I’m not a sporty person. I don’t come from a sporty family and did not shine at sport at school in anyway. I was pretty good at swimming, and just about average at everything else. I actively hated running and still do. Nowadays, I courageously (well, that’s what my colleagues say, and I agree…) go swimming every Friday lunchtime, doing 2 000 metres of breast stroke in just under an hour (so far, my best time is stubbornly staying at the 58 minute mark).
Richard comes from a much sportier family. In fact, his grandfather was a swimming coach, he got chucked in a pool as a toddler and trained hard and swam in competitions as a child/teen. So he’s known the joys of getting up at 5am twice a week to go and spend a couple of hours in the pool. ME, I guess a form of burnout, put paid to that when he was about 14. An ardent Liverpool fan, he then switched to football, which he played on and off until his thirties, when it was suggested that two misbehaving hips after consecutive falls was a cue to stop that. Biking was a mode of transport in Paris for a goodish while. Nowadays, he courageously goes running at least twice a week.
Our girls do next to no sport outside school. They’re nice and active but have shown no great leaning towards any sport so far. They know all about the Man U/Liverpool feud (which I keep up on the Man U side purely for parity purposes, oh, and husband baiting purposes) and Sophie the diplomat has decided to support her native Paris Saint Germain, but she’s in no way assiduous in that!
So we’re not great candidates for getting involved in the Olympic games, right? Wrong! We’re the perfect candidates: I get to brush up on the rules of loads of disciplines I know next to nothing about, the girls get exposure to very high level sport and the accompanying notions of long, tough preparation and competition, Richard gets to enjoy sport with rather more inside knowledge than the rest of us. (Granted, not hard. Anyway, my previous post was a big clue on my lack of sporting culture and knowledge. I didn’t even list all the countries we saw in the many team events we saw, and mentioned few results. Admittedly, this was mostly due to my getting them muddled up – I’ve since got them all written down on a note after sifting through the photos – but a true sporting fan would have gone to the trouble of boring you further with full team and score details.)
And surely the point is that as well as generally having sport right in the middle of our radar screens for two weeks every four years, (actually twice in twelve years, the Olympics obviously having been much less of an experience when we weren’t actually there), we also all lapped up the great venues, the fantastic photo opportunities and the chance to participate with raucous supporting techniques, mostly just involving waving flags and yelling.
A quick word on the vexed question of the range of sports on offer at the Olympiads of the modern era. Here’s my two penny’orth, without going into the detail of the sporting merits of beach volleyball, synchronised swimming or table tennis.
Athletics en bloc are obviously quintessential Olympics events, as are also, in my view, swimming, fencing, shooting, equestrian and water based events such as rowing. I’m also fine with events, which require judging, however imperfect the various systems may be. I am more troubled, however, by events involving tournaments (incidentally, those are what I saw most and thoroughly enjoyed); at the end of the day, two out of the three medals are awarded to a losing side. Having said that, I completely agree that the very different format of the Olympics competition in football gives a welcome complement to the World Cup, for instance. Mmmm, not a very conclusive analysis. No, well, that’s why the IOC was invented, so that its members can ponder on these matters when they are not busy being horrible corrupt people, which is clearly their main calling in life, according to popular perception. I haven’t the energy right now to do the required research to refute or confirm…
The little things – Wot about Northern Ireland?
So, from day one, I kept boring everyone with the question, WHY is it GB and not the UK? Northern Ireland seemed to be involved, as confirmed by Danny Boy and other allusions in the opening ceremony. It must be my French cartesian mind, which likes neatness and structure but I always take the time to explain to non-British friends what makes up Great Britain and the United Kingdom respectively, not getting into the Isle of Man thing, because then it gets silly. So why GB?
I was delighted that a PM listener on Radio 4 had that precise question, together with the presenter, who chimed in with “I’ve wondered that myself”. Of course, it provided further and unnecessary proof that I am an archetypal BBC Radio 4 listener, but the point was, I was going to get my answer. Well I didn’t! The official IOC approved name of the team is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, abbreviated GBR (and popularly known as “Team GB”), but why? Why on earth isn’t it United Kingdom?? Please put me out of my misery, someone.
All photos: Richard Wilkinson