In the long run-up to the Olympics Opening Ceremony, my Pavlovian response to the merest mention of London 2012 was to emit guttural groans and expel such lengthy, heavy sighs that I was frequently in danger of vacuum-packing my internal organs with a tightly hugging cloak of skin. I didn’t even hear myself doing it after a while. It was like the ever-present hum of a nearby electricity substation that you naturally block out. The moaning was just there…in the background. The soundtrack to my apathy.
So it was a curious experience indeed to find myself transfixed by Danny Boyle’s wonderful Opening Ceremony on Friday night, lurching uncontrollably from laughter and excitable applause to hard-gulping efforts to quell a rising tide of emotion, which constantly threatened to send an undignified gush of snot and tears pissing from my face.
It’s all a bit of a blur, but my wife and I may even have declared that we were “proud to be British”. Jesus, I think I even said “fair play to the Queen” at one point. That’s difficult for me to admit, let alone explain. But as the last fireworks fizzed over the Olympic Stadium, I was happy to concede that Danny Boyle had achieved the impossible: he had created an opening ceremony that I could easily have sat down and watched all over again.
The experience was made even sweeter when I noticed a Facebook friend decrying the fact that the Arctic Monkeys had performed live, when Take That would have been a much more appropriate act. I got genuine chills when they started playing ‘Come Together’, as an army of cycling doves flooded into the arena from beneath the stage, like a Critical Mass demonstration populated entirely by an illuminated squadron of Prince Vultan’s Hawkmen. Alternatively, I guess we could have had Robbie Williams gurning through a rendition of ‘Do What You Like’ while a sexy dove girl enthusiastically devoured some Wenlock and Mandeville-shaped jelly wobbling around on his bare arse.
Actually, Robbie Williams’ arse would probably be an official Olympic Partner. You wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Olympic Stadium and unfurl a flag featuring a rival singer’s arse, or paint anyone else’s arse onto your children’s faces, for fear of being arrested and deported by LOCOG.
Beyond the Opening Ceremony I’ve found myself watching as much of the Olympics as possible, which is entirely unexpected. Even though I enjoy sport, I can’t think of a previous Games when I’ve watched the events with such unrestrained excitement. I’ve been completely engrossed. Furthermore, I’ve wanted to watch sports that I’ve never really watched with any interest before. I’ve watched the cycling, the beach volleyball, the badminton, the hockey, the rowing, possibly every swim and dive event, and the awe-inspiring men’s and women’s gymnastics. And it’s all been wonderful. I’ve been completely transformed from the groaning, Olympics-weary man from only a week ago to someone who’s genuinely enthused by it all.
When Lizzie Armitstead claimed the silver medal in the women’s road race on Sunday, I welled up when she was interviewed immediately afterwards. She was breathless, bewildered, emotional and humble. It was her sheer determination that made me tearful. She’d pushed her body to the absolute limit, and after years of training, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and maybe the odd dream, she’d claimed a stunning silver medal and thrilled an entire nation. And on top of that, as I’ve found with every young Olympian I’ve seen interviewed over the past few days, she was unflinchingly polite, intelligent, focused and full of genuine thanks for all the support she’d received.
Following their Olympic achievements, almost every newspaper front page on Monday morning featured photos of Lizzie Armitstead and Rebecca Addlington. There wasn’t a TOWIE cast member in sight. It was a joy to behold! Finally, if only for a few weeks, we have some genuinely inspiring role models. And rather than being force-fed a diarrhoea-inducing diet of weepy X-Factor/BGT back-stories courtesy of Simon Cowell, or bombarded with a variety of brain-deadening and entirely unreal ‘reality series’ (and the associated daily antics of their vacuous ‘stars’) the nation is actually talking about people who are out there creating real stories. People who’ve worked tirelessly just for the opportunity to perform at the Olympics in the first place. People who are actually good at something, who have earned their shot at success.
I have a well-documented hatred of ‘reality’ stars, WAG’s and the ‘famous for being famous’ brigade, but the shit that gets them into the newspapers seems even more ridiculous and meaningless next to the stories of triumph and heartbreak coming out of the Olympics.
Only last month, the Mail Online ran a fascinating article – complete with photographic evidence – about how Alex Gerrard had visited a supermarket without wearing any make-up. This was followed by a high-octane sequel in which she emerged from a hair salon without make-up a few weeks later. “Pushing a supermarket trolley and stopping to get cash at an ATM machine, Alex, 29, could have been any ordinary woman,” wrote the Mail.
Of course, this sentence suggests that Alex Gerrard is actually an extraordinary woman; an inspiring role model that young women can look up to. But unless your ambition is to marry a Premiership footballer and dribble a load of banal shit about body butter and Top Shop summer collections in OK! magazine week in, week out, she really isn’t. But these are the kinds of idiots that are paraded before the nation on a near daily basis as the embodiment of success.
I know sport isn’t for everyone. But the elite athletes gracing our TV screens at the moment are the finest examples of what you can achieve in life without Simon Cowell and his SYCO behemoth, and without idly waiting to be plucked from obscurity and parachuted into a ten-a-penny reality show in the vain hope it will deliver a threadbare ‘celebrity’ lifestyle.
Only a couple of hours ago, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning triumphed in the women’s pair rowing event, becoming the first British women to take an Olympic rowing gold. When asked about whether young people watching at home might be inspired by their achievement, Helen Glover provided the perfect response: “If I can do it, just take the chance. Not just rowing – anything. If you work hard, if you try your best, absolutely anyone can do anything.”
Wise words. Spoken by a true role model.