddle of islands, and to pander to the rest of the world’s expectations would have been a disservice. We instead invited the world to look at us and say ‘they’re an odd bunch of looneys aren’t they?’
My main worry about the ‘Open Cez’ was that it would be over-eager, facile, saccharine and very difficult to stomach, like so many of these ‘Big Shows’ are.9 I needn’t have worried, as it seemed out country’s tongue was firmly in it’s cheek.
From the moment Frank Turner (for my money our greatest unheard-of talent and most genuine singer) stepped out for a little pre-show concert, I knew we’d be fine. We had our green and pleasant land, and we had our dark satanic mills,10 but we also had Bean and the Queen,11 who I feel were not only hilarious, but were absolutely necessary. We pricked the bubble of the Monarchy, and hence the pomp and ceremony of the country, in a way that showed that even on the world stage, we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves, and that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
I stopped worrying what the world might be thinking12 when the forty-foot Voldemort took to the skies. The NHS (and free healthcare for all in general) is a wonderful thing; everyone in the UK passes through it’s doors at least once in their life, no matter what their social or political background.
I loved the celebration of our music and popular culture. Every artist featured is a display of home grown talent, all of it worthy and none of it a product of a TV Talent Show’s machinations. I did wonder whether Sir Tim Berners-Lee sat concealed in that plywood house, looking out at the jubilent tweeting generation and thought ‘Is this what my legacy has begat? “#TeamBreezyLOL”’ but then the house lifted away from him life he was a lobster on a silver platter and he got the eyes of the world on him. That must have been pretty special.
I was a love-letter to Britain, from Britain. And it was marvelous, and Danny Boyle will no doubt be a Sir by this time next year.
I read a great tweet which summed it all up wonderfully, which I’ve promptly forgotten. I think it was said by a bloke called Ian, if that’s any use to you. Basically, Ian said this:
The 2012 London Olympic Opening Ceremony has reclaimed the word ‘patriotic’. Whilst bigots and the far right would use it to defend indefensible actions and to oppress those of a non-white-native origin, it once again means what it should always meant: love and gratitude for your country and fellow man.
In conclusion, the London 2012 Olympics has rekindled in me a love for sport, greatness, and people the world over that has played second fiddle to cynicism for years. If I may, I’d like to once again quote Cool Runnings’s Sanka Coffie, I am feeling very Olympic today.
1 Humour, like many things, is subjective, and if you’re not enjoying my scribblings then that sentence would be the height of arrogance, and for that I am sorry.
If you would like some sport-based humour, may I direct your attention to the sports section of satirical news show The Day Today. Here you will see the unbeatable Alan Partridge in the character’s first iteration as a failing sports reporter, before he became a failed talk show host and failed radio DJ to boot.
2 This isn’t strictly true; I watch football for the punditry. I don’t mind who wins as long as someone says something stupid. Here’s a few gems from pundit Mark Lawrenson:
‘The longer the game went on, you got the feeling that neither side really wanted to lose.’
‘Call himself a keeper? He couldn’t keep bees!’
– and the joyously irreverent –
‘When I lived in rural Oxfordshire, I was walking home across a field when I stroked a cow. The damn thing butted me in the orchestras.’
3 I’m writing with footballer Christiano Ronaldo in mind. He has a barber’s chair waiting for him at half time to get his hair re-did. There are a lot of bad sportsmen, but Ronaldo’s arrogance is painful and infuriating to behold. He is accused often of playing football for himself rather than the team, and shows what a man thinks of himself when, during the penalty shoot-out if the last European Cup, he purposefully went last so that he could be Portugal’s hero. The scoring went as such that Spain had won before he could even step up, and every football fan in Europe went ‘AAAAAAAAH!’
4 Note: must be morally sound. If you love hitting geese with a carpet beater, and would do it even if nobody would pay you, please don’t mistakenly think you can count on my support.
5 Our champion cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were accused of being arrogant, but as it was put very succinctly by the anchors in the studio, they’ve been proven to be the best athletes in their field time and again, and not as a product of luck either. The phrase used by the commentator was ‘The Gold Medal is his to lose’, which is a spot-on phrase – statistically, Wiggins (in that instance) should be the best claimant for that accolade, and it’s up to him to put on a performance worthy of it. Aren’t words great when they’re used properly?
6 In the depths of my hard drive I have a document called ‘A Great British Underdog Story’, which is an outline for a novel. Aside from the title, there exists only one line of text: ‘It’s a story about an underdog who wins something.’ I look forward to critics praising it’s brevity and simplicity.
7 Should they deign to read this far down.
8 I love that the Major of our Capitol City got stuck on a zipline with two Union Jack flags. He didn’t drop them, and he didn’t call for help either. He’s Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, goddammit, and if he got himself into this mess then by jove he can get himself out of it. And he’s not dropping the Queen’s standard either!
9 If Her Majesty selected the playlist for her Diamond Jubilee this year I’d be surprised and bitterly, bitterly disappointed.
10 Dear the New York Times. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as played by Kenneth Brannagh, is not a Charles Dickens character. He was a real bloke.
11 Which sounds like an 80’s Cop Duo waiting to happen.
12 I know NBC aren’t doing a very good job, and I understand they cut a five minute tribute to the victims of the 7/7 Bombings, a terrorist attack that happened the day after we won the Olympic bid, which was a tactless, thoughtless thing to do. If we, or anyone else, had neglected 9/11 there’d be uproar. Apparently NBC also were quite ignorant of our nation and customs, which was nice of them. That said, NBC’s gaffes did also result in this gem: