Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Simply Brilliant!!

Last night, I sat in front of the TV and felt a bit sad. There were no obscure sports for me to watch. I couldn’t pretend that I knew about judo throws or what the finer points of dressage were.

Like many other cynical bastards, I was completely sideswiped by the Olympic Games. I’ve spent the last four years sneering at that epitome of smarm, Sebastian Coe, as he and all his mates bullshitted us about how well our money was being spent. I seethed at the thought of people being laid off and hospitals closing, as taxpayer’s cash poured into London. The casual way that they announced, ‘Oh, did we say 2 billion? Sorry we meant 9 billion’ had me wanting to kick the telly, as it all happened with the backdrop of the rest of the nation, outside the Olympic bubble, trying to cope with the realities of recession.
I enjoyed the announcement that the security had been fucked up and the roads might not be ready in time, as it affirmed my belief that this was all going to be an horrendous waste of time and money. I chuckled when it appeared that passport control would be in meltdown and that some of the athletes might be in the queue to get into the country till Christmas.

And then the games started.

I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. All the points above are salient, but the athletes melted my cynicism cataracts away for two weeks. Because, in the end, that’s what it was all about. It was the athletes that continuously displayed the lost art of winning and losing graciously. When Jessica Ennis won her heptathlon gold, what happened after the final race? All the athletes walked round the track with her, slapping her on the back and chatting amongst themselves as if they were on the way to the pub. There were women amongst them who’d spent the last four years completely focussed on coming away with a gold medal in their hands, yet they were capable of acknowledging their defeat and congratulating the winner.

As a football fan, the scales fell from my eyes over the last fortnight and I don’t think I’ll ever watch my chosen sport in the same way again. Footballers in general have continued their slow descent into moral repugnance since the money of the Premier League put them on a different planet to everyone else - a planet where they could do as they pleased and still be considered ‘heroes’ if they scored a goal. The next time I see a player dive, as if a sniper has took him out, I’ll immediately think of Manteo Mitchell. He’s the American sprinter who ran 300m on a broken fibula. It snapped 100m into his leg of the 4 x 400m. He said he didn’t want to let his three mates down, so he carried on and still got round in 45 seconds.

How can I sit and watch a player holding his face when the replay shows no contact, without immediately thinking of Mark Hunter - the British rower - who had put so much effort into winning a silver medal, he had to be carried from his boat by Steve Redgrave.

The moments just kept coming. I sat on the sofa - barely able to swallow - when Gemma Gibbons won her judo silver, then looked up and mouthed that she loved the mother she’d lost to leukaemia in 2004.

Then feeling so sorry for the broken-hearted, Korean fencer, Shin Lam as she sobbed her way through an hour long protest at her controversial defeat.

For me though, Mo Farah’s achievement on the track is impossible to surpass. My kids already loved him. They’d watched him a few weeks before, becoming the first person to beat The Cube on a celebrity edition of the programme. For my bunch, this was something easily on a par with Olympic gold, so when he took to the track, looking like the most relaxed bloke in the stadium, he already had six fans in his back pocket. Before the games, I don’t think I’d have got a great response if I’d said to my kids,

“Right, sit down for half an hour. We’re going to watch a load of lads run round the track 25 times, when they’ll have completed 10,000 metres. Hopefully our lad will win.”

But, like millions of people round the country, they did watch it and were absolutely riveted by his performance. When he came round the final bend and we realised he wasn’t going to be caught, we roared him over the line. I thought to myself that this was a moment my children would never forget and I was already looking forward to reminiscing with them in years to come.

But he wasn’t done, was he? The 10,000 would have been plenty for everyone and we could warm ourselves for years to come with images of him hugging his daughter and wife on the track.

But then he had to go and win the bloody 5,000 as well. We had friends round that evening and before the race, we discussed the sombre facts that this wasn’t really Mo’s distance and there were a lot of runners in the field who’d gone quicker than him this year. Not that any of us had the first idea about distance running. The Olympics had taught us that nobody minded you regurgitating what Claire Balding or Michael Johnson had said and passing it off as your own, informed opinion.

With each of his steps on the last lap, we got closer to the telly and the kids screams of, ‘Go on, Mo!’ got higher. We tried to warn him about the Ethiopian lad who was going like a train down the home straight. He couldn’t hear us, but it didn’t matter, because Mo started going faster as well. Watching him cross that line was right up there with me being in the Nou Camp in 1999 and seeing Solskjaer’s injury-time winner.

We were just so happy for him and I’m not sure we’ll see another moment like it.

Now, I need to get back to being angry about Cameron and his cronies chucking all of our money away on sporting events, whilst they sell off playing fields and help kids get fatter, but if you don’t mind I’m just going to hang on until the Paralympics are finished.

I remember Ellie Simmonds blubbing her way through her gold medal interview, after she’d won the S6 100m freestyle in Beijing, so I think I’m going to have a bit more of that before I revert to type.