If you had asked me about the Olympics two weeks ago, I would have dismissed the discussion with “I don’t do sport.” That was true. I have almost zero interest in watching sport. I could see the point of useless activity providing healthy exercise. Doing it was OK, but why would you want to watch someone else doing it. I have been known to draw parallels with pornography, but I am not going to pursue that here. In short, I was, as a lady on the radio so eloquently described herself, an “Olympic Refusenik”.
But all that has changed …
I have watched more sport in the last 10 days than I have in the last decade. I have been genuinely excited about the fate of people whose names I had never heard until the last few days. I do not normally watch TV very much – probably a couple of hours a week is average – so it is not that I have been slumped in front of the box and sport happens to be on. I have been on the edge of my seat with my heart racing as an athlete takes their talents to a new high. I have stopped short of shouting at the TV. I am English after all – we have our limits.
So, why this turnaround? And it is not just me. I have talked to numerous people who have similarly changed their views. There must be an explanation. I actually think it is a combination of things – a “perfect storm”.
First off, to this point [and I am writing on Wednesday morning] the organization of the events seems to have gone almost flawlessly. The only wrinkle was the fiasco about security in the weeks before, but the British military seemed to have stepped up to the plate superbly. [If you are being searched by a 6’5″ fair-haired army officer with a big smile, be nice to him – it may be my step-son.] It all started with the amazing opening ceremony, which raised the bar for future events by quite a few notches. My 80-year old mother-in-law was glued to her TV until the early hours, along with millions of other viewers.
Another very big factor, which has contributed to people’s enjoyment and enthusiasm is the BBC coverage. To say it has been comprehensive is an understatement, with multiple channels offering live events with well-informed commentary and an online facility enabling you to see anything at any time. I am so sorry to hear that other countries [notably the US] have been so short changed.
Being British, I am, of course, so pleased by the amazing success of team GB. I have been following the results on the [superb and free!] iPad Olympic Results app. At the time of writing, the top 5 medal winning countries are:
- PRC – 73
- USA – 70
- GB – 48
- Russia – 48
- Korea – 23
We are third! Although we seem well behind the medal counts of the top two countries, just think about how small a country we are in terms of population – and it is the population that counts, as this is the pool of resources from which the competitors are drawn.
If I look at the population of these 5 countries, I come up with the following figures: 1340m, 314m, 62m, 143m, and 50m respectively. This enables me to derive scaling factors for the medal counts: 1.0, 4.27, 21.61, 9.37, and 26.8. So, here is the “population corrected” medal counts [with a divide by 10 included to make the numbers look sensible]:
- GB – 104
- Korea – 62
- Russia – 45
- USA – 30
- PRC – 7
Not bad eh?
There is one group of people for whom the games are not going to plan: the shops, restaurants, hotels etc. in London. It was widely expected that London would be overloaded with people during the Olympics. However, because of these expectations, many people have simply stayed away from the capitol. Having heard how deserted some of the streets are, I am almost tempted to visit myself, but maybe not.
Over the past year, there has been much discussion about the legacy of the Olympics. What would happen to all the infrastructure? Would sport in the UK benefit from all the investment? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I see a glimpse of a much richer legacy. Over the past days, our TV screens have been dominated by people who have enormous talent and determination. These are people who are passionate about what they do and have little concern about trivial things like their looks, how much money they have or the media gossip about them. Surely these are the role models that young people need instead of an endless stream of empty-headed, talentless “celebrities”. Maybe this is the beginning of the end for the celebrity culture that has marred so many lives over the last decade or so. If the enthusiasm for the games and for the athletes persists through the Paralympics, my faith in human nature will be restored.
It is not uncommon to hear people say “It makes you proud to be British”, but commonly this is said with irony after football hooligans have trashed another city or we have failed in some other spectacular way. But, this week, I can really say that I am proud.