An Olympic Load of Balls
Nearly two weeks into the greatest sporting spectacle and we still cannot get enough of the talent and ability on display in London.
It’s sport at its finest,(yes, Sepp Blatter, the Olympics are far better, more enjoyable and more important than your re-titled and tarnished FIFA World Cup, deal with it…) most engaging and, dare we say it, most emotional. We’re not afraid to admit it but watching all those athletes push themselves to the limit, after four years of hard, vomit-inducing, gut-busting effort has made the 7DAYS sports desk rather emotional, and a tear or two has been shed.
But that’s the power of sport. And, as we wrote last week, that’s why it matters and can never be dismissed as trivial. There is an inherent nobility and truth about sport, and those stars of the Games, that the world seems to have lapped up these past 10 days.
However, as much as we have marveled at Usain Bolt’s continued brilliance, Michael Phelps’ staggering success in the pool and Bradley Wiggins’ winning ways in the cycling time trial, it’s the athletes who haven’t necessarily hogged the limelight that have become our real heroes.
Once again we are at risk of sounding incredibly twee and overly sentimental - but that’s what the Olympics do. They make you appreciate that sometimes, winning isn’t the be all and end all. And that sometimes the over-used cliché, that it’s the taking part that counts, really does mean something beyond it’s hijacking by marketing campaigns.
Athletes like Jamaican 400m runner Jarmiane Gonzales who ran 46.21secs in his heat or Bertrand Moulinet of France who posted a personal best of one hour 20 minutes in the 20km walk. Or even the UAE’s very own Khadija Mohammad who became the first gulf woman to participate in weightlifting at the Olympics.
All three failed to win a medal. In fact none of them even came close to glory in the golden, podium sense of the word. However, they and others like them symbolize what the event and sport is all about. They have put years of early mornings, of sometime indescribable effort, of time away from friends and family, into their London experience and in their own way inspired, as the organisers wanted, a generation as much as Bolt and Jessica Ennis.
Some sprinters’ Games lasted only 10.5 seconds before they were eliminated. Most of us would deem all that effort, all that sacrifice and all that pain not worth it for less than a quarter of a minute in the spotlight. For scant recognition about what you have put yourself through over the previous four years.
However, in chasing the dream of Olympic glory they have shown that, even in these commercial times when money is everything, the original ideals of the Games are still alive. And that Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s maxim that “all sport is for all people” still resonates in the 21st century.
We’ve been enthralled by, and jealous of, every participant taking part in the British capital. Even the cynics among us have found ourselves standing up and applauding people we’ve never heard of before and are unlikely to hear of again all because they had the guts to go after gold and glory.
There’s one tale from London which may reveal why they shed so many tears and sweated so much to be there.
Britain’s Katherine Grainger had had quite enough of being an Olympic runner-up: in Sydney, she won silver in the quadruple sculls; in Athens, she won silver in the coxless pairs; in Beijing, after coming tantalisingly close in the quadruple sculls, she was beaten by the home team – and won silver.
She had had reached her limit and seriously thought about quitting such was the endeavour she had put in for gold, only to come short all the time.
However, Grainger is made of sterner stuff than most of us and decided another painful Olympic cycle of four years - yet more early starts in the freezing cold, yet more hours away from loved ones, and yet another arduous trip into the unknown – was worth it for the prize on offer.
So she joined forces with Anna Watkins to take on the rest of the world in the women’s double skulls. And on Friday her dream was finally realised as the pair held off the challenge of the Australians to achieve Olympic immortality.
While basking in the glory served up by 16 years hard work and effort Grainger said her trials and tribulations had told her that “people are capable of so much more than they know.”
It’s the sort of lesson that all of us should learn.
You can reach your goals, it’s not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination but that’s no reason not to aim for the summit in the first place.