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Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Olympic and Paralympic reflections part 1/2

In the immediate aftermath of the IOC announcement that it was to be "the city of London" that would host "the games of the 30th Olympiad", The Times journalist Simon Barnes wrote 'The Olympics are the pinnacle of sporting achievement and competition... all other sport lies in the foothills' (I paraphrase). There are of course many who would disagree. The fact that football stadia across the land fill with ardent supporters week after week, when viewed objectively does indeed dwarf the turnout of our summer of Olympic and Paralympic events. Yet somehow simple numbers do not represent the depth, meaning and majesty of the Olympic and Paralympic mountains.

From landfill to landmark

In very simple terms here's why; the zenith is only assailable every 4 years, therefore it is monumentally harder to achieve the summit. So victory is tumultuous compared to the weekly 'high' micro-doses. Also the vast pyramid of contestants underpinning the podium means that those stepping atop are truly abnormal in the population. In the nicest possible way they are the freaks of human performance!

In reality the London games were probably no more important globally than previous games, no more important to the British than the Beijing games were to the Chinese, no more significant than the Sydney games to the Australians. Yet they took the Olympic movement on in a way that was particularly apt for that moment in time. We are wrapped in a global economic mess, so the games could have annoyed if it were super-expensive. We (the Brits) have our own unique take on the world and life, that we were a bit unsure anyone would get, that was superbly summed up in a Sports Illustrated view of the London Olympics;

"Sydney: We're doing OK for a former penal colony, wouldn't you say? And we know how to have a good time, mates! Athens: We have a rich history, but remain vital and kind of relevant. Beijing: Behold our might! The theme in London was ... well, what exactly? We suspect you are familiar with our written word, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Rowling, our music from the Fab Four to the Coldplay? Or: We join you in gently mocking our quirks? Or: We lost the Empire but we still have our s$#% together?

I quite like the latter view.

I have a few highlights;

Firstly the BBC, from the very first few frames of the very start of the BBC coverage at about 7pm on 27th July, featured a statue with a beating heart and when zoomed in, showed one of the coronary arteries in the shape of the river Thames. I was only a few seconds in and already I was delirious with goosebumps from the fusion of the 'heart' and London - our city. The coverage throughout was just incredibly good. I will not moan about paying my license fee again. (I will come back to the BBC later).

The opening ceremony wasn't the embarrassment that many thought it would be, it wasn't even just passable. It was bloody good, whichever way you look at it or how cynical you get. Convincing the queen to agree to a bond sketch showed with straight audacity that yes we can 'gently mock our quirks'. The defining moment was of course the use of the next generation athletes to light the cauldron. What wonderful imagination that sparked the depth of forethought. Whoever came up with that idea - I salute you!

In terms of sport, my relief and elation for Jess Ennis and her coach Toni Minichello could not be surpassed. She is an extraordinary talent who reached a pinnacle at the right time. This was a very different support journey for me, having worked with the pair since 2005. We knew back then that 2012 was what it was all about for Jess and took a long hard look at what it would take to peak at that moment, being prepared to take less short-term gain for longer term benefit. This took great vision and trust from Toni, but with his critical and perceptive outlook that maximised the probabilities. You see, there is no textbook for heptathlon physiology and it took a number of leaps of faith to apply basics and some left-field ideas to not only the aerobic and anaerobic physiology development but more broadly to the whole system development, peaking, and optimising recovery in training and during the two day competition. 


There is always such excitement about entering an Olympic venue, even in East London!


A further highlight was the long-awaited achievements of Kath Grainger. I supported Kath up to her first medal in 2000, along with the formidable Batten sisters and the talented Gillian Lindsey. Back then a medal was a pleasant surprise having snuck the silver on the line. We knew something might be on the cards when I saw them in the Gold Coast holding camp and they had 'survived' an almighty training block courtesy of the relentless programme of Mike Spracklen. Nowadays, the rowing programme success is more sustained and ubiquitous thanks to the rigorous work of the current coaches and support staff. It was an overwhelming relief to see Kath and the whole women's programme finally achieve the success they so richly deserve.

The established superstars of Bolt, Felix (including the stunning 4x100m relay), Phelps did not  disappoint in their performances but also this time in their tussles with genuine rivals. But new and known stars rose to Olympic prominence in Missy Franklin, Alison Schmitt, Ye Shiwen, Ranomi Kromowidjojo (she should have got another medal for having the best name at the games), Alexandra Raisman, Epke Zonderland, David Rudisha took their chance. It is a fact that the BBC emphasised the attempts and victories of Team GB, but that these and other great successes of our international compatriots was featured so prominently is recognition of the embracing approach to broadcasting. Having been working at 4 previous Olympics, it is startling and frustrating at just how little of the widespread non-host nation, Olympic and Paralympic excellence gets shown from the host broadcaster. This could not be said of London, as you could delight in some juicy Cuban v Mongolian men's flyweight boxing match, or the Hungarian v Italy head-to-head match-ups in the sabre, or whatever took your fancy. As a sports fan you want to see the best not just the partisan view of the locals. I think the BBC achieved this.

Tunisia v Argentina in basketball preliminary - a cracking game

The Paralympics at last got the recognition, support and respect that it deserves and in its punctuation of the human spirit served up the drama of rivalries, controversies, head-to-head excitement that it has always had, but now it had the decibels to not only match but exceed the Olympic cheer. Albeit predictably, there is only one quote that affirms the growth that the Paralympics underwent in Stratford this summer and that is from the headline act of Oscar Pistorius, "There are a lot of people that are going to watch these Games around the world that are going to be forced in a way to see these Paralympics through the eyes of the people of the UK. And I think that is a great thing. There are a lot of people here that don't focus on the disability any more, they focus on the athletes' ability." Could the UK have offered a greater legacy for sport? I am not sure we could.

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