Well … the flame’s extinguished, the flags have been lowered, the athletes are back home, the Brits are back at work and for all we know, at this very moment HRH Queen Elizabeth is rehearsing for her next cameo appearance. While London 2012, and the Olympics in general, are still fresh in our minds, it feels like a good time for some reflection. I’m sure a lot of what I’m about to say will be unpopular but, c’est la vie. It’s my opinion, I’m entitled to it, and anyone who wants to disagree is more than welcome to do so.
Yes, there were a great many wonderful, breathtaking, inspiring, touching and, even, heartbreaking moments:
Oscar Pistorius, making history, as he ran the men’s 400-metre heat — and then, in a spontaneous and respectful gesture, being embraced by Kirani James, the Grenadian teenager who won the Gold. Sarah Attar, also making history, as she ran, covered from head to toe, in the women’s 800-metre heat — and the standing ovation she received, despite finishing last. The determination, commitment, spirit, grit and teamwork that went into Team USA’s Gold in the 4x100m medley relay — a win that contributed to Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Who will ever forget Usain Bolt putting an end to the speculation that he was hurting and probably didn’t have a chance? Or the pandemonium that broke out every time a Team GB member was introduced, let alone won a medal. Or witnessing the exaltation that turned to disbelief that turned to sorrow, as the Canadian men’s relay team went, in mere seconds, from being Bronze medal-winners to being disqualified.
But wonderful as these moments are, I feel it is time to give our Olympic values a bit of a tweak.
As the economy in the UK — in fact, throughout the world — is worse than anyone can remember … was this really a year when the Opening Ceremonies should cost in excess of 9 billion pounds ($14 billion dollars)? Is that appropriate? Was it necessary? When did the Opening Ceremonies have to become a lavish, over-the-top, multi-media extravaganza? It’s been building up to this for years now and quite frankly, as fabulous as these events may be to watch, it is totally ridiculous; and for how much longer will countries be able to justify astronomical, unrealistic expenses like this? For all kinds of reasons would it not, perhaps, be better — and more meaningful — if we returned to the simpler times of the past?
And while I’m on the topic of the Opening Ceremonies, I’m sorry. I hate to be a wet blanket. I did not love the show. Okay, now I’ve said it. To me it was chaos. Too much happening everywhere at the same time — much of which meant nothing to me anyway. I’ve heard it said that Danny Boyle (Slum Dog Millionaire), the show’s producer, was apparently quoted as saying that he’d created the show for Brits — not for the world. Well, with all due respect to Mr. Boyle, the Olympic Games is a global event, that attracts a global audience.
It was alarming, not to mention downright disturbing, to hear that in China the idea of ‘winning’ is such an obsession children, as young as 5 years old, are taken from their parents and sent to live in facilities where they train five and six hours a day, every day, until they are old enough to compete. Sure explains their athletes’ reactions when they got Silver instead of Gold. Or even childish reactions, like Sun Yang’s, when he did get Gold. It’s not surprising. They’ve never been allowed to be kids. Their childhoods are spent in training camps where, among other things, they are taught that to lose is to dishonour yourself, your family and your country.
How sad is that??
And what about our own expectations? Are they reasonable? Did the fact that Canada’s Olympic Team do so well at Vancouver’s Winter Games put too much pressure on the athletes we sent to London? Did their desire to make us as proud as we were back then end up doing them in, causing performance anxiety so severe they couldn’t seem to rise above it? It broke my heart to hear them apologize, unnecessarily, over and over again.
Things are getting out of hand. At least in my opinion. And I think we (the whole world, the Olympic Organizing Committee, and everyone connected to the Games themselves) have to get a grip before it’s too late.