This Olympics have had the country reaching for the tissue boxes like no other sporting event. From the minute Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony led a celebration of a ‘nation secure in its own post-empire identity’ (NYTimes) with suffragettes and the NHS, there has been a barely disguised emotional undercurrent to everything. Try as I might, I am one of those who has struggled to hold it together. I kept asking myself if it is because I am now a parent, that my eyes misted up as the cameras flashed to parents in the stands – the awkward parents of the American gymnast Aly Raisman jerking about like they were buckled into a rollercoaster, the father of Chad Le Clos who gave ‘proud’ its fullest definition when he took gold from Phelps. Is the bond with my own daughter the reason I cried further tears at the absence in the stands of the father of diver Tom Daley, or judoist Gemma Gibbons mouthing ‘I love you mum’ at the heavens as she reached the final? This Games have put some extraordinary individual athletes on the podium, but not far behind have been the parents.
The ambition of the London Olympics is to ‘inspire a generation’. On BBC Breakfast on Sunday their cameras visited a Junior Gymnastics Club. In the wake of Team GB’s successes, and the athletic boyband who won Bronze, the phones haven’t stopped ringing. There’s no question these Games will do what they set out to do, I just hope it inspires the rest of us as it does it.
As we watched Super Saturday in our living room, where Team GB sensationally took three golds in an electric 45 minutes, I had the twitter stream going on my iPad. In amongst the ‘JESSSSSSSSS!!!’ and the ‘GO MO!’ between the capital letters and the exclamation marks, was a retweet from Naomi Klein about an article from Rolling Stone Magazine – ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’. Intrigued, I clicked the link; so whilst the crowds roared in the Olympic Stadium at tumbling human records, without any fanfare at all so too have meteorological records. “June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe. The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.” I looked from Mo Farah hugging his daughter, to the brand new Team GB Adidas sweatshirt age 1-2 years I’d bought for mine, which was lying on our floor, and back at the Rolling Stone piece.
The lesson of the parents of Olympians is that ‘inspiring a generation’ means nothing without sacrifice. I’m told more Americans believe in the certainty of seven-day creationism than the possibility of so-called ‘climate change.’ I find it difficult to stomach the thought that if there’s even the slightest chance there could be something in it, we just sit idly by. And I have the utmost respect for faith and beliefs, but one observation you can draw from this is that (a) humankind doesn’t like being wrong, and (b) we’re not very good at giving things up. We do what we can to protect our beliefs and keep them safe – especially where self-interest is involved.
Team GB’s Greg Rutherford was the third champion on Super Saturday, winning gold in the long-jump. His parents, who looked like every other parents at the Olympics in their homemade ‘Go Greg’ t-shirts, shared with ITV News their part in his story. “You try to do anything you can to see your children fulfill their talents.” The story of the parents of Olympians is a story of service and sacrifice. I couldn’t watch the Olympics without wishing I would aspire to greatness, not, any longer, as an Olympian, but as a dad. And though I read that chilling article about Climate Change, the hope I have for the world my daughter will grow up in has been fanned by the tissues of Britain. Because the biggest surprise of the Olympics has not been our haul of medals, but the daily demonstration that when it comes to storylines we will always be drawn to a bigger human narrative – sacrifice over self interest.
By Davey Spens