The Rio Olympics (1)

Just over a week ago, I posted my blog article titled “A summer of sport”. This was meant to be part 1 of 2, recognizing that we are often spoilt for choice for sporting activities to follow. My idea was that while there was a lot of sport worth talking about, that the highlight of the summer was always going to be the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and when the games finished I would then post part 2 in what I hope will have been a memorable summer of sport. Now the games are underway and there is a lot already that is blog worthy, I have no doubt this to be the case. When a friend enquired why I hadn’t posted on arguably the most blogworthy sporting event since the last Olympics, held in London in 2012, I decided I should rise to the challenge, noting I had not up to now blogged about the Olympics. While I haven’t watched as much as I would like (the time difference doesn’t help), I have watched enough for my appetite to be whetted, and given these are early days still I dare say there is a lot more to come. In the meantime, I attach an extract titled “Passing the Torch” from my book “Onward and Upward”:

rio

My fascination with the Olympics, held every four years, goes back to 1960, when as a 9 year old I was able to snatch glimpses of recorded highlights of the Rome games on a friend’s black and white TV (most folk on the estate I grew up on did not own a TV set at that time) and I have fond memories of taking part in our own Olympics along with other children on the estate where I lived. I like the idea of single-minded dedication and being at your best to compete with the best, although then, as subsequently, my sporting prowess was modest at best, even though I have maintained a keen interest in sport and participated in many different sporting disciplines. 2012 was a significant year for my own country as the UK were hosts of the Olympic Games and this was the event that dominated the news and peoples’ attention for several weeks. Unlike in 1960, it was possible to watch on television or the Internet any event, live and recorded, and alongside it full commentary, wide ranging interviews and, with it, considerable supporting information being given.

One of the iconic moments of any Olympic games is the passing of the torch, culminating in the lighting of the Olympic flame, that burns in a prominent position throughout the games, after which the torch then takes a long convoluted journey to the next Olympic venue, four years later, when a similar series of events occurs. As the torch was passed from one to another in the long relay that took place prior to the games throughout the towns and cities of the nation, there was speculation as to who would actually light the Olympic flame. In the end it was a group of unknown young athletes, deemed to be possible future sporting stars, rather than the well known sports stars of the day, who lit the flame, and this had symbolic significance. One of the many fascinations I have with the Olympics is this whole torch shebang, which is how I see my own community activism and what I would want to pass on.

While I was mesmorised by what went on, watching live or recorded action on television, I got glimpses of just two live events that took place: the mountain biking at nearby Hadleigh Castle, feeling this was something my son needed to see (observing with friends and the aid of binoculars from the ruins of the castle itself), to soak up the atmosphere so, in years to come, he can tell his children, and the tail end of the swim marathon in London’s Serpentine, as part of my regular excursions showing overseas visitors around the sites of London. We experienced some of the Olympic fever being played out around the city. In the lead up to the games, and at the games themselves, there were opportunities to take part as a volunteer and, while I saw this as a worthwhile activity, I felt I had more than enough on my plate with the things that I do that is not on most peoples’ radars. But I was delighted so many new to volunteering did sign up and played an important part in what turned out to what has been generally seen as a superbly staged and successful games.

The Olympic Creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well” and the Olympic Motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger)”are both inspirational, as is the total dedication of the athletes to give and sacrifice their all in order to gain their prize or merely to take part and do the best they can. One of the attractions for me, and no doubt many others, is that the Games often bring out the best in people, as they seek to be and do their best, and respect their opponents. People from every conceivable background, and from countries that are otherwise at enmity with each other, can put aside their differences and unite in implementing the Olympic ideal in a spirit of friendship. It provides a level playing field for all and the opportunity to promote excellence, heroism, tolerance and understanding.

Seeing the Olympics unfold on my home turf was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. It brought out the best in British life (humour, culture, history, organization, hospitality, creativity), which not only appealed to my sense of patriotism but gave me hope for the future. I liked the idea of legacy, in particular doing something for future generations, such as developing sports, sports persons and sporting infrastructure. Whether or not this justifies the huge amount of money and resources invested in staging the games will remain a contentious issue. I liked seeing the noble aspirations the games are meant to achieve become a reality and the friendship, good will and breaking down of barriers that were generated. I liked the emphasis, more than in previous games, on the disabled (in the paralympic games that followed), and felt for the first time they had a platform worthy of their efforts. Most of all, I liked the parallels I saw with the Bible exhortation to fight the good fight and run the straight race, but in the Bible’s case not for any earthly accolade but for a crown that will never fade – and of course – passing the torch!

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