I know a little about equestrian events and can even be excited by them, but, while I was watching the Olympics this afternoon, I was totally gripped by the drama unfolding – man and horse welded into one being, raising the dust as they tore across the course (must be some sort of cross-country event I thought), leaping ditches, splashing through rivers (hmmm, must be a kind of steeplechase), then the rest of the team joined him (a team steeplechase?), then they stop to fire their rifles (aha, must be the team equestrian biathlon), the other team were in the distance and didn’t seem to be doing so well. Then the adverts came up. ‘We will return shortly to your Saturday afternoon film, Gunfight at Dodge City’. Oh, I seemed to be watching the only channel that isn’t showing any Olympics.
Never the less, another exciting Olympic day here. But are we satisfied? First we were moaning and carping because we hadn’t won a medal, then came the goldrush and somehow we just got used to winning, now there are beginning to be doubts about whether we should be winning so many. Isn’t that just so British?! On the other hand, I do wonder whether we place a bit too much importance on the gold medal. Or on medals per se. More on that in a moment. First I thought you might like to see the impartial BBC commentary box as Mo Farah took the gold in the 10,000m.
And here’s the commentary box when he gained double gold by winning the 5,000m.
Not the most exciting races I’ve ever seen, but you can tell that the last laps were electric.
But back to medals. Originally, winners were given an olive branch. Not even a special olive branch - just one from a wild tree that anyone could go and pick, if they wanted to, out in the countryside. Afrter that, winners came to be given an olive branch and a silver medal, while runners-up got a laurel branch and a bronze. Then, some Olympic hosts started giving cups to the winners. Finally, in the St Louis games, gold, silver and bronze were introduced. So now the object is to win a gold medal. The prowess of athletes is measured in the number of golds they have.
Of course, some athletes have a better chance of taking medals than others; Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics – a phenomenal achievement – but it was a trickier task for John Williams, another American gold medal winner in those Games, who won one medal for archery. But what chance did he have to win another medal? Not even a relay event in archery. But that’s a debate for another day. And then look at the reactions of the British silver medal winners, Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, who put so much into their double sculls race that they had to be carried practically from the boat and could hardly speak. Of course interviewing them then was bonkers, but that’s another story too.
So we have come from the day, when the honour was simply taking part in the Olympics, to today, when not winning a gold is somehow a total failure.
I don’t think we have too many medals and certainly not too many golds, but sometimes I wish they would devote less of the end of day round-up on television to positions on the medal table and the number of gold medals we have won (actually Russia has more medals than us; but we are above them purely because of our golds). Maybe we’ve placed too much emphasis on the trophies and not enough on the winning of them? I watched excerpts of today’s Mo Farah race on the news followed by the display of the medals won by each country to date and the shot of the medals table was longer than the clip of the 5,000m.
And don’t forget that sometimes the result is not purely based on athleticism. There were several falls or off-days or rules infringements that cost competitors a medal. Victoria Pendleton for example was disqualified from two cycling events that she had won, whereas she had never made those mistakes in reaching the same results in training. She could have taken home three gold medals instead of the one single one she won, all on a technical fault. And what about the team ball sports? With very few exceptions, there were no out and out expected winners; they all benefited from the odd fortunate score or fortunate miss. So is awarding gold medals to the winning team justified? Who can say? It’s based on the winning score on the day, regardless of who’s fastest, fittest or strongest in fact, so we accept the result and the medal awards.
But isn’t it wonderful when someone wins an exciting event?! And wouldn’t you like to have a gold medal for something? I think, after this two weeks, that I should get a gold medal for bouncing in an armchair and screaming (and, yes, it’s hardly believable, but it’s the closing ceremony tomorrow! And my spies tell me that it’s to be a celebration of great British music. So no Lily Allen then. But they are trying to get the Spice Girls back; apparently, there is too much happiness and smiling after the Olympics and they thought Posh Spice might help make everyone miserable again). Anyway, if you want a gold medal, I’ve just discovered you can buy one for £6 on eBay. Maybe that’s like going into the countryside and cutting a branch of wild olive after all?