It's so difficult to outwit an octogenarian

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The Independent Online
FLAGS OF all nations fluttered around the rim of Wembley Stadium, just as they had exactly half a century earlier for the opening of the 1948 Olympics.

Gathered dutifully in the main stand next to Princess Anne, the recalled competitors of that Olympiad heard the recorded speeches of the departed: Lord Burghley and King George the VI, men gone from this earth, whose voices sounded here as they had 50 years previously.

The applause of 85,000 long-gone spectators thundered through the empty stands.

On the scoreboard, the words of Baron De Coubertin - "The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part" - stood proud, as they had done on July 29, 1948. This time, however, the message was brought to us by Coca-Cola.

And this time, there was a feeling of impatience, rather than celebration, in the air which centred around the media corps - of whom, OK, I was one - waiting to interview the star of those Games, the 30-year-old housewife and mother-of-two who defied the critics to win four gold medals: Fanny Blankers-Koen.

Aged 80 now - as she would be, given the way time works - her blonde hair, though shaded with grey, was still as lively as she was. While the press men waited and the band of the Scots Guards trumpeted, boomed and oompah-ed their way back and forth across the Wembley turf, she waved cheerily to her companion on this special day, who would very shortly join her in the car that was waiting to take her to the airport for her return flight to the Netherlands.

As in 1948, Fanny missed her home. But for now, however, she was content, tapping her hand to the military beat on her lime green trouser suit.

The tune was "My old man said follow the van..." you know the one. Then they went into "Ma, ma, come and make eyes at me down at the old Bull and Bush..."

The camera crews slowly gathered about the frail but lively octogenarian like the birds in the Alfred Hitchcock film. Fluffy booms were angled to within inches of her brow. Lenses were focused. Reporters with furrowed expressions lent forward with their microphones, waiting, waiting... for that military music to stop.

These medleys. It's so clever the way they keep moving them along. We were on to Mary Poppins now - "In the most delightful way". Then, smoothly, into "Knees Up Mother Brown".

There was a massed raising of eyebrows. "Two more minutes," an organiser assured everyone.

The last oompah echoed away. The moment had arrived, and FBK skipped nimbly back to her tawdry plastic seat to face the questions. "So," began the foremost interviewer. "Can we start..." But it was the music which started again.

"Land of Hope and Glory" this time, which caused the media throng to rear back as if someone had slung something disgusting into their midst.

FBK clearly loved "Land of Hope and Glory", tapping her foot approvingly, clapping along and beaming over to her would-be inquisitors to share an enjoyment which elicited no more than a couple of strained smiles.

At last, the sound of silence returned. To be swiftly broken by a word from our red jacketed master of ceremonies: "Now ladies and gentleman, will you please kindly rise for the Olympic anthem."

It was, as these anthems so often are, a stirring and lengthy composition, dwindling and rising to innumerable crescendos and diminuendos.

Outside, surely, the FBK limousine was already ticking over, her chauffeur consulting his watch. Then, finally, there was silence once again. The press bustled forward once again. And the MC stepped forward once again. "Ladies and gentleman, will you kindly now stand while the Royal party take their leave of the stadium."

FBK looked over to her friend again, amazed with mirth. Here was a fresh memory of Wembley for her. "And all those reporters there waiting for me..." She looked as if she would enjoy dining out on it.

The royal party had gone now but the MC had not. "I'm sure," he said, "You would now like to show your appreciation of the Scots Guards."

The music swelled once more.

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