I’ve never been such a couch potato as during Olympic fortnight.
Whilst, over in Stratford, London, athletes at the top of their game strained every last muscle fibre, pushing body and mind to be the best they could be, my personal challenge was to watch as much coverage (live or via television) as possible. Glued to the sofa, I was focussed on screaming and cheering at the TV as best I could. And then crying at the emotion of it all. The neighbours could hear, but I didn’t care. Everyone was at it. This Olympics thing, we were in it together. We were part of something special.
Who could not be moved by the drama of Mark Cavendish’s attempt at glory, leading up to Bradley Wiggins’ victory, or by Kath Grainger finally securing her elusive gold after 3 successive silver spots, by the showjumping team who prolonged the drama by taking it right to the final round, by the canoe slalom pairs (I listened to that on the car radio on my driveway – for twenty minutes I sat there not moving in case I missed the crucial moment!). And Andy Murray beating the great Roger Federer in straight sets in the men’s tennis. And the screams and cheers in the intimate velodrome for cyclists, Sir Hoy, Hindes, Kenny, Pendleton, Trott, Rowsell, King, (the list goes on – and on), and the slow motion replays of the spectators roaring, waving their flags, and willing these extraordinary individuals on to victory as world record after world record fell and gold medal after gold medal was hung around British necks.
If you haven’t seen the BBC clip of Sir Chris Hoy’s mum watching (or not) as her son surged to victory in the men’s Kierin then you must. It’s a treat. I could watch it over and over. And blub and blub.
For me, though, it was all about Golden Super Saturday, where, in the athletics stadium, Jess Ennis, with the weight of expectation as the Face of the Games, and with the eyes of the world watching her, delivered performance after performance, excelling when it mattered most. A champion like no other. And then Mo, and Greg Rutherford. Oh to have been in that stadium on that night. British athletics will never again experience a night quite like that.
65 Olympic medals, including 29 gold medals, put Britain third overall. More importantly it brought British people together. If you weren’t competing you were spectating. If you weren’t spectating you were one of the brilliant Games Makers volunteering, or you were a Police Officer or a member of the armed forces, keeping us safe, or you were in Seb Coe’s team, making it happen. Or you were simply proud that this extraordinary event was organised on British soil, by British people. If you were none of the above you’re a cynic and missed out on the best event ever to come to Britain.
So, back to my initial observation. That of me being a couch potato during the biggest, most exciting global sporting festival ever staged. Ironic really. I did try. Almost every day I’d start with good intentions and put my cycling kit on. The problem was I was still in it at 7pm and the only exercise I’d managed was to turn the kettle on to make a cup of tea.
I knew I should be inspired to get out there and do something. That was the message, loud and clear from London 2012 event-control. The strapline, ‘Inspire a Generation’ featured at every venue, on merchandise, within website and press copy, in commentary scripts and athlete post-event breathless interviews – almost universally they hoped they’d inspired someone, somewhere. Everywhere you turned, the Games was – still is – about inspiration. That and its close friend, legacy (an ambiguous concept the subject of much discussion).
I did eventually step out the front door. As GB won its 19th gold medal, I went for a peddle round the block, motivated not by need to emulate powerful Pendleton, nor inspired by the euphoria of the red white and blue performances, but because I’d been a slob for too long and I needed to get out and do something about it. It was a chore. It was boring. I was by myself on a sedate and uneventful ride. I was lonely and unchallenged and I wanted to be back at home watching and sharing the magic of the Games. I wanted to feel part of something special.
And for me, that’s where I’m at. I need to feel part of something special. Exercise for exercise sake is just not enough for me. There has to be more to it than burning calories.
Once upon a time, my love of sport was dominated by a desire to win. To be the best at something. The best in my class, my county, my country. The best I could be.
Now, I need to find a sport where I can be part of something bigger than my own performances. I need to be challenged. I need to be part of a community. Sport needs to be fun. It needs to be social. There needs to be a reason to get my kit on and get out of the front door. Time and time again.
I’ve enjoyed this community thing the Olympics has shown us. I want more of the same please. I want to be part of something special.