The Olympics is always welcome in my world even if just as a life marker. Every four years, it can be used as a kind of punctuation mark and life checker. But I like my sports also and I particularly enjoy watching events I only see at the Olympics. Sports like fencing, possibly one of the dullest? And badminton, one of the most thrilling?
Japan’s Olympics are unique of course. The 2020 games in 2021. Who knew? And with no crowds which must be so dispiriting for the competitors. The winners instincts remains however, as sometimes they wave at the empty seats, although I haven’t yet seen a high jumper do their overhead clap thing to drum up support.
Less pressure for the athletes perhaps but no less thrilling for us watching in our arm chairs.
With time differences, often in the UK we learn how our Olympians have fared in the morning news bulletins. I enjoy every success but my glee is always tempered when a medal is won in a sport that only rich countries compete in and very often is on water or an animal.
This is why I hold athletics in such high regard because anyone can run right and including the entire continent of Africa who have some serious running pedigree. This is why winning an Olympic running race is so enormous. There are plenty of elite Ethiopian, Kenyan, Somalian and Ugandan runners but what chance of these countries putting out a yachting team or a dressage outfit? I doubt whether Chad or the Congo have velodromes and what bicycles they have, I don’t imagine they are carbon fibre and titanium.
By my reckoning, another thing going for athletics is that I have done running and so I know just how blinking hard it is. And painful. The agony of bursting lungs and every muscle and sinew screaming at me to stop.
For the record, I am not a good runner. As a general life rule I tend to avoid pain. That said, there are less painful careers than stand-up comedy but you know what I mean. Regular readers will know I recently scaled the mighty Ben Nevis – and my calves were tender and painful for a full week afterwards. I am not cut out for exertion. Small stride? Unusually tight calf muscles, perhaps? This is a condition whereby the muscle is held within a sheath which can be too tight and this restricts blood flow and the clearing away of lactic acid. I suspect I have this and it put paid to my career as an Olympian.
But I enjoy watching and I am particularly admiring of an athlete called Laura Muir, who hails from Inverness, Scotland and races for GB at 1500m – my preferred distance until my calves so cruelly failed me. What might have been?
I have written about Laura before and I don’t really know why but I think it is her ordinariness that is so appealing. She doesn’t appear to be unusually physically gifted which often dulls my admiration. The 7ft 5 basketball player dunking the ball. Big deal. Or the 6ft 6 sprinter pounding ahead of the little fellah is really no surprise.
I think the more we can relate to sports stars, the easier they are to admire. Laura Muir looks like any other kid who we were all at school with. But her normality is deceptive. No doubt, she won every race and her classmates didn’t mind losing to someone so able and how they must marvel seeing her now on the biggest stage of all.
I remember kids like this at school. Boys who could do things with a football that I couldn’t. Boys I admired and this is how I feel when I see Laura Muir running so bravely. Of course, all athletes are brave but somehow Laura’s grit is even more apparent. Just something about the way she runs reveals her steel and I find myself urging her on. A stellar career already but without an Olympic medal and this made her Tokyo ’20 even more compelling.
Running is also solitary. An individual on their own, their team looking on and impotent and I think this heightens their task. I have enjoyed watching interviews with the athletes families. Watching heroic feats, I often imagine what their families must be feeling because if I am emotional, then I imagine how the mum and dad must be feeling?
The pundits put Laura’s chances of a medal in the 1500m as fair. The hot favourite being Sifan Hassan – born in Ethiopia and running for the Netherlands – so to see Laura eclipse the great Hassan to bag herself a silver is a remarkable achievement.
I have written before about my lack of academic prowess. At best, I was middling at school and why I admired the boys in my classrooms who could do things with words and numbers that I couldn’t.
And this is a good place to end this heartfelt post. Because Laura Muir is one of those clever kids too – with a degree in veterinary medicine, no less. A blinking vet. Like I said, imagine how proud her folks must be.
Congratulations Laura and to all those athletes who fronted up and did their best.
Great work, all of you.