Chris Hewett: One in the eye for the man in the street who wanted to watch a spot of archery
The critic without a ticket: It seemed beyond bizarre to deny the sport its biggest moment on these shores since 1066
If politics is showbusiness for ugly people, as a wise man once suggested, Olympic-tinged politics propels its ill-prepared performers into a stardust land of their own imagining – into some neon-lit combination of Broadway, Sunset Boulevard and the West End, with a hint of the Cannes Film Festival mixed in for good measure. Twenty years ago, Neil Kinnock fell victim to the razzle-dazzle syndrome at a Labour rally in Sheffield and wowed his party to the most miserable of defeats at the ballot box. Did Boris Johnson (inset) recall the fine detail of that wholly avoidable electoral calamity before making a prize pillock of himself in Hyde Park? Apparently not.
It has long been obvious that the Mayor of our capital city sees something virtuous in his own pillockicity, just as William George Bunter believed gluttony to be a wholly admirable trait. If it is genuinely the case that the man has Prime Ministerial ambitions – we're talking BoJo here, not the Fat Owl of Greyfriars, although it's as long as it is short – he might be advised to gravitate towards gravitas. Unless, of course, the great British public go for Johnson for the same reasons the Italians went for Berlusconi. In which case, God help us all.
While the Mayor was spitting verbal darts in the direction of the American presidential candidate Mitt Romney – careful Boris: if those Mormons come knocking on your front door, there'll be more than one of them – a sports nut of rare dedication was flying all the way from Mexico to watch the opening rounds of the archery at Lord's, only to discover that the event was closed to the public and that the man in the street would be bloody well staying there. Seven years in the planning… and no entry to the great unwashed. Brilliant.
Now, it is fair to say that access to Lord's has, on occasion, been denied to individuals just a little more celebrated than the average bow-and-arrow enthusiast. If the oft-told story is to be believed, Sebastian Coe himself once had a problem with a Cerberus-like attendant who flatly refused to grant him admission. "Your gate is on the other side of the ground," he said, and on being advised of the mighty middle-distance runner's identity, he added: "In which case, you'll get round there all the quicker."
Yet as the only rival attraction yesterday was the medical inspection of the three-day event participants (horses, not riders), it seemed beyond bizarre to deny the sport its biggest moment on these shores since 1066. While archery was not a precise science back then – "Watch that bloke, Harold, he'll have somebody's eye out" – it is hardly a danger to life and limb under Olympic conditions. Im Dong-hyun of South Korea performed with such jaw-dropping accuracy in breaking the world record during the ranking competition no one was allowed to watch, it would have been possible to use the target as an armrest and be entirely safe.
Ironically enough, it might be a little more perilous as the medals are being decided today, when proceedings move from the Nursery ground behind the Lord's media centre to the holy of holies itself. According to Jonathan Agnew, the BBC's cricket correspondent and by some considerable distance the finest broadcaster in the sport, the archers will be aiming across the square and will therefore be subject to the same forces that routinely compel good bowlers, Agnew included, to drift outside leg-stump. On this basis, anyone watching from the Tavern side of the stadium may quickly find themselves in Bayeux Tapestry territory. So, for that matter, might anyone who mistakenly sets foot on Mick Hunt's pitch ahead of the forthcoming Test against South Africa. Hell hath no fury and all that.
Yesterday was almost entirely about the Opening (capital "o" essential) Ceremony (capital "c" ditto), scheduled to begin at the unfeasibly late hour of 9pm – unfeasible, certainly, if you recall that Bruce Springsteen had the plug pulled on him a couple of weeks back. Speaking as a simple West Countryman, these London types should think through their priorities. A late-night rendition of "Thunder Road", or a firework-festooned IoC shindig in the East End? No contest.
Just as there were no contests to be viewed on the television yesterday – a fact that drove dedicated Olympophiles into the wide-open arms of Radio 5 Live, where the preview hype was in full swing pretty much throughout the day. We heard from anyone who had anything to with a member of Team GB, however famous or anonymous. There were mums and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, teachers, lecturers, former coaches, vicars and priests, father confessors, philosopher kings… every last person with any claim to a meaningful association present or past, barring probation officers and gynaecologists. Interested in the school reports of Jessica Ennis? 5 Live had it all down pat, chapter and verse.
And all the while, the first proper Olympic sport – football? oh puhleeese – was unfolding in secret, away from the prying eyes of the poor deluded fools who turned up to cast an eye. Tomorrow? Boxing in Wormwood Scrubs. Monday? Taekwondo at MI6. You know it makes sense.
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