Kevin Garside: These Games are writing a parable for modern Britain, of equality and opportunity
The point has been to be part of this national rite, to bathe in the holy water of Olympic congress
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This is the big idea at the heart of the Olympic Games, Cool Britannia in shorts, and the British public is in thrall to it. A beaming young woman from Sheffield who, before this incredible odyssey began, few beyond the world of athletics could have picked from a line-up of similarly attractive women on a typical Saturday afternoon in Meadowhall, is arguably more popular now than Her Royal Gorgeousness the Duchess of Cambridge. Journalistic convention requires me to name her as Jessica Ennis, but I'm guessing you need no help identifying her.
At the same mad extravaganza some bloke from Milton Keynes jumped to Olympic gold and a British Somali ran into the sporting hall of fame. Like Ennis, Greg Rutherford (right) and Mo Farah entered this world with no advantage conferred upon them, save for that which nature bestowed. Indeed Farah's life chances in war-torn Somalia were less than auspicious. And when he pitched up, aged eight, in the great melting pot that is this sceptred isle, speaking barely a word of English, he still had it all to do. Now he will never have to open a door again. Arise Sir Mo, surely?
The campaign has already begun to have a roundabout in MK named after Rutherford. What greater honour could there be for a citizen of the unitary authority in the heart of England? Only a statue of his likeness placed among the concrete cows could top that. As for Ennis, the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is taken care of, that's for sure. No more macho overloading of that line-up. The fourth estate is already in a whirl over the sporting phenomenon raging about us. The BBC's Ten O'Clock News devotes the first half of the broadcast to the British gold rush while the Syrian uprising, the banking crisis (remember that?), the weekly summit to determine the fate of the euro and similar issues of global importance are shoved into a file labelled "other news".
A tacit thread that has yet to be fully understood or articulated is running through this very public gathering at the heart of our nation. The 80,000 who convened in the torchlit temple in Stratford were indeed blessed to witness first hand a night of unremitting joy, but you did not need to feel the heat of the Olympic flame on your back to be touched by the event. The iPhone is the umbilical link to Games Central. I watched Ennis breast the tape in the 800 metres some 50 miles north-west of the stadium in the very city that is home to Jumping Greg Flash.
Yes, on the concourse outside Milton Keynes, over the shoulder of a man with synthetic Wiggo whiskers attached to his face, and in the company of a splendid dame I am guessing was his mother, we watched one of the defining moments of these Games unfold in all its kaleidoscopic glory on a smart- phone. As a three-ball we met only as we disembarked the train, yet we laughed and cried like the oldest of friends. The mother of all sideburns had spotted my Olympic accreditation, which was taken as an invitation to commune and to emote. She, like me, had spent the evening in the Velodrome, an experience which for her was akin to some kind of sporting baptism. She knew little about cycling. The point was to attend these Games, to be part of this national rite, to bathe in the holy water of Olympic congress.
She, indeed most of us, are not so very different from the golden girls and boys bringing home the bacon for Britain. And that is a big part of the story that is unfolding before us. The Olympics is writing a parable for the modern age, recycling grand notions of equality and opportunity and rolling them out across one great meritocratic canvas. What could be more uplifting and affirming than the story of Ennis, a mixed-race kid from a post-industrial city in the North, penetrating the national consciousness by making the most of the gifts given to her at birth? For Ennis read Farah, Rutherford and the majority of those walking around the Olympic Village with gold around their necks. By their own agency have they raised themselves to stations considered impossibly high by most who share their modest birthright.
Is it any wonder politicians of every hue were putting themselves about the Olympic sites last week, despite looking every inch the anti-athletes most of them are? David Cameron spent longer on The Mall than Wiggo and the boys on the opening day of the Games and has subsequently delivered bulletins on the health of the nation from the Olympic Village. The Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, was out and about among the Lycra lads on the opening weekend. And the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has eclipsed Wenlock and Mandeville as the most visible mascot of the Games.
But this is not their utopia. It is ours, the ordinary folk of this land, and our offspring doing us proud.
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