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Sunday, 12 August 2012

The best part of the Olympics

The main Olympic games ends today - the Para-Olympics is just around the corner, and I always think it's a pity it doesn't get as much attention or funding - and I've been thinking about the best part of the games.

There were massive highlights:  Michael Phelps bowing out with the most Olympic medals any athlete has achieved; Chad le Clos taking gold from Phelps in the mind-blowing finish of the 200m butterfly, Usain Bolt loping home for gold in three separate races with the indolent grace of  a cheetah; Nicola Adams, Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor making history and taking gold in the women's boxing, Oscar Pistorius getting to the semis in the 400m. Mo Farah winning two golds and Jessica Ennis taking the Heptathlon gold.

There were moments of heartbreak too:  Shin A Lam weeping on the piste for 45 minutes after a time-keeping SNAFU of utter WTF proportions; Ntumba Silva being disqualified because his disgrace of a coach failed to check the stipulated weigh-in time, Tyson Gay missing a medal place by one one-hundredth of a second and unable to hide the tears.

But while those were highs and lows for both athletes and audience, they weren't the best part. The opening ceremony was great, and I'm pretty sure the closing will be too, but nope, not the best part of it. The best part was the spirit I saw displayed by athletes from around the world; the spirit that burned.

It showed when Phelps took le Clos round the pool as the new Olympic champion, both of them beaming at the audience. It showed when Kirani James switched his running bib with Pistorius after the semi, with James taking first place and Pistorius finishing last. It showed when what seemed like half the athletes in the games made it obvious that they supported Ye Shiwen over some very unfounded sour-grape like remarks made by various commentators and coaches. It showed when her fellow team members quite firmly put  a presenter in their place for moaning when Rebecca Adlington didn't achieve gold and obtained a bronze instead. It showed every time an athlete cheered for and congratulated their competitors, or commiserated with them after an event. It showed when they wept on the podium as their national anthem played.

Forget the politicians scrambling for sound-bites and making encouraging noises over sports (it might help if you'd - oh, I dunno - stop cutting the funding, maybe?), and the grand-standing in the media. Forget the pressure put on every competitor to do the almost impossible and win - this is a competition, and somebody has to lose - and the almost predictable back-lash when medals aren't obtained. Forget Boris dangling off a zip-line and the rabid howling of the tabloids and the sheer idiocy of the "plastic-brit" controversy.

These people shone. They burned with spirit, with determination, with sheer guts - Manteo Mitchell finished his section of the relay on a broken leg, which puts him into the realm of bad-ass of the year for me - and they lit up the events they were in with the sheer joy of it.

They were beautiful.

They were why we watched the Olympics.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.