With London 2012 looming large on the horizon, I start to wonder who will emerge with a personal story which hits us all; circumstances, sacrifices and determination of breathtaking scale; tragedy, victory and joy. The sort of thing which has a personal impact.
Thinking back to previous games, there are some moments and some people which are indelibly etched into my mind. I’m absolutely not a sports fanatic, but I do enjoy the spectacle of the Olympics, and these moments somehow had an impact, not necessarily related to the sporting achievement.
The only research I did in preparing this post was to check names were correct and to confirm which Olympics the events related to – in other respects I relied on my memory. So these are not a generic set of “Olympic moments” – they are personal to me. In no particular order:
Greg Louganis (Seoul, 1988). In an early round of diving from the high board, he smacked his head onto the board and hit the water badly concussed. In an astonishing display of courage he had the highest score for his next dive and went on to win gold in the finals. Having watched replays of his accident many time since (and heck, that must have hurt), it is remarkable that he didn’t just walk away and withdraw from the competition. That is not what true champions do.
Nadia Comaneci (Montreal, 1976). This young Romanian gymnast created such a dazzling display of perfection that the scoreboard was unable to correctly display her score of 10.00 – the first time it had happened. She became the star of the games, winning a perfect 10.00 six times during the games. Such youth, such perfection, such dedication – it made an impact which is hard to recreate.
Steve Redgrave (Sydney, 2000). Steve had already demonstrated what it takes to become an Olympian, by winning a gold medal in each of the preceding 4 Olympic Games (starting with Los Angeles in 1984). After winning gold in Atlanta, he had famously said “Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me” but had gone on to compete for a place in Sydney nevertheless. Having struggled with illness throughout the latter stages of his career, he showed what can be achieved with grit and determination, winning by the slimmest of margins and repeating the much-used quote “pain is temporary; glory is forever”. I can recall exactly where I was, and how I felt throughout that race. A remarkable achievement.
Muhammad Ali (Atlanta, 1996). The boxing legend returned to the Olympics in 1996, not to compete this time, but to light the flame. By this time he was living with Parkinson’s Syndrome. The global television audience must have been huge, and nobody watching could possibly fail to be moved by the sight of this great man opening the games with such dignity and humility. A champion; a true legend. Unforgettable.
Looking back on these moments in time, I’m struck by the fact that it wasn’t so much the sporting endeavour which stays in the mind – it is the personal element. It is being able to recreate the feeling of that moment, rather than being able to recall details of the events themselves. London 2012 will surely create new records which will become statistics of the future, but the real stories will be those which we remember years later because of their personal nature. It is sobering to note that those stories are now almost complete – writing of them probably started more than four years ago and they have been evolving gradually as the rest of us have been going about our day-to-day activities, oblivious of the sacrifices these athletes have been making. It is only when the events of London 2012 unfold, when the full stories will be told.
And let’s make sure that those events are witnessed by young eyes, because by inspiring the next generation we give them a head start. Ten or twenty years from now, Olympians all over the world will look back at their childhoods, and recall how it all started for them and how they felt inspired by the athletes of today. What better gift can we give to our children today, than inspiration?