Why the Olympic Games are important
If there's one lesson from the past few days it's that sport matters
There is always the temptation to dismiss the Olympics as a complete waste of money.
Even in good times, when the roads were paved with gold and wallets weren’t large enough to hold everybody’s wads of cash, there were those who dismissed holding what they see as a glorified sports day as worthless.
So, in these tough times, when millions are out of jobs, austerity is the watchword, and, economically speaking at least, everything is doom and gloom, that idea is seen as more than sensible.
However, if there’s one thing we can take from watching just the first five days of the London Games; it’s that sport matters.
Kicking balls, jumping high, running, swimming or cycling very fast have always been dismissed as ultimately trivial in the grand scheme of things; just a bit of fun. Of course it’s viewed as enjoyable to watch and sometimes to play, but when it comes to importance, sport lags way behind ‘higher things’ - the arts and politics.
But that idea has been handed a deserved disqualification by events in the British capital.
Sport brings people together like nothing else we can think of. Already this week we’ve come across people and places we wouldn’t have were it not for the Olympics. We’ve sat on our sofa and spent our time watching the amazing skill of female Korean archers, been mesmerised by the speed and athleticism of swimmers from China to Serbia and allowed ourselves to be enthralled by the excitement of the global gathering of fans.
We are well aware that makes us sound twee (an accusation we’ve never had thrown at us…). But we don’t care because there is more than a hint of truth in what we’re saying. In no other sphere can you witness such a coming together and, dare we say it, a picture of harmony on such a grand scale.
Yes, we are well aware that not all of the 10,000-plus competitors all want to hold hands and sing songs around a campfire. But from what we’ve seen so far in London, the mutual respect between participants, when so much is at stake, highlights the positive impact sport can have on society.
Of course cheats will be exposed, and yes, drug takers revealed, but for the most part the best will win. Those that trained harder and sacrificed more will be the ones standing on the podium grabbing onto their gold medal. And in that there is an inherent worthiness about sport that is lacking elsewhere in life.
Added to this, as one British journalist put it earlier this week, “sport is the passion of our youth and the enchantment of our maturity.”
It’s in that sense we should never underestimate its power and ability to shine a light on human endeavour. As Seb Coe, boss of the London Games, said on Friday: “There is a truth to sport, a drama and an intensity that is irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch.”
The obsession with grand sponsorship and money among blundering governing bodies (the IOC included), drugs (we can go on…) may have tarnished sport and the ideals of the Games (as we argued in last week’s column), but that doesn’t in any way negate their importance.
Chief Justice Earl Warren, the American judge who investigated John F Kennedy’s assassination, once wisely said that when he picked up his morning paper, he always turned first to the sports pages “because they record man’s successes. The front page records only his failures”.
Every four years everyone is reminded of this along with what mankind is capable of, when hard work and effort is put in. Sport can inspire many and that’s why it can never - and should never - be called trivial, or why hosting the Olympics can be labelled as a complete waste of cash.
7DAYS APPLAUD MICHAEL JOHNSON
THERE are all-time greats: guys and girls who take our breath away with their athleticism and send shivers down our spines through their sheer brilliance: Olympic heroes such as Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci and Michael Phelps.
Then there is Michael Johnson.
For us lot at 7DAYS Towers the American is the brightest in a galaxy of Olympic stars. He may not have won the most number of golds, indeed, due to food poisoning, he didn’t even make the final of the 200 metres in Barcelona. But it was the manner of the three individual titles he did pick up that means that, for us, he’s the greatest.
The first man to achieve the 200 and 400m double, he did so not by just beating his rivals, rather by pummelling them and making them look like they were walkers out on an afternoon stroll. In both races at Atlanta ‘96 you could have driven a jumbo jet between Johnson and the silver and bronze medallists; the gaps were that big.
His 200m win is one of our ‘where-were-you’ moments such was the sheer shock at the time posted. Pietro Mennea’s mark of 19.72secs had stood for 17 years until Johnson broke it earlier that summer, with a rapid 19.66. So imagine the surprise when the American ace ran 19.32 – it was sport and the Olympics at its most primal and best: thrilling, spectacular and fast.
While that mark has since been beaten by current man-of-the-moment Usain Bolt, his 400m world record of 43.18secs, set three years later at the World Championships in Seville, is likely to stay around for decades.
However, what we like about him more than his success was the way he went about achieving it.
His upright running style made it look like he wasn’t even trying. And while many runners wearing golden spikes at a Games would come across as callously conceited, Johnson made his Atlanta attire seem like the natural thing to put on, rather than some arrogant Lewis-style stunt.
He is a true legend in every sense of the over-used word.