Friday, 17 August 2012

Olympic reflections

I'm probably last of all in writing up my thoughts on the olympics. I grew up in the UK, so naturally I followed it closely. My Dad in fact was one of the army of volunteers, driving various people to various venues. I have 2 countries to cheer for, being also a Canadian citizen.
Before it all even began, there was the pantomime of Mitt Romney casting doubt on how the games were being organized. He probably wasn't aware of how cutting the British tabloid press can be, with its "Mitt the twit" headlines. I remarked how the highlight of the opening ceremony would be the giant cannon that would fire him into the Thames. Even better than that was Danny Boyle getting the Queen to do a spot of acting, and the Mr. Bean take on Chariots of Fire.
So, poor Canada didn't have much luck. Only 1 gold, albeit in the absurdly difficult trampolining. Prior gold medalist in the triathlon Simon Whitfield fell off his bike negociating a speed bump. Paula Findlay in the ladies' race would have been gold medalist if the Olympics had been in 2010/ 11, but a year dogged by injury affected her fitness and she finished last in tears.
Gold could have gone to the Canadian ladies' football team but for one of the strangest refereeing decisions I've ever seen. In the semi-final against the US, a free kick was awarded for the goalkeeper holding on to the ball too long. I've never seen that happen in all my decdes of watching the sport, only a yellow card here and there. The US captain, Abby Wambach had been counting in the ref's ear more than once, though must have been surprised herself to get a free-kick. From that came an also errant penalty which the US put away, and they went on ton score at the end of extra time. In all honesty, on that day Canada had the measure of the US team. For the bronze medal match against France, the luck evened things out a little, the Franch hitting the post, and the crossbar twice. Canada had only one shot on target all match, and coming one minute before the end, made it count. I was watching that online from work, with my boss standing next to me.

Great Britain, with quite the home advantage, really outdid itself. Cleaning up in cycling, there were also the expected gold medals in rowing along with boxing, showjumping, kayak slalom, shooting taekwondo and the Brownlee show at the triathlon.
Then of course there was the athletics. I wasn't a runner at the time of the last Olympics, but this time I followed every detail. "Super saturday" saw 3 golds within the space of an hour with Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Mo Farah the 10,000 metres. Mo also took gold in the 5,000 metres a week later.
Fun moments I enjoyed include the German shot-put champion jumping hurdles in celebration and the reaction of 18 year old GB sprinter Adam Gemili to the 80,000 crowd cheering for him. He could go places, and hopefully will put his going too early in the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay, thus earning GB a DQ, behind him. That was in the heats. Poor old Canada was DQ'd from the final due to a minor lane infringement.
The standout performance for me was David Rudisha's world record of 1:40.91 in the 800 metres, without a pacemaker. Quite extraordinary. Speaking of which, Usain Bolt fist-bumped every "lane assistant" he had - the teenagers who collect an athlete's clothes, and he handed one of them his woolly hat for the souvenir of a lifetime. I love the way he's brought a lighter dimension to the track, there are now a lot more animated athletes around. Bolt did Mo Farah's "Mobot" on a couple of occasions. When I do the Harvest Half I might do it too when I cross the line. I've also publicly stated that I'll do the "Lightening Bolt" if I PB. I'm sure I'll do well if I just keep this photo in mind.

During the opening ceremony, a conservative MP who is too much of an idiot for me to bother looking up his name tweeted something like "when is this leftist multicultural crap going to end?" It's a reminder to me of much that is wrong with Britain. There is still something of a case of mistaken self-identity which comes out as denial expressed in terms of prejudice (indirect or otherwise) and jingoism (the whole "Plastic Brit" thing spread by the awful tabloid press for example). The hope for me is that these Olympics mark some kind of a start at turning away from this. Winning certainly helped, the diversity of the 3 winners on "Super Saturday" a case in point.
All the trouble in the lead-up to the Games pointed to the age-old down in the mouth attitude that afflicts the UK too much. When the torch reached London however, it seemed to me that the public then relaxed and in a sense got over itself, and did away with whingeing and cynicism, in themselves a national sport on occasion. So the aspirations I have are best expressed with the question: can the embracing of multi-ethnic Olympic champions extend into a country of more pluralistic attitudes, one more honest about how it views both itself and others?

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