This Olympic games has caught my imagination. It’s in my backyard which makes a difference. For those living here its been like a party. Seen from here it has made the country feel like a community: the world a community. Ok reports of stabbings, swindlings, violence, cheating and atrocities still filter into the news but all around you see sunny smiling faces and decent people sharing out the joy.
I live near London at the site where two of the road cycling events took place. I stood there with the crowds and watched them whizzing by. I got photographs of most of them. One of my newest proudest possessions is a photograph of Bradley Wiggins shooting by on his way to collect an Olympic gold medal. He couldn’t stop to chat, give the nature of the event, but it felt almost like meeting him.
Now someway past my athletic best I reserve my physical energies for ranting and frothing at the television, while waving my arms around and explaining how I would put the country, indeed the world, to rights if given a millisecond of control. That may not happen but all is not bleak. Apart from the joy and enthusiasm of the visitors and people at the stadiums, or stadia if I want to indulge my appetite for pedantry, I have been continually struck by the demeanor of the athletes.
One after another these medal success stories have come up to the microphone and given an interview. The modesty, determination and often sense of surprise at the enthusiasm of the public is humbling to watch. There is almost an air of wonder about them. Unlike preening celebrities who often seem to think they are doing the public a favour by showing up and “just being one of us” for a few minutes before whizzing off in some fantasy chariot, these hard-working Olympians have continually surprised and pleased me with their demeanour. Before you start your own well deserved ranting and frothing at me I am sure there are many celebrities who are decent men and who lay off the preening. But, pound for pound, I am sure I would rather fill my living room with the athletes.
Michael Phelps, the most medalled of all Olympians, has been a delightful blend of discipline and modesty. With these athletes you often witness the maximum achievement with the minimum of marketing. With celebrities, and some others ,things can be the opposite. What these athletes seem to desire ,primarily, is achieve something and the attention gained is an amazing by-product that fills them with surprise and a hint of bewildermint. Most are essentially private individuals. It is such a relief and contrast from the world of people doing almost anything just to get attention. It reminds me of when I saw a programme about military heroes and they explained the most extraordinary bravery as “just doing their jobs” before returning to anonymity
Soon it will be over. Men getting the better of the other man , violence and economic disaster will overtake the news. These outstanding individuals will return into their training schedule . Seeing crowds of people caught up in a communal excitement and sharing it on television will be replaced by the often grime realities of daily life and the insane and bafflingly shallow antics of those “celebrities” used to distract us from the harsher edges of our existence.
We will return to that man-made environment, which seems increasingly like Pompeii just before the eruption, but for a few days, in this part of the world at least, I caught a glimpse of what the world could be, or once was, and what a real hero looks like in the flesh. What a nation looks like when lite by a common joy. I pray I can keep that memory alive as these events fade from the news.