WE, THE BRITISH

WE,  THE BRITISH

I find it hard to believe there can be anyone in Britain less interested in sport than I am.   Personally I can’t see that it makes any difference if you run a mile in 4 minutes or 40.   (You’re being pursued by a wolf?    He’ll maintain the chase for days if necessary and besides his pack will join him and hunt you down.   You’re doomed, basically, timed trial or not.)   Similarly, does it matter that you can hit a ball over a net, or into a hole?    (Now I can see that it could be significant if you could sock it to your opponent between the eyes.)   And, it seems rather unfair that the difference between a gold medallist (here comes the all-conquering hero), and the silver medallist (also ran…) can be a hundredth of a second.

And so, you would not expect anyone to be less interested in, or enthusiastic about, the Olympic Games than myself.

But I DO like STORIES and some great ones have emerged this week, and some interesting personalities have come to prominence as well.

First among the Honours lists must come Sebastian Coe.   Always for me a suspiciously Establishent figure, never the less he has been a good leader for the Olympic team for all these years and been a constant steadying influence.   Then there’s Boris, so different from Coe, but like his predecessor so emblematic of the City of London:  he has done his bit also.

There’s the athletes themselves who have laboured so hard and for so long, and yet there is still an element of luck as to whether it all comes good on the day, and they go on to fortune and glory, or whether it has all been for naught, and they lapse into obscurity.  Quite often those praised and expected to do well, stumble on the day, and some hitherto un-noticed fellow steals past them and goes on into history.

Bradley Wiggins – babies, I hear, are being named after him – seems a quiet and modest fellow.   Yet he knew his worth.   When some commentator asked him, did he think he had the power to win, he gave his interrogator a brief ‘look.’   “Yes, I can win the Gold,” he replied.    “I’ve just won the Tour de France.”    And on he went to win the Gold.   We won’t forget him.

But the most delightful thing was the Opening Ceremony.   I had no great hopes of it.   The Chinese effort, for all its magnificence, had  filled me with horror.   Ours would not be on such a scale, and would this be depressing?

But instead, it was a triumph.    When it opened with that English anthem, Jerusalem, I thought, Oh, no, and prepared to gather up my skirts and depart.    But then they went on to play the anthem Danny Boy of Northern Ireland, and I thought, Wait.   When they came to O Flower of Scotland, a song imposed by the Scots simply because they kept singing it instead of the official version being played, I thought, oh, they are going to acknowledge that we are four nations.

Then the run through our history – our rural beginnings;   our industrial past.  No boasting about our wars, nor about our empire.    Things included that we care about, like the NHS.   And all done with a lightness of touch and humour.   The queen entered into the spirit of things.

As for the torch, sports philistine that I am, I had got rather fed up of it on its interminable progression around the country, though I do acknowledge thousands of people were interested in it and its planned route was a great success.   But it was nice to see David Beckham, who has never stinted in his willingness to serve his country, guiding the boat with the torch on board down the Thames.   Steve Redgrave is the Daddy-O of British sport at the moment, and the beautiful cauldron being lit by seven youthful aspiring athletes was everything that was appropriate and fitting.

At the end, you thought, We are the British.     This is a mighty thing – who else would you rather be? – but also a mighty accomplishment on the part of the Olympics organisers.

I had wondered what benefit the Olympics could bring to us.   We are not, as some countries have been, anxious to be placed on the map.    Everybody knows where we are.    But the benefit the Olympics has brought us is nothing to do with other people.   Hosting the 2012 Olympic Games has reminded us who we are.

We are the British.

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