The Olympic spirit and the Writer

Over the past decade or so I have found myself far more personally involved in watching the Olympics. Granted there was a time when to express overly patriotic sentiment was vaguely embarrassing, awkward even. There was an assumption – and I am talking about the 1980’s here – where any jingoism was seen as reactionary – symptomatic of a racist mind set. I am sure the fact Margaret Thatcher and the Tory party were not only in Government, but after the Falklands War, in their Triumphant phase, was a factor. Even reclaiming the Union Jack from its narrow Little Englander associations (Remember John Major’s talk of an England of warm beer and spinsters cycling to church on Sunday mornings) was hugely ‘problematic’ – to use the left’s buzzword.

Obviously that has changed now. Although greater inclusivity started before 2012, and the London Olympics, I can’t help think that those two weeks were a watershed. London was a confident city before – not least because of its amazing cosmopolitan nature, and huge diversity of subcultures all rubbing along together, growing organically as much from the street level up as from Government down. But 2012 was the rocket that launched London into the stratosphere as certainly one of the world’s genuine World Cities, and arguably it’s most important. It is so ironic to look back at that time from the BREXIT vote and ask oneself, was that the high water mark in terms of London’s status as the key city in Europe, or was it a sign of the brackish intransigence of the British people learning now to stick two fingers up at Brussels? Was it the end of something, or the start of something else.

What it did do, however, was to bring home so much more powerfully than at any time before for me, the extraordinary achievement of individual and team athletes competing in the Olympics, and especially the home crowd. Perhaps the fact that Team GB was becoming seriously good at the Olympics – and has continued to do so at Rio, winning even more medals – demanded attention. We all like to cheer on someone to win – by identifying with them it reflects well on ourselves.

But as a Writer – and Artist – someone who spends so much time alone, staring at a blank screen, willing myself to work, to engage, to create – aware of the sheer amount of sweat that goes into trying to do anything of quality – and more that that, trying to reach out to connect with others – I find myself mesmerised by these young men and women, and with what they command themselves to do.

It some ways it’s easy to look at the rower, or gymnast or rider or sprinter or swimmer – and see manifest in their bearing and manner the focus that allows them to make the extraordinary sacrifice necessary even to get to this point – but when the camera cuts away to show family and friends, wrapped in flags, rejoicing at their success, there is suddenly a context for all this sacrifice. Love, ambition, talent, purpose, self expression, strength, beauty – and yes, a kind of grace. I find it profoundly moving.

I think also, now in my mid fifties, I look on so many of these amazing young men and women with a parental concern – hardly believing, for example, that they are capable of doing the miraculous things they can simply because I have never been there for the hours and days and months they have dedicated to pursuing their perfection, and only watch in slack jawed awe as they do those miracles over and over and over again.

There is also – I have to admit – the whiff of mortality about this self projection of mine. Part of me envies the glorious obsession in which they create this great drama of human endeavour, the strength and beauty of a youth they take for granted – and see a parallel with the writer writing out of his or her self obsession and arrogance and ego when young. And part of me fears for them – how will they fill an Olympic sized hole after the cheers and adulation had died away and even that gold medal is gathering dust?

But at least they have climbed to the top of that mountain and seen the view.

They show us what is possible in their world, and by implication, what is possible in ours.


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