The legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics some have hoped aloud is that more of us, still all geed up and whooping, will take part in sport. When I say ‘us’ imagine instead the unspoken target: some pre-teen lazybones hunched over her smartphone. Suddenly she’s shot-putting her pillowcase of junk food out the window and joining squadrons of her kind in the streets, hurdling bins, moonwalking like dressage horses, going all Beth Tweddle on lamp-posts. Healthiness being the age’s religion, this is seen as a good thing. Sport is good for you. It makes you a fitter biomechanical machine, and a fitter body is happier, lives longer and, though I have gone too far already, contributes more to society. Here I am at a sports publisher, and such a groundswell of interest in sport should have me licking my chops – moo-ha-ha! Allow me instead to pooh-pooh.
But why? Why emit a sales-sapping grump of a blog? Am I so cynical, so sour of puss, so easily prepared to kill joy and rain on the parade of something community-spirited and optimistic, something right-headed and good. I would hope so, yes.
And now I hold up exhibit A, my left ring finger in a splint. This is what sport has done to me. A detached tendon suffered while keeping goal in five-a-side football. Do not, I suggest, try to block a cannonball using your ring finger like a pool cue, tip first. The digit has contracted the deformity known as mallet finger and is now permanently bent at the top joint. It may never fully heal, and in the meanwhile I am forced to wear my plastic finger hat of shame – for weeks.
My question is this: In the light of such a catastrophe, how can anyone of passing sanity suggest that sport is good for you?
Like most people involved in such things I have an atlas of injury remnants across my body: from bone bruises and dicky joints to multiply shucked toenails. We are not alone. Sport leads to a continuous barrage of impacts, crunches, wrenches and body damage. They don’t call them tennis elbows nor swimmer’s shoulders for nothing. One of the Olympic equestrian team was discussing how commonly they break fingers after being thrown. A recent crash in the Tour de France was called the Massacre at Metz for the mangled piles of bodies and bikes it left behind, all their skimpy little bike vests in tatters, with gravel-rash oozing horribly through the holes. None of this is strictly speaking good for you, is it. And I suspect it is only the very luckiest of sportspersons who will not wear the brunt of some injury or other to the grave.
Sport is bad for you. So should we wish it upon pubescent slobs and those less disposed towards physical movement? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine, and probably the real impetus behind our participation anyway, is – no not self-esteem, goal-orientation, team-cooperative-learning-enhancement or some other policy-speak codswallop – fun. Sport is fun. Play it if you want. Unfortunately I will continue to.
Guest post by Jonathan Eyers
There are only so many guest posts you can write for a sports blog before you have to finally confess you’re just not that into the whole thing. It’s not that I’m apathetic about sport. In fact, since Euro 96, when my disinterest was punished with dead arms, I have actively loathed everything to do with it. The nadir of Gareth Southgate’s career was the zenith of my interest in sport. I imagine I enjoyed that penalty as much as the Germans did.
I could start ranting about how sport brings out the imperialistic tendencies of otherwise sensible people, but it’s not just the desire to avoid sounding like a tuft-bearded lentil-eating nineteen-year-old economics student from West London that stays my typing hand. Because the truth is, I’ve been just as enthusiastic about the Olympics as anyone. And all the naysayers and doom merchants just made me more so (except when they castigated the logo; they were right about that).
The only big national events we tend to do in this country are royal weddings, royal funerals and royal jubilees. Celebrating anything else is just a bit too American for us. Perhaps that’s why the Olympic opening ceremony has ensured Danny Boyle will be Sir Danny by January. We could all get behind this barnstorming vision of Britain and pretend the show was just for the rest of the world’s benefit. Because, of course, the rest of the world understands the shipping forecast…
Yes, the spirit of national unity and bonhomie didn’t last long, with partisan oiks from the Daily Mail to the Guardian claiming the next day that the ceremony represented only their worldview, and that it must have infuriated their political enemies, and that this was a good thing. But for the rest of us, the ceremony set the tone for not just a national event but an international one, and one which transcended sport.
I applied for about £1,000 worth of tickets, which was apparently pretty typical (though perhaps not for someone with my professed level of interest in sport). All I got was the fencing (men’s sabre final), which I ultimately enjoyed, but it was at ExCeL, out in the Docklands. I was disappointed not to get anything at the Olympic Stadium. It somehow didn’t feel like I was going to the real Olympics when I got off at Stratford and then went in the opposite direction to the Stadium.
