Mon, September 23, 2013

London set to seize the moment

By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency


The sun glints through the flags of nations taking part in the London 2012 Olympics in Parliament Square, central London, July 26, 2012. (REUTERS)


LONDON - It is the great moment now, the one that has finally arrived, blood-rushing and expectant that the London Olympics will be all that they were promised to be when they were stolen — yes, stolen, with dazzling political opportunism by Lord Sebastian Coe and that other slick operator, Tony Blair — from under the haughty nose of Paris in Singapore seven years ago.

There is reason to believe London can seize this moment as well as it worked the larceny on that dramatic day in the Far East when the French, armed with a bid that boasted an infinitely superior sports infrastructure and record of nurturing its young sports people, were left ashen-faced in their disbelief.

Why not London if you want a spectacular show? They have been going on here since another Queen Elizabeth came up the Thames in a barge. Sir Chris Hoy, a ready-made knight, is plainly capable of acquiring more pieces of gold for a cycling team which won such honour in Beijing and which also unleashes the ambition of Tour de France warrior Bradley Wiggins and the brilliantly quirky Mark Cavendish.

Heptathlete Jessica Ennis has shown she can compete at the highest level and says she is steeling herself for a lifetime performance.

World champion Mo Farah, the adopted Briton who has been embraced for his dedication that carried him to a new world to make a new life, may go in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres — and face the challenge of resisting the latest wave of natural-born distance runners from his native Africa.

The rowers, heirs to Sir Steven Redgrave, will battle again at the highest level with reigning Olympic champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter at their head.

No, this is not the roll call of a bankrupt sports nation.

In Beijing, with the support of funds swollen by the desire for a competitive team when the world arrived on these shores, Britain won 47 medals, including 19 gold. This was a statement of most serious intent and four years on there is reason to hope, despite the escalating pressure that inevitably attaches itself to a home competitor, of at least as significant an impact.

But there is another shoe to drop at these Games and it will take years from the extinguishing of the Olympic flame for it to happen. Then, we can only hope that the politicians now picking up their free tickets for a peek at Usain Bolt in the 100-metre final and all the corporate hucksters have retained at least some of their interest.

We are talking about what should be at the heart of this Olympic performance.

We are talking about the possibility that Britain, when the party is over, will be making genuine strides away from the status of one of the sick nations of European and world sport.

The indicators are not so good. Indeed, the talk of the Olympic legacy has stalled to the point of embarrassing silence.

In Singapore, Blair talked about this great opportunity for the youth of the world, perhaps forgetting that the scandal of selling off school fields was quite as shocking under his government as those of the Tories.

Coe went even further. In the glow of victory he announced, “This is just the most fantastic opportunity to do everything we have ever dreamed of in British sport.”

Many who work in the grassroots of British sport would settle for something less than Coe’s dream. They hope simply for some help in their effort to wean young people in the inner cities off the physical stagnation of their lives. They would be happy if the health of the nation’s youth, its ability to find some horizons beyond the street corner, is given some attention.

Its brings us back to the question that over the next few weeks will be at the forefront of any debate. It asks: What are the Olympics for?

Are they for political aggrandizement and corporate profit? Are they for the celebration of celebrities such as David Beckham?

The critics of the Olympics, now waiting in ambush around every corner, will tell you quickly enough their views on what these Games are mostly about. They will say they are for the benefit of a great, moving city state which every four years stakes out new terrain for plunder.

They will say they are as much about money-grubbing as glory, they will point out the drug corruption that lays behind so much of the success and that for so many years was never truly engaged.

Yet they tell only half the story. They do not tell you how it is when a Usain Bolt or a Carl Lewis reaches out and achieves the impossible, they do not evoke the memory of a Redgrave making his last winning effort on a sunlit Sydney morning or all the emotions that crowd together when an Olympics is over, when the flame is shut down and all the hopes and the fears have been gathered in.

What we can only hope for now is that a neglected section of a great city will have a new sense of itself and a swagger that comes sometimes when you are part of great events.

We can hope the show goes well and carries all of those old redemptions, moments which are sealed in the memory for ever with the stride of a Bolt or maybe the leap or the throw of an Ennis, and that we can say, yes, maybe it was worth it.

And what would be the best measure of this? It would be the ultimate legacy, the kid inspired to change his life and see the world in an entirely different and infinitely more optimistic way.