First, a confession. I was an Olympics 2012 cynic. Only a little one. But my proximity to London did cause some concern over the alleged pandemonium that was to ensue. I am also not a huge sports fan in general. I love to play sports, but I rarely watch televised sport (in no small part due to rarely watching television whatsoever.) But despite these things, I very soon became Pro-Olympics, all negative press be damned!
The opening ceremony was a ride. I sat eating my dinner with the pre-ceremony antics and commentary on the box. I rushed into the room on hearing Frank Turner – oh yes – performing a wonderful song off his latest album. Good start! But then, for the following 45 minutes, I became more and more uncomfortable. The set was classic rolling English Hills – which coincidentally looked an awful lot like the Shire from Lord of the Rings, but then such was Tolkien’s influence! It was very, well, twee. I love an English Muffin (easy) and a cup of tea in a leafy garden as much as the next Hertfordshire boy, but Morris dancers and frilly skirts really were not poised to set the world alight!
How wrong I was. The ceremony was a marvel of light, sound and bombast with a very impressive kinetic set. Certain sections fell flat, but I can only assume that each person watching will have different cherished moments. Appeasing millions of viewers across the globe is surely no mean feat, but Britain was done proud.
The Olympics should be cherished. Once every four years we have an organised set of games for the whole planet. Games where every included sport is given it’s time in the spotlight. One of my pet peeves of televised sport is that only the mainstream sports get a look in on the major channels. Football, rugby and cricket for the UK. Baseball, Basketball and “Football” in America, and so on. Sports which have huge followings, but which are based around the sponsors and marketing as much as the game itself. I am aware of the economics of television and the clubs themselves, but needless to say it feels cold. Of course the Olympics have their sponsors, but it seems they are somehow less intrusive than one is accustomed to when watching, for example, premiership football. This may be due to the BBC coverage; I am not sure how lucky other nations have been here.
The games also ushered in a wonderful few weeks of positive news cycles. News that lifts the soul rather than slapping it down. English news is thankfully nowhere near as dramatic and often negative as its US counterparts, but with recent world monetary crises and economic failing across Europe, it seems to be a wonderfully holiday from such headline gloom. Perhaps this optimism and general positivity will eek into our work lives and we can all start looking up again. Surely it can’t hurt to try?!
The global aspect of the games is truly great. All nations equal, all nations have a chance to be represented by small, often unknown athletes displaying the fruits of their years of dedication. As the world gets smaller we should make the most of these communal events. Equally fantastic is that patriotism, a double ended sword if ever there was one, seems to take a back seat to simply cheering the victor. As Brits I like to think we are especially good at this, the virtue of sportsmanship being of high value to us. Phelps and Bolt are veraciously cheered to victory by all watching, not just their home fans. This is glorious and transcends the usual country vs country boundaries that has never sat right with me in events such as the football World Cup.
We cheer new records. We love new ground, new achievement. And we feel heartened by the sheers determination of these athletes. Humankind loves to push forward, to aim higher.
A small distance away, on a neighbouring red rock planet called Mars, science is creeping forward inch by inch on custom built caterpillar tracks. Man has landed an unmanned probe on Mars, loaded with technology to study a planet up close. What it will find can be to some extent predicted and debated, but it will soon, for the first time, become knowledge. It’s data will be entirely new to science and we cannot know where this knowledge will take us next. Plus, it shoots lasers out of its mechanical eyes. That is one pretty cool robot.
I have noticed a divide in the press and on social networks. Some people complaining that the Mars mission was a waste of time and money, and humankind should be investing in itself, back on earth. Conversely, others have been complaining that the Mars mission is receiving relatively small press against the Olympics, and that science should trump a bunch of runners going round in circles the same way they have for millennia.
This is all a little silly, and we should live and let live here. We need to feed our hearts, minds and souls equally.
Science pushes us further. Our knowledge base increases, technology improves, and we move forwards. Sport brings us together, inspires us to make an effort for our own fitness, and celebrates the passion of the chosen few at the top of their game.
The western world is suffering from decaying bodies and minds. Obesity and heart disease are now the biggest killers in the developed world. Motivation to get us to the gym, the track or the stadium cannot be a bad thing. Alongside this, we have a widespread dumbing-down of our peoples. Our television aims for the lowest common denominator. We have appalling literacy and numeracy levels. Big budget, mass level science can and should inspire our minds. Sport can and should inspire us to get off the couch. We should all aim higher.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch the closing ceremony. I hear the Spice Girls are playing. I’ll make sure I have my headphones loaded up ready with David Bowie’s Life on Mars to heal my ears immediately after.