14 August 2012


"Inspire a generation", the Olympic Games' motto told us: it's still hanging from lampposts all over London, rather like Colm's photograph was in south Dublin when I was there a few years ago. A few? Last century, I suppose. Or I could say last millennium, if I really wanted to depress myself, which I don't.

Like all good mottoes, that should make you think. Is it a statement of the organisers' hopes and wishes? Or an instruction to the rest of us? And which generation is supposed to be inspired?

Well, clearly, it's young people who the Games should ideally inspire. The ones who'll compete in four years' time in Rio, or in Games not yet "awarded" to anywhere. Tokyo 2020, perhaps, and - who knows? - Nairobi 2024. The victims of the mobile phone and computer games culture. But the more I think about its meaning, the motto (which becomes more banal the more one considers it) starts to irritate me. Aren't the Games supposed to be about inclusiveness? So why only a generation?

Many aspects of the Games inspired me (while many did exactly the opposite - "dishearten" is the best antonym to "inspire" that I can find), but I am certainly not of the generation that was supposed to be inspired - or the one before, come to that. The generation which the Games aim primarily to inspire must be Generation Y - and late Generation Y, at that. My birth date makes me a late product of the Baby Boom, not even Gen X. Perhaps I am not supposed to be inspired? Were the organisers trying to exclude me with their motto?

Well, I don't care. From the moment the Queen parachuted into the stadium with James Bond, to The Who performing (of course) My Generation, the Games were full of things to inspire. Not just gold medals, though, because:
Olympic Stadium, 9 August 2012, during the pole vault competition in the decathlon, which might explain the empty seats. A shame about the ghastly typeface, and why does the word "essential" take a capital initial?
Come to think of it, Coubertin was absolutely right and that's perhaps a better motto: but it's a principle of which many people seem to have lost sight. Silver and bronze medals seem to have come to represent failure, which perhaps means that British expectations have become over-inflated, although it is wonderful to see one's country in a respectable place in the medals table. Apart from the Queen's appearance, the most outstanding moment for me was when Kirani James exchanged bibs with Oscar Pistorious after their heat in the 400 metres. Another was Keisuke Ushiro in Group B in the pole vault in the decathlon, outjumping most of the Group A guys, and receiving great applause from a stadium which was regrettably far from full at the end of four hours of vaulting.

Of course, Mo Farah left a considerable impression too, and I found myself recently reading this article from the New Yorker about his coach, Alberto Salazar. It's as inspirational as anything I saw in the Olympics, and well-crafted unlike the utterances of most of the BBC commentators and interviewers, for whom "barely competent" would be a flattering assessment and who seem unable to string together a few sensible and correct words to make a sentence.

And on the subject of taking part as opposed to winning, there seems to be a lot in the American running blogs that I read about Ryan Hall. Was he right to try, given that he had niggling injuries? Did he deprive someone else of the chance of Marathon glory? Should he not have pressed on regardless rather than pull out? I was struck by his comment at the end of this article from the NY Times.

“It’s going to take a special day,” Hall said of his gold medal chances. “But I feel like I went for it, regardless of how the race goes. I’ll always look back on this as a season of joy. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the fun of life, taking some chances and seeing what happens.”
An admirable attitude.

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