Olympic fever is a funny thing you know. There you are sat on a sofa shouting advice at the television as a perky young athlete does his/her duty for dear-old-Blighty at the Tokyo games - In a sport that until three days ago you didn’t even know existed. The term ‘instant expert’ takes on a whole new meaning once every four years or so when the Olympic Games dominate the goggle-box.
I have always loved sport, indeed sometimes almost to a tedious degree, whereupon I could bore for Team GB as I will talk about yesterdays excitement at the badminton or yachting to anyone who will listen. Thinking about it - if the Olympics weren’t taking place right now in August, you do wonder what news there would be to report upon apart from Covid-19 and Boris’s and Carrie’s latest sprog - such is the dominance of the Tokyo games on British television.
To be honest, we Brits were obsessed by the Olympics even in the bad-old-days, when we counted that one of ours not being lapped in the 800 metres as reason for national rejoicing. However, the biggest change in sport over the past couple of decades is not the fact that unlike our overpaid and pampered professional footballers, our athletes, cyclists, gymnasts, swimmers, rowers, sailors - deep breath…..boxers, shooters, shuttle-cockers (that’s quite enough sports thank you Frank: Ed) have gone from strength to strength.
Step forward former Prime Minister John Major! Mr Major, may not have had Mrs Thatcher’s manic certainty, nor Tony Blair’s glib charm, but many sports lovers like me believe that Mr Major in championing and driving forward the National Lottery, did more for our country’s sporting performances and long term legacy than any other single person or governmental policy.
I have just mentioned a whole host of sports that compete in the modern Olympic Games. Furthermore, there has been lively debates on social media where various sports - and as some would describe them as ‘pastimes’ have either been mocked because of there Olympic status, where others have been promoted for inclusion, think… Darts - Arm Wrestling - Mediaeval Jousting, Cricket, Bridge and Cheese Rolling, among many, many, others. My favourite tip for inclusion at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was - Hide & Seek as proposed by Monty Python way-back-when!
One thing is for sure though, the immense pride that ordinary people take in the performances of our Olympians. I managed to get a two-hour ‘pass’ the other afternoon to the pub around the corner from where we are staying. As I settled down with a big fat pint and a red-top newspaper for some mild excitement, the two chaps sat to my right opened a fascinating discussion regarding the finer points of dismounting a pommel horse at the end of a gymnastic routine “without catching your knackers.”
“Any more medals today?” as if they actually had anything to do with it, was a common refrain - as was “That American gymnast girl - you know the one who’s won everything and has gone a bit doolally, she is only 3ft tall you know?” Listening to people in English pubs is so rewarding I find, as well as being extremely costly. Apropos nothing: I will never again complain that a few drinks in a Mallorcan bar was a tad expensive.
My final observation regarding the Tokyo Olympics is the fact that the BBC commentators are either on the verge of hysteria most of the time, or are quite pleased to be part of the whole set-up and just rehearse one sporting cliché after another really loudly. Back in the ‘studio’ you have a group of former athletes banging on about not very much whilst one of them forgets to end certain words with a ‘G’ much to the disgust of some silly old fool on social media.
Then there are the medallists, who seem to do nothing but emote and go on endlessly about their athletic sodding “journey” and a half-crazed Nan in Hertfordshire, or some such place, who always thought they would win gold. Come on, whatever happened to truly restrained sports commentators such as Dan Maskell at Wimbledon, or my own favourite Jim Laker, who covered cricket on the telly years ago? For the whole of his commentating career, whenever a player struck a four to the boundary, Jim Laker would always say, “No need to run after that - it were a four the moment it left his bat.”
A bit limited I agree, but at least Jim didn’t go on constantly about focus, team-ethic, empowerment, plus mental health issues and all that balls did he? Jim Laker once took 19 wickets in a Test Match against Australia in the 1950’s. On reaching this unlikely but historic mark, Jim Laker hitched up his cricket flannels, received approximately three brisk handshakes from his teammates and celebrated with a pint of mild-and-bitter and a Woodbine on the ‘Home’ balcony at the close of play. Dan Maskell was a very different type of cove.
Funnily enough, the only thing that I can ever remember Maskell saying during commentary was the succinctly non committal “Oh, I say!” and on other, but very few occasions - “Oh, I say, well played.” What about the late great Murray Walker? I know that understatement wasn’t exactly his thing, but a Grand Prix has never been quite the same since he hung-up his microphone, particularly if he had the extremely droll James Hunt alongside him to occasionally shut him up. I think the appropriate saying goes something like this - “Sometimes less is more.” Or in a very different context - “They thinks it’s all over….It is now.”