Riding the Olympic Bandwagon- a reflection on London 2012

This article was originally published shortly after the London 2012 games on the Student Standard. I’m putting it up here and now because I am so swamped in economics and slacking off from economics by watching game of thrones that I can’t think of anything to write.  

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The first I heard of the Olympics going to London was actually the first time I was ever there: I was on my first ever school trip outside of Ireland back in 2005.  Back in the day tubes, buses and park benches were covered in a simple slogan ‘BACK THE BID’. All the promotion I saw around London is probably my strongest memory of the city. From that cold March day in 2005 before the bid was even confirmed to actually witnessing these long awaited games flit by in two weeks, it really left an impression on me, the most unfit and un-sporty of all people.  Even the most cynical of us seemed at least partially interested in what’s probably going to be the closest Olympiad to Ireland in the foreseeable future.

The pre-talk was mixed certainly.  From the hideous “Lisa Simpson blowjob” logo to the rampant and alarming fervour with which phrases like ‘Summer games’ and ‘London 2012’ were copyrighted and defended was largely criticised.  Indeed in the very opening days of the games the masses of empty seats reserved for corporate ticket holders sparked anger.  Truly the real triumph of the London games has come from a marriage of a well-funded public sector backed by investment and propped up at the bottom by the staggeringly massive efforts of 70,000 volunteers.

The BBC coverage of these games was immense, every single event was covered.  Waking up each day to trampoline gymnastics, diving, cycling, swimming, judo – these were just the ones I managed to catch as they zoomed past at a tireless pace.  It became a topic of conversation in the house: ‘Did you see your one who did well in the sailing interviewed?’ ‘Ah no I was watching it on BBC, they had their fellas on.’  RTÉ valiantly covered every Irish moment of the games, whether cringe worthy flops in track and field or the domination Ireland showed in the boxing ring and on the sea at Weymouth.  Our clueless host provided unintentional comedy one day by repeating referring to a medallist from the Czech Republic as ‘the Czechoslovakian girl’ repeatedly and Kenneth Egan’s wardrobe watch proved as entertaining as anything else.

It was worth watching most of all for the surprises, such as the stunning win by Chad Le Clos of South Africa over the swimmer they said would sweep the medals, Michael Phelps.  Watching the gymnastics and feeling infinitely inadequate listening to the commentary say how the girl who just back flipped five times across the floor and vaulted six feet into the air will probably score low due to being a bit crap.  ‘Bolting’ at people when they enter the room became my standard mode of greeting, as well as arguing over who was using drugs or not.  ‘Oh she’s well on the roids, look at her, COME ON.’

The Olympics managed to get even the biggest of cynics and sport phobic hooked – I will never forget where I was when I watched Katie Taylor in her first Olympic bout against Natasha Jonas.  I was in the bar of my gym, along with my mother who decided along with me to finally bite the bullet and get fit again.  Along one side of the bar is a glass window providing a viewing area to the swimming pool below, where gathered on the poolside an anxious gaggle of dads in swimming trunks craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the fight on the telly, while people mimed the scores down to them by holding up their fingers.

This has not only been an immediate games for Ireland for its proximity to us but for the success the team has had, in a performance equalling our medal haul of 1956: a stunning gold from Katie that I need not elaborate on (everyone else is), three bronze (Cian O’Connor clinches his redemption after the bitter disappointment of his 2004 gold being stripped) and a silver.  Agonising near misses at bronze and gold for Rob Heffernan and Ananlise Murphy must also be noted along with a fabulous showing from Natalya Coyle finishing ninth in the Women’s modern pentathlon and the spirit of Joanne Cuhudy pulling us up from 8th to 5th in the women’s relay.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s antics were golden, from his classic BOLT pose, to his nonchalant appearance as he breaks world records he’s a riot.  Highlights include doing push ups after breaking the world record for Men’s 100m relay and making the life of one young volunteer by giving him a fist bump before he swaggered off to race.  Bolt is a classy, classy man.

It’s been the one fortnight in four years that most sports see the light of day beyond Eurosport, and long may it be remembered.  The endless drudge of English professional football, golf, occasional Rugby and some GAA eventually desensitizes a person to how thrilling sport can be.  Flicking on the TV for the last two weeks has been a lucky dip- what country is kicking ass at what excellent thing next?
London 2012 will hopefully prove the gate way drug for those previously uninterested to take more interest in sport.  While before perhaps looking inanely at the Sunday footie and going ‘this is the same every damn week’ hopefully more people will stand up and go ‘Hey… I think Imma go run a marathon/Jump on a trampoline/…dive into a body of water in tiny speedos from a great height.
London 2012 was described on RTÉ  as the Italia ’90 of this generation, and this writer is inclined to think that for once RTÉ got something right.

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Niamh ‘Still remembers Atlanta ’96’ Keoghan

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