So when I heard in early August that there were still tens of thousands of tickets for the Paralympics left, I made a beeline to get online, and looked only for events at the Stadium. I was in luck. Not only were there still tickets for athletics left, but some of them were in the £10 category too. (I do work in publishing, after all.)
One of the benefits of not being particularly interested in sport before the Olympics is that I was immune to any ideas of sporting celebrity. Most of the sportsmen I could name I had only heard of for their extracurricular activities (with or without their wives and girlfriends). The only Olympians I was really aware of before the end of July were Usain Bolt and Tom Daley. Even when I was seeing famous British competitors, I had no idea who they were. It didn’t really matter to me.
As soon as I started expressing enthusiasm for having got tickets to Stadium events at the Paralympics I picked up on this sense from some people that the Paralympics weren’t the real Olympics, and not in the same way that events at ExCeL hadn’t felt like the real Olympics to me. I definitely got the impression there was more to it, that the Paralympics are considered inferior because most Paralympians (Oscar Pistorius notwithstanding) are less famous (and for reasons few would openly admit, I’m sure).
Of course that wasn’t an impression borne out by the reaction of the crowd in the packed Stadium when 80,000 of us watched Mickey Bushell win his heat in the 100m. Decibels reached unsafe levels, I’m sure. (I can only imagine the sound level when he won the gold medal in the following day’s final.) It certainly all felt real at that moment, and any distinction between Olympic and Paralympic less so.
I could end with a slightly sourpuss suggestion that Mo Farah, Ellie Simmonds or Bradley Wiggins would be better role models than our much-idolised footballers, but instead I’ll finish in the same way my Paralympic experience ended, with tens of thousands of people singing our national anthem following David Weir’s gold medal ceremony. Listen carefully and you might even hear the American next to me swept up by the nation’s mood and joining in.
Feeling inspired by the success of the Brownlee brothers? Thinking of taking up Triathlon or just want to improve your current sporting performance?
Why not check out our Triathlon titles for guidance of avoiding injury, techniques and training tips for the swim, run and cycle. We even have a book on ultimate triathlons for those who think the traditional triathlon is a walk in the park…
Also coming later next year is a book on Triathlon for the over 50 by Ian Stokell – Triathlon for Masters and Beyond. Ian is one of the Guardian’s triathlon correspondents during the Olympics, but you can find more information on triathlon on his website: http://www.over50triathlon.com/
Dedicated sports lovers are we at Team Sport and huge supporters of British Cycling. Always close to the action, Charlotte Croft (Head of Sport and Fitness) cheered on Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at the Men’s Road Race last Saturday whilst standing in a holly bush on Box Hill. Now that’s dedication. Here’s one of her snaps of the day…
The tittering schoolboy version of the history of the Olympic Games would have us believe the Ancient Greeks used to strip naked, oil themselves up and then fight to the death in a stadium at Olympia. And believe them we should, because there’s an element of truth to all of that. London’s Olympic Games in 2012 might have billions of spectators (if only thanks to television), but the Ancient Olympic Games of 776BC onwards make Seb Coe’s pet project look decidedly staid.
The Ancient Olympics was originally established as a religious festival to worship the mightiest of Greek gods, Zeus. A colossal statue of him, built to preside over the stadium, was later designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Only Greeks were allowed to participate. After all, everyone else was a barbarian. This didn’t change for 500 years, until the Roman Empire conquered Greece, stomped its collective feet and demanded their own supermen be allowed to join in.
Naturally only men could compete. Some women were allowed into the stadium to watch, but only if they weren’t married or betrothed (which was probably for the best, given the Team Greece kit – see below).
Originally the Games only lasted for a single day, but then, they only consisted of a single event – the stadion race. This was a short sprint of about 700ft, which was the length of the stadium (the word ‘stadium’ actually having come from the name of the race). Eventually the Ancient Olympics were extended to five days and incorporated multiple events. Most fell by the wayside in the intervening 1,500 years between the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games (most lamentably chariot racing), but the javelin and discus have both remained staple events, whilst others have evolved.
In case modern boxing isn’t brutal enough, the boxers of the Ancient Olympics could weight their hard leather hand coverings with metal for extra pain infliction. There weren’t any rules against hitting a competitor when he was down either. Matches had no rest periods and no time limits – they went on until one of the men gave up, or died. Killing your opponent was not advised, however, because the dead guy automatically won the contest.
