Yesterday it was Kelly Holmes’s turn to trot out on the BBC the hackneyed line about the Olympics ‘putting the Great back into Britain’. If only the Northern Irish were part of the team she could also have put the United back into Kingdom. Our national broadcaster is seemingly so obsessed with the success of GB’s Beijing heroes that a little rain on yesterday’s Olympic parade is unavoidable.
Don’t get me wrong, I was enthralled by our numerous successes, and anyone who has a bad word to say about Victoria Pendleton can expect to be linkedout pretty damn quick. But the gold-tinted spectacles have prevented some more interesting commentary about the Games of the 29th Olympiad.
For starters, there were some truly shocking activities amongst the 28 summer sports. Archery is dull dull dull dull to watch (and the squashed nose effect makes it probably the least flattering sport in the world). Synchronised swimming and diving may be difficult to pull off, but are the epitome of futility. Why not start synchronising the high jump, or better still, some of the shooting events? Synchronised 25 metre rapid fire pistol, or, rather, a good old-fashioned duel. The eighteen gold medals on offer for wrestling barely raised an eyebrow, although why should they compared to double that for swimming – where one man’s dominance illustrated a serious lack of consistency in the number of medals available for different sports.
Even the IOC regularly suggests that there are too many sports. Despite a red button, a geekish tendency, and a lot of time on my hands, I still didn’t see any fencing, trampoline or water polo, and certainly not enough beach volleyball – the only game in the world in which players wear less than the cheerleaders. I am still yet to hear a sensible justification for the infamous regulations about maximum bikini sizes; I’ve been told it’s to do with sand sticking to the skin (which makes me think of the joke I can never remember about the bear having a crap in the woods), but watching the sport simply reminds me of the Friends’ episode when the boys get free porn.
It is time for a large cull. Come on Mr Rogge, those sports which don’t have the Games as their pinnacle need to go. As does anything where medals are decided entirely upon the opinion of people: gymnastics, taekwondo, dressage, judo, even boxing, be off with you.
And then there is the Paralympics – the very large elephant in the room that nobody in the world seems willing to criticise. The impact that these events have had on British and worldwide society since the days of Stoke Mandeville has been both important and intangible. The Games should exist, to celebrate endeavour and illustrate the occasional wonders of the human spirit. But that doesn’t mean they hold any sporting merit. Why should any viewer care who wins each of the thirteen different men’s 100m races?
The real problem with Beijing 2008 for an ageing miserabilist like me was the ridiculous success of us Brits. It’s becoming too much. Even Sue Barker would struggle to list those 28 gold medallists – I found myself nostalgic for the bad old years of Redgrave and Malcolm Cooper, times when we won gold so rarely that we were more akin to rejoicing in the taking part, and celebrating the achievements of others.
Our increasingly myopic approach to the British success is in danger or erasing some of the truly great memories of the Games: the Russian and Georgian pistolists sharing a podium with their countries on the brink of war; Benjamin Boukpeti winning Togo’s first ever medal in his kayak; Usain Bolt; the German weightlifter Matthias Steiner dedicating gold to his wife who died in a car accident twelve months previously.
Being so used to taking part, perhaps the British are not very good at winning. During the Games there was some bizarre crowing aimed at the Australian team, and the response of the silver medallist women’s quadruple skull crew was frankly embarrassing – try to win, yes, that’s what sport is about; but do we want the sniff of success to turn our sporting stars into people unable to accept defeat with appropriate grace?
Fortunately, despite the clichéd over-exuberance of many of those around him, there was one man at the parade who could be trusted to keep things in perspective. The real McCoy.
“It’s a nice feeling to have people looking happy and waving back at you,” said Chris Hoy of the crowds at the parade. A typically measured and understated comment from a great Scotsman. No need to re-name planes, no triumphalism, and absolutely no putting Greats back into Britain. The Olympics was a great way to make people smile. Is it too much to ask for others to view the Olympic Games with a similar sense of balance?