Faster, Higher, Stronger Together
I have a very clear memory of Roger Bannister running the first under 4 minute mile on the 6th May 1954. I was seven years old and can remember how exhausted he looked at the end of what was thought to be an impossible feat for a human being. And here we are, nearly seventy years later and the current world record for the mile is held by a Moroccan, Hitcham El Guerrouj and stands at 3:43:13 minutes.
Which brings me to the glorious insanity that is the Olympic Games whose motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ encapsulates and celebrates something profound within the human spirit.
To be honest I was completely indifferent to the Olympic Games when they started. I am not and never have been ‘sporty’ nor particularly interested in watching sportspeople compete against each other. I also felt sorry for the Japanese people who, in the middle of a pandemic, were being forced to accept thousands of people descending on their small island with all the Covid risk that entailed. I also thought the Games would lack atmosphere without spectators and that the sportsmen and women would lack some vital spark of determination or passion without the ecstatic enthusiasm of their friends and family cheering them on from the stands.
How wrong I was! Two weeks into the Games and I am completely hooked. Watching so many beautiful, powerful, strong and healthy men and women is proving to be the perfect antidote to eighteen months of fear, worry and feeling physically vulnerable.
Many women, me included, have lifelong hang-ups about their bodies. Too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. Hips too big, boobs too small or vice versa. What is truly glorious about Olympic bodies is that there is no one ideal, just whatever is needed for optimal performance in your sport. So we have phenomenally tall baseball players and rowers, petite female gymnasts, skinny distance runners, huge and powerfully built shot putters, weightlifters and boxers and everything in between. Some, like the gymnasts and pole vaulters have powerful upper body strength, others like the equestrian team have powerfully strong thighs, the better to control their beautiful mounts. The point of the body is not aesthetics but function. It’s a reminder that bodies need to work effectively for whatever demand we place on them - so who cares if your hips are ‘too big’ as long as they work as hips.
Team GB's Tom Daley and Matty Lee win gold in men's synchronised 10m platform
Elaine Thompson-Herah wins gold in 100m and 200m and breaks an olympic record
Twins Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova do exceedingly well for the Gymnastics GB Team at only 16 years old
In the West we have a very narrow view of what constitutes a beautiful face. And, with the advent of widespread ‘tweakments’ in the form of fillers, Botox and surgery there has been a movement towards homogeneity - so that everyone looks the same. You only have to watch reality TV shows to see what’s expected. Heavy microbladed eyebrows, huge trout pouts, smooth frozen faces and long lustrous hair all in the same high maintenance style. The Olympic Games are the most perfect counter and refutation of that plastic ‘ideal’. I hope that the young girls who are most influenced by celebrity culture are watching the Games and realising that faces (and hair) come in every hue, and that eyes, noses and lips also come in infinite variety. The inspiration here is based purely on performance, guts and determination with absolutely no points awarded for the random allocation of your features, whether natural or manipulated.
Few things show the ingenuity of the human mind better than the myriad ways that you can use a ball in sport. I know nothing of the history of any of the games that people play with a ball, but I love the fact that the ball can be very small as in table tennis or golf, a bit bigger for hockey and tennis and baseball, and bigger still for football, rugby and basketball. Then there’s what you are trying to do with it. Plop it into a pesky little hole on a putting green, smash it over a net so your opponent can’t return it, aim it at a hoop high on a pole or shoot at the goal guarded by your opponent’s ‘keeper’. You may be permitted or forbidden to handle it, run with it, kick it, bounce it or hit it with a stick, but whatever the rules, at the Olympic level you have to be both fantastically skilled and exceptionally talented. I watched in awe as the Fijian women’s rugby team prevented the favourites, Australia, from snatching victory in the final seconds of their match, and as for the Chinese table tennis players - words fail me.
So many amazing performances, so many well-deserved medals and yet every Olympic Games throws up a few truly memorable moments which make stars of the people who gave them to us. I particularly enjoyed the women’s 100 metres final this year for the sheer power and grace of the three Jamaicans who won gold, silver and bronze with the winner, Elaine Thompson-Herah breaking the Olympic record. I also loved their colourful hair! And who could deny the fabulousness of Tom Daley’s faultless dive alongside Matty Lee to win the gold for Team GB? And who knew that BMX cycling could be so spectacular and so skilful? Such worthy gold medal winners in Bethany Shriever and Charlotte Worthington, whose staggering backflip has now been watched over a million times on the BBC website. Another highlight for me was the moment that two high jumpers agreed, as allowed in the rules, to share the gold medal instead of having a jump-off to determine gold and silver. The exuberance and delight of Essa Barshim from Qatar and Italian Gianmarco Tamberi, longtime friends and rivals was a perfect illustration of the best that these Games has to offer - competition - yes - but also delight at sharing both the glory and spoils of competition.
Charlotte worthington wins gold and makes history with a backflip in BMX freestyle
Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi opt to share the gold medal for men's high jump after years of friendship
Show jumper Andrew Hoy becomes Australia's oldest ever male medalist with a personal bronze and team silver
Two of my other favourites this week have been sixteen year old twins Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova of the Gymnastics GB Team. They may have been outside the medals in their individual floor competition, but to be amongst the best in the world at such a young age is a phenomenal achievement. My 12 year old granddaughter Freya spends most of her life upside down standing on her hands and doing cartwheels, so I can only imagine what it’s been like for the Gadirova family having two of them bouncing and leaping around the place! And a final nod to Andrew Hoy, an Australian show jumper who, at 62, must be one of the oldest medalists at this Olympics when he won the bronze in the show jumping ring.
This Olympic Games in Tokyo will go down in history as The Pandemic Games. We’ll remember that it should have happened in 2020 but was delayed for a year as Covid ripped around the world. As I write this the skateboarding competition is in process with teenage girls doing insane things on a plank on wheels. A thirteen year old called Sky Brown has just won a bronze medal for GB to become the youngest ever medal winner in the summer games. Massive congratulations to her and to all the thousands of competitors, whether they won a medal or not. Thank you for reminding us that human beings are magnificent.
Faster, Higher, and Stronger Together.
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