Friday, August 3, 2012
Last Friday, a British athlete, holding a corner of the Olympic flag, read the Olympic Oath penned by Baron de Coubertin – using the exact same words as were recited by the Belgian Fencer, Victor Boin at the start of the 1920 Olympiad held in Antwerp.
"In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams."
There was something in the air, the other afternoon on the roadsides around Weston Green, Esher, Kingston, Teddington and Hampton Court… not just a collective feeling of being part of a little Britain inhaling a bit of (British) sporting history. That was celebratory in itself but there was also that indefinable knowing that the absolute best won the day.
The Cycling TT is exactly that, a timed trial over a set distance; the fastest man or woman gets the Gold Medal. It is, as the French like to call it, the race of truth. Man (woman) against machine, wind, rain, road surface and adverse camber or otherwise… it’s dead simple, the fastest wins. And… it’s the Olympics = as blue a ribbon as it gets.
At the end of the men's race, Wiggins and the German, Tony Martin embraced; both had ridden to limits of endurance; one – the World Champion – roundly beaten by the other, the first ever British winner of the Tour de France. It was a poignant moment that epitomised all great sporting achievements; the best on the day won fair and square and the athletes themselves acknowledged it.
OK... so here's the bit I don't get...
Over the last few days, there has been total media (and public) outcry as some of the Eastern nations’ Badminton teams were clearly seen / shown to have thrown games. Reason being, they all wanted an easier draw for the next round… thus losing against an opponent they should have beaten meant an easier passage into that next round.
The public howled; the media growled and the authorities acted – all of those athletes were disqualified.
Yesterday, we had the bizarre sight of not just Britain but also China getting disqualified in the ladies team sprint at the Velodrome. For why? The commissaries (the judges) ruled that both teams had made an illegal move when their sprinter (in Brian’s case this being Queen Vic of Pendleton) went to the front at the start of her charge to the line (and a probable medal) outside the designated limit on the track.
Quoted in today’s Guardian, Pendleton was candid. "It was an illegal change. I came through about a metre too early. We are talking about one hundredth of a second of a mistake there. Jess (Varnish) moved up a fraction too early and I just saw the door and went for it, because that's my cue to try to squeeze underneath her as quickly as possible. We felt we were getting into that gold medal gear. But, now and again, rubbish things happen."
As much as the public booed in the Velodrome, as much as the experts stated it was a stupid rule, as much as it was virtually impossible to see the change over line (especially if you’re haring round a track in excess of 55kph), as much as the public felt cheated at not seeing the world’s best going head to head… Rules are the rules are the rules.
Bit of a bugger, but there you go – I mean, imagine if Usain Bolt gets to the 100 metres final next week and then false-starts..? That’s him done. No one’ll like it, 80,000+ people in the stadium and countless millions round the world viewing on TV will feel somehow cheated… but… that’s Usain B back to the dressing room.
And yet… last night we had the equally bizarre sight of Philip Hindes, the lead-out man for the men’s team sprint, crashing moments into the race. Did he have a mechanical failure..? Had he punctured..? (In which case, the rules state a restart is allowed). No… it seems not. He’d just made a lousy start. And knew it.
Quoted today in The Independent, this is what Hindes said, “We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really."
Maybe I'm just a bit old fashioned but I was brought up to respect (and abide by) the rules.
When I was much younger, I played a lot of Squash… dare I say it, I was pretty good. No, not International material but still darned good. One day, I came up against someone who was much better and was being roundly beaten. I tried a spot of gamesmanship but still got played off the court. A few days later, I mentioned my attempt at gamesmanship to my father thinking he would be pleased by my win-at-all-costs ideal. He was appalled. He told me, “If you’ve played to the utmost level of your skill but are beaten by the better player, no one can ever ask for more. Learn from that… practice harder and one day you’ll be the victor. But never, ever, resort to underhand ways of winning. If you do, the victory will just be a hollow one”
It’s been a principle central to my very being ever since.
I very much admire Sir Chris of Hoy – one of the greatest Olympians of all time regardless of nationality but, I’m really wondering how he feels wearing another Gold around his neck that 'appears' to have been obtained by a degree of stealth?