T.S.Eliot’s J.Alfred Prufrock said that he measured his life in coffee spoons, but perhaps many of us also count them by World Cups or Olympic Games, international sports events held every four years which receive unavoidable media coverage.
In childhood, I was vaguely aware of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (with the BBC’s distinctive Euro-Oriental theme music) but my first proper Games was Mexico in 1968. In being chosen to host Olympics and World Cup consecutively, Mexico must have been in a similar position to Brazil now: politically or culturally fashionable. The major difference then of course was that TV programme hours were much fewer so a breakfast time programme of sports highlights was a real treat before school.
The next few Olympics shone for different reasons. Moscow in 1980 for the athletic rivalry between British pair Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, which, as mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve always credited as one reason for the popularity of the film Chariots of Fire. Los Angeles in 1984 for the highly dramatic track meeting between American Mary Decker and South African Zola Budd. Barcelona in 1992 was significant if only for the radio report just before it started which drew my belated attention to the fact that it was a place of international art and culture which perhaps I should visit.
By coincidence, my first visit to Sydney was just a few weeks before its 2000 Games. Inadvertently on TV I caught one episode of a timely satirical comedy The Games. Although I knew nothing about the Australian political context it was still easy to appreciate and I was struck ten years later how similar it was to the BBC’s 2012. A visit to Adelaide coincided with the visit of the Olympic torch relay and made me surprised that such a small city centre might host this key event. Twelve years later, the British torch relay was winding through dozens of smaller towns before the opening ceremony.
Although the era of multi-channel TV has hugely increased the number of sports and events you can see throughout the year, the Olympics does not seem to have lost its special celebrity among the younger generations of journalists and broadcasters. It is part of a tradition dating back to 1896, but it is certainly helped by the fact that the performances of UK sportsmen and women (or Team GB, as we are encouraged to call them) have been improving in recent times, with the concurrent politicians’ response of bestowing knighthoods and other honours.
Younger generations have a tendency to exaggerate their judgment and apply hyperbole to their limited knowledge (mine certainly did) so I was impressed that journalist Tom Fordyce based his article on the currently pressing issue on who has been the greatest ever Olympic athlete from a decently broad perspective, mentioning Paavo Nurmi and Fanny Blankers-Koen as well as the more obvious Jesse Owens and Nadia Comeneci.
Some Olympic sports must be seen as out of date, though. Archery, shooting and fencing were once regarded as important skills for a military gentleman, but are surely inappropriate in an era when all around the world we are trying to reduce violence and its glorification.