It was somewhat fitting that the final day in the velodrome brought the medals that took Team GB past its overall target for the Games, five days early. In that final cycling goldrush we witnessed not only the last hurrahs of the two riders who have come to represent all that sport has achieved over recent years, but perhaps the first indications of who might be taking-up their mantle in the years to come.
Sir Chris Hoy won his sixth gold medal to make him Britain’s most successful Olympian, after which he declared this would be his final Olympics. Victoria Pendleton was also up for her final competitive ride, and it was a shame that she could not also go out on a golden note. But when 20-year-old Laura Trott won the Omnium to take her second Gold of the Games, she immediately paid tribute to the woman who had inspired her to take-up the sport, inspiration that Laura herself will doubtless pass-on to an, as-yet unknown, teenager watching last night’s TV pictures. In a radio-interview after Laura had received her medal, Adrian Trott was asked about a ‘wobble’ his daughter had experienced during the competition, and how he had dealt with her doubts when she rang him for advice. “I told her to watch ‘Cool Runnings,” he replied.
It is often the simple things that have the most profound effect, and in that short sentence I realised exactly why many of us are feeling how we do right now about London 2012. It has less to do with the success Team GB is experiencing, more the contrast with what we have sleepwalked into accepting as ‘reality’. We are, right now, coming towards the end of the ultimate staycation from what we have been spoon-fed for years in the name of ‘popular entertainment.’ And it begged the question: if there were only two television programmes left in the world, which one would you choose to watch – ‘Cool Runnings’ or ‘Eastenders’?
For years we have allowed ourselves to be misled by a manic-depressive media, intent on dragging us down to the monochrome depths of their own despair – into believing that, at the core of our modern society, is a long-running and debilitating soap-opera with a cast of publicity-hungry c-lister wannabes, consciousless corporate ex-CEOs, gravy-train-riding politicians and noisy cuckolding minorities. Their own ‘reality’ edition of ‘Eastenders’.
Contrast that with the back-up and support Olympic competitors have received, not only from their families and friends, but also from countless fellow-countrymen who had never even heard of some of them a few weeks ago, let alone met them. Yet, whether winning or not, instinctively we all recognise that these are people worthy of our respect and admiration. They represent our Nation’s true colours – the plotline for a ‘reality’ version of ‘Cool Runnings’.
Rest-assured this is no idealistic rant about how sport can save us all – it can’t. Whether watching or taking-part, sport is an interlude to our lives – lives that are a kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions. But we do have the choice of what to watch, or to be part of. Fifty years ago, The Horse of the Year Show went out live at prime-time on the only BBC TV channel. It was the most popular sports programme of the time, now it is not even broadcast on free-to-air TV. At that time, almost In desperation, a senior FA Official asked the question ‘how will we ever make soccer more popular than show jumping?’
Within a year, Match of the Day appeared on Saturday nights and the rest, as they say, is history. The result is the sporting equivalent of Eastenders, witnessed by the regular strangulation of the back pages of our newspapers by stories of the mindless off-field exploits of millionaire footballers. Our dedicated Sports TV channels screen every minute of every Premiership fixture, and free-to-air channels fight for the rights to screen highlights programmes where we can witness every goal in every professional football match north and south of the border, each analysed to death by ex-players more familiar with the use of injunctions than conjunctions.
Neither is this a call for a return to wall-to-wall Show Jumping – wall-to-wall anything is not good for anybody. If these two weeks have reminded us of anything, it is that that variety is still the spice of life, and that all reality has a back story. What these Olympics will hopefully teach us is that those back stories do not need to be constantly presented with negative-spin.
And that sombre drumbeats are not the overture to real life.