Pankration is another event that has disappeared from the schedules. Worryingly there would probably be plenty who would relish the chance to bring this fighting sport back, but health and safety officials would never allow it. The rules of pankration were quite simple. No eye gouging. No biting. And that was it. Spleen-rupturing kicks to the belly were allowed. Choke holds were recommended. Digging thumbs into your opponent’s trachea was an acceptable winning move. Elements of pankration have made it into mixed martial arts, but that pales in comparison on the violence front.
The more cynical amongst us might take a bemused look at Stella McCartney’s kit for British competitors and suggest the Ancient Greeks did it better when they competed in their birthday suits. However, nudity was not in fact the official uniform of the Ancient Olympics for the first 50 years, only being introduced by decree in 720BC. The Games were partly about celebrating the human body, after all. Competitors would rub olive oil over their bodies, both for cleaning and aesthetic purposes. Only in one event was anyone allowed to wear clothes – the armoured race. But even then, the only armour they could wear was a helmet and shin guards. There was still plenty of flesh flapping around in the sun. Interestingly, the word ‘gynasium’ comes from ‘gymnos’ – the Greek word for ‘nude’.
There were no gold, silver or bronze medals for the winners in the Ancient Olympics, just a crown made from an olive wreath, along with an olive branch and supplies of more olive oil. Bertolli, sponsors of the original 776BC Olympic Games, continue to prosper to this day, apparently.
Unfortunately it all came to an end in AD393 (or AD435, depending upon whose version of history you would shed blood over) when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (or II, depending upon – etc, etc) embraced Christianity and banned the whole thing for being just a little too pagan for Jesus. It wasn’t until 1896 that the ancient ideal of an international celebration of sporting prowess was born again, but that’s another story altogether.
By guest author – Jonathan Eyers (If you fancy checking out any of Jonathan’s other musings, his blog is jonathaneyers.com/blog)
You’d have to have been living under a stone not to be aware of the incredible Summer of Sport almost upon us. So, in order to whet your appetite, we’ve hand-picked a dozen tricky questions that will bring out your competitive instinct. Test your knowledge on some of the events sure to hog the back pages over the next few months. Enjoy!
Some nice easy ones to begin with:
Below are three well-known England cricketers who’ve got themselves into a right old muddle running between the wickets. Hopefully you’ll be able to help them out before the first Test Series of the summer gets underway this week:
1) WAS UNDER STARS
2) SPORTY MANE AN
3) NEW MANAGERS
The curtains have just come down on yet another highly entertaining domestic football season, yet with Chelsea’s upcoming Champions League Final appearance on the horizon, we thought we’d test both your British and European club-team knowledge of the beautiful game:
4) Who, in 1980, achieved what Sunderland did in 1979 and Villa did in 1981?
5) Which current Premier League manager became the first British player to lift the Champions League trophy?
Away from the domestic football scene, of course, looms Euro 2012. So, never one to shirk an easy link, here’s a question about it:
6) Spain was the last country to win the tournament in 2008, but which country, in 1960, was the first?
Now to one of Britain’s most feted competitions which, unfortunately, is likely to sit in the shade whilst the world watches London 2012. That’s not to say the quality of tennis should be any less enthralling though, so, to get you in the mood, here are a couple of questions that focus on great Wimbledon moments:
7) Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova hold the record for the most Wimbledon Singles’ titles won. If you multiply their titles together, what number do you get?
8) This year marks the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but which Brit was the last player to be crowned Wimbledon Singles’ champion when the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee?
And finally to London 2012, the cherry on top of the icing on the cake of a phenomenal summer of sport:
9) If Marathon is worth 13 points and Decathlon is worth 15 points, how many points would High Jump be worth?
10) In 1992, Britain’s Linford Christie won gold in the 100m, but what was his time?
a) 9.97 b) 9.94 c) 9.96 d) 9.99
11) Which three Olympic Games were cancelled due to World War I and World War II?
All square after eleven questions? Rather than settle a dead heat, this final question is designed to sort out the medal positions once and for all – let the first person to call out the answer be crowned Bloomsbury Sports Quiz Champion!
On your marks … set … go!
12) This sport might be a popular pastime with sportsmen and women across Britain when rain stops play. However, which number comes next in the sequence:
20 1 18 4 13 ?
NB: Remember to check back here in a week’s time for the answers.
Contributed by James Rennoldson, Sports Quizmaster Extraordinaire
Allegedly from David Coleman, British radio and TV commentator, at one of his many Olympic coverages, when he thought he was off air.
“These are the Olympics; you die before you quit.”
The great American discus thrower, Al Oerter, winner of four successive gold medals (1956-1968). For the third of these in Tokyo, he competed despite excruciating pain from a torn rib cartilage, strapped up and iced.