Olympian fast bowlers and dancing horses
This time last year London and a number of other cities across the UK were ablaze with riots. Five people dead, a cost of £200 million and rumours of “broken Britain” were rife. The clean-up operation however, was admirable and people mobilised to help communities recover from a dark moment.
Twelve months on and London has been ablaze again with Olympic fever, and a most impressive cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Initially cynical about the unhealthy, overbearing corporate sponsorship of McDonalds, Cadbury’s and Coca-cola and the money spent on security, the spirit of sport appears to have at last done what it promised to do – inspire. Ninety per cent of Britons tuned in, the record breaking British rain stopped falling, and the Olympic torch(s) became the most photographed object of the year.
Despite having written about the power of sport for change many times, it has taken the Olympics to see me visit my local free tennis courts, start swimming again and even try a new sport this weekend – kayaking. Here is where I found inspiration over London’s great summer:
• The Seven
There was much speculation about who would be chosen to light the flame on the night of the opening ceremony. The decision was moving, and entirely fitting for 2012. Seven amazing British Olympians each nominated a relatively unknown but promising young athlete and together they lit “Betty”.
For Muslim athletes who usually observe Ramazan, the Olympics came at a difficult time. Some fasted, some put off their fasting, but my imagination was caught by British Rower Moe Sbihi, after consulting scholars, bought 60 meals a day for the poor in Morocco instead of fasting himself.
• The Pakistan Team
Somehow the moment seeing them in the Olympic stadium, lead by Sohail Abbas waving the flag was when the Olmypics began for me. Their slightly sombre mood seemed to reflect the sense of occasion for me – and my Twitter feed went crazy!
The 2012 Olympics will be remembered as the women’s Olympics. For the first time ever, every country had both men and women competing. Habiba Ghribi was the first woman ever to win a medal for Tunisia saying her achievement was, “for all the Tunisian people, for Tunisian women, for the new Tunisia”. The British discovered long overdue love for their women’s football team, reinvigorating the sporting spirit in an otherwise over-commercialised game.
• Manteo Mitchell
Bolt, Farah, Rudisha were all winners, but more incredible still is running 200m on a broken leg for the sake of the team.
• Oscar and Kirani
Seeing the first ever disabled athlete to compete in the 400 metres heats was moving enough, but when winner of the heat Grenada’s Kiyani James swapped numbers with Oscar Pistorius at the end of the race it confirmed the athletes support for the double amputee. The Grenadian went on to win his country’s first ever Olympic medal – a gold.
• Horses Dancing
The Olympic introduced me to sports I never knew existed. Dressage, not just because Britain did so well in the medals, but because I never knew horses could dance.
• Cricket at Lords
Sadly not an Olympic sport, but London has made the most of Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake being in town. Last week he was the first non-cricketer to ring the bell at Lords to signal the start of the test between England and South Africa – not because it was a publicity stunt, but because arguably Jamaica’s hardest training athlete loves the sport. He and team mate Usain Bolt are both championing the inclusion of T20 in the Olympics and he claims to have a bowling speed of 90mph. Blake shows you don’t need to be just good at one thing.
Debate is raging in Britain about whether the Olympics was mere PR for Britain and whether the British government has enough cash and motivation to invest in sports for young people. Nevertheless, memberships to athletics clubs has increased and bicycle sales have gone through the roof. My sons now want to learn how to pole vault and competitively swim. We can only hope that all the trainers that were snatched from burning, broken shops last summer in London’s riots will be put on feet and used for what they do best – moving onward and upward – quickly.
Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.