Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

After the Olympics

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
In the post-Olympic world, everything creaks and groans and settles itself back to normality. Mr Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, a tremendous devotee of Ayn Rand called Paul Ryan. France and Germany have released their economic growth figures to reveal that there is no growth. (The markets were braced for much more dire results; no growth is now regarded as a triumph, and the bourses and exchanges all went up on the news.) If you want real bathos, the number one most read story on BBC Scotland’s news website has the headline: Women injured in toppled toilet. Some mean youths, defying the Olympic ideal, pushed it over for a lark.

The weather has reverted to its previous sulky state. Practically the moment Boris handed over the flag, it started raining again, as if the very sky was mourning. I went up to the horse this morning through hills swathed in cloud. You just drive into the cloud, and stay there; it’s quite disconcerting.

And yet, I keep getting happy little flashes of the last two weeks. They are mostly undifferentiated ones of ordinary people smiling and whooping, of crowds going wild with delirium and waving their flags, of walls of sound. (My niece’s husband worked as a technician in the Excel centre, and reported that during the boxing he clocked the crowd noise at the same number of decibels as a Formula One racing car. ‘I think it’s actually illegal,’ he said. ‘I’m surprised health and safety didn’t have something to say.)

I remember the ecstatic rowers and the weeping cyclists and Wiggo and his sideburns and the way his fingers caressed the handlebars of his bike as if he were playing a Bach suite. I remember the horses, jumping and dancing and running their hearts out. I remember the amazed athletes, who never thought they would get near a medal, and the crushed ones, who wanted the gold so much that silver was no consolation. I remember one little boy, caught on camera by the BBC, right at the beginning, saying: ‘It’s like being in Wonderland.’

If I am at all prone to gloom and post-party crash, I just have to think of Mo Farah, and his long, defiant stride, and his disbelieving, ecstatic face. For some reason, he has become my symbol of everything that was good about the games. On sheer physical achievement, he goes right to the top of my list. I can hardly run round the corner, let alone cruise at speed over ten thousand metres. Also, he seems like a really, really nice man.

One of the things that has struck me about these games, about many of the competitors, but the British medallists in particular, is how polite they all were. They were always thanking everyone and paying tribute to the people behind the scenes and apologising if they felt they had let people down. I still don’t really understand how getting a bronze is letting people down, but some of the elite competitors clearly feel that only gold is good enough for a home games. I heard a man on the radio say that the psychology of sport is changing. It used to be that you were told to be a winner you had to be ruthless; that winners were often not very nice people. Apparently that idea has shifted. There is much more emphasis now on good character and teamwork.

I don’t really know about legacy. There are certainly an awful lot of cyclists about on the roads where I live, many more than normal, all zooming about at top speed up the hills, dreaming of Sir Chris Hoy. (The farmers look slightly disconcerted, as they are trying to get the harvest done, and find their tractors hemmed in by packs of mad bikers.) Perhaps though, legacy won’t be so much lots of young people deciding it is a glorious thing to run fast or jump high or kick or punch or ride your way to the Olympic podium. Perhaps they shall have seen that it is perfectly possible to be a brilliant winner and a very courteous human being, all at the same time.

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