In troubled times we can take comfort from our place in the Olympic tradition

As even those of us who love it are aware, nothing makes sport look more trivial than when words routinely used to describe the one-sidedness of a sporting encounter - murder, slaughter, havoc, destruction, even carnage - are given a horribly literal context just a few miles from Lord's cricket ground and Highbury stadium.

Of course, it didn't take Thursday's bombings to show me that the exploits of flannelled fools and muddied oafs are unimportant in the great scheme of things, yet sport has exercised my tear ducts in the past, and it will do so again in the future. I can sit stony-faced through Terms of Endearment or any cinematic weepie (except, obviously, the bit in The Sound of Music when Christopher Plummer spontaneously joins his children's rendition of "Edelweiss"). But show me Pat Cash winning Wimbledon and clambering over the crowd to embrace his old dad, or a stricken Derek Redmond being helped around the running track by his old dad, or Matthew Pinsent's big strong jaw crumpling at the end of the coxless fours, or Kelly Holmes' wildest dreams coming true, or Sam Torrance holing the putt that won the Ryder Cup for Europe, or a faltering Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta, and I'm a basket case.

It's amazing how many of these emotional spectacles have been delivered by the Olympic Games. I've never thought of myself as an Olympic junkie: the sports that truly excite me - such as football, cricket, tennis, golf, horse racing and rugby - are either not Olympic events or do not look to the Olympics for their blue riband moments. And I really didn't think I was tremendously bothered whether or not London won the 2012 bid. Yes, I hoped it would, but wouldn't have been overly disappointed if it hadn't.

Yet when the time came for Jacques Rogge to make his announcement, I found to my surprise that I cared very much. And when the word "London" escaped his hitherto unreadable lips, a big fat tear set off from my right eye and accelerated towards my chin, from where it plopped on to my knee; a lachrymose version of the modern pentathlon.

Nobody knew then, of course, apart from a few terrorists bent on mass murder, that tears of pain and distress would follow quite so quickly. I don't suppose any city has experienced quite so much elation and quite so much heartache inside less than 24 hours, its citizens so eagerly looking forward to the best of which humankind is capable before being forced to contemplate the worst.

When Homer wrote 3,000 years or so ago that "there is no greater glory for a man so long as he lives than that which he achieves by his own hands and feet," he was thinking about deeds of sport, not slaughter.

But there are leader writers better skilled than I at conveying such sentiments. Let this column accentuate the positive, and look forward with glee rather than gloom to 2012, when London, no matter how many terrorist outrages it has suffered, will host an Olympic Games for the third time in just over 100 years.

The city already has an immortal place in Olympic heritage. The distance of the marathon was made official at the London Games of 1908, and marathon runners of republican leanings should be aware that it was fixed at 42.195km to represent the precise distance to the finishing line at White City from the terrace of Windsor Castle.

I learnt that at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne a couple of months ago, along with the fact that the Italian winner of the 1908 marathon, Dorando Pietri, was disqualified for receiving medical assistance during the race. But it was an honourable disqualification, unlike that suffered by Fred Lorz in St Louis four years earlier, when it was found that the American had covered part of the course in whatever passed in 1904 for a lorry. To the delight of the crowd, Queen Alexandra gave Pietri a gold cup anyway, and it is from that moment that the popularity of the modern marathon dates.

It is comforting, in these troubled, uncertain times, to think that the London Olympics of 2012, too, will be history one day, carefully and affectionately chronicled in Lausanne.

It is a splendid museum, and I heartily recommend a visit, if only to gaze in wonder upon the bra worn by Sunni Hughes, of Australia, who flashed it after scoring a goal during a women's football match against Brazil during the Sydney Games five years ago.

The note beside this truly historic exhibit read: "Cette brassière a connu la notoriété lorsque la joueuse dans un geste de joie a soulèvé son maillot..."

The English translation underneath was more prosaic. "The player gleefully lifted her singlet," it said.

Things work much better in French sometimes, if not, in the opinion of the International Olympic Committee, the 2012 Olympic Games.

By mid-morning on Thursday, however, it was no longer appropriate to gloat.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle