Remembrance of Games past

Mary Peters (via BBC News)

The Game are ending. A strange summer Olympic Games, which many in Japan and elsewhere thought ought not to have taken place, given how Covid-19 is afflicting the people. Yet it did, and the moment it did so everything else disappeared, and all there was were people in contests against one another, participating in something eternal, even necessary. It has been utterly, if strangely engrossing – strange because it has been conducted without audiences (live audiences, at least), and what is sport without an audience? Just a dance. But they dance so well.

Then I thought, what will I remember of this, and what do I remember of past summer Games? So much has disappeared, but I came up with this.

Visiting family friends and seeing the Games on their television set, not quite knowing what was going on but knowing it was important
Faint memories of David Hemery

Absorbing every bit of the history with my The Olympics 1896-1972 book. The values of the Games have become my values. Ray Ewry is my hero
Gymnast Olga Korbut, ending the Cold War (prematurely)
Kip Keino, great name, great runner
That photo of Mark Spitz with seven gold medals hanging from his neck
The USSR beating the USA at basketball (after the USA thought they had won)
Mary Peters, your mum in a track suit

(I have no memory of the massacre of Israeli athletes, which is unsettling)

The grotesque cost of it
The boycott by African nations (because the New Zealand rugby team had toured South Africa)
Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena winning the 400m and 800m in majestic fashion
Ed Moses’s glasses

Another boycott, because of the Soviet-Afghanistan war
Misha, the slightly scary mascot bear
Pietro Mennea winning the 100 metres – America’s loss, Italy’s gain
Coe v Ovett, a national obsession

And another boycott, because of the last one. Idealism totters
Dancing pioneers in wagons spreading over the country in the opening ceremony, and not a Native American in sight
Carl Lewis, our Jesse Owens
The cheerfully unvarnished Daley Thompson, winning Decathlon gold again
Solo synchronised swimming, the greatest Olympic innovation since Roque

Lives doves burned alive by the Olympic cauldron
The gut-punching shock of Ben Johnson’s disqualification for doping. All innocence lost
Sean Kerly, gold medal-winning hockey player from my home town
Diver Greg Louganis hitting his head on the springboard, replayed in your mind over and over again

The best of the Summer Games (until 2012, of course)
The USA basketball ‘Dream Team’ multi-millionaires, to remind us all that the Olympics are not what they were but what they are
A tearful Derek Redmond, hamstring torn, walking to the 400m finishing line in the arms of his father
That song

The sour Games
The heat, the humidity, the traffic problems, the commercialisation, the complaints, the irritation on the faces of the TV presenters
Mohammed Ali, frail and trembling, lighting the cauldron
The fatal bomb in an Olympic park
Michael Johnson, like nothing on earth
Desmond Lynam, reading the TV audience’s mind, coming up perfect response to watching the gymnastics: “Just think, we could do that if only we’d looked after our bodies”

Watching the Games from midnight onwards
Danny Baker’s suggestion of weight divisions for the long jump
BBC orgiastically excited at Steve Redgrave winning a fifth gold medal
Cathy Freeman’s hood
Denise Lewis, calmly good
David Vine signing off a great career in sports presenting with commentary on the weightlifting, a masterclass in knowledge, enthusiasm and communication

Kelly Holmes (via The Guardian)

The crowds that did not turn up
The Greek athletes who said they had been a motor accident but had actually failed a drugs test
A mad Irish priest attacking one of the men’s Marathon runners
The Marathon ending in the stadium where the first Marathon ended in 1896
A pop-eyed Kelly Holmes, previously one of life’s fourth-placers, winning, and winning again
Athletes drifting out of the stadium during the closing ceremony when they realised it was nothing but Greek pop music

A brilliant, inhuman opening ceremony
The American athletes who arrived wearing masks to protect them from the smog
Speedo swimsuits, breaking records
Christine Ohuruogu winning a perfectly judged 400m, just by being wiser than her competitors
Usain Bolt slowing down to look around him as he broke the 100m world record

A brilliant, human opening ceremony
Thomas Heatherwick’s cauldron
The desperate hunt for tickets, particularly among those who did not realise until the Games started what was happening all about them
The volunteers
Mo Farah driven to gold in the 10,000m by the roar of the crowd
Swimmer Chad le Clos and his wildly happy father
The Last Leg, Channel 4’s witty, understanding guide to the Paralympic Games
Standing and clapping along with everyone in the stadium to the Cuban national anthem
Oscar Pistorius running with the able-bodied, at a time when we all believed he was Superman
Being there

Lutalo Mohammad in the Taekwondo losing gold in a second
Dan Walker on the beach, reinventing broadcasting
Green water in the diving pool
Simone Biles, the pocket phenomenon
Nick Skelton winning a gold medal aged 58. Hope for us all, even if he was riding a horse

Synchronised drones in a cut-down opening ceremony
Stadiums emptied of people, seen only occasionally on the streets, as the early morning marathon runners went by
Catching up on sports at random over breakfast
Thirteen-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown falling twice then succeeding on her third go
The men’s high jump friends who chose to share the gold medal
Lutalo Mohammad, a natural broadcaster. He’ll be anchoring the Games one day
Speed rock climbing

All my memories are television clips. Or so it sometimes seems.


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