Love, sweat and tears: the real Olympic family

If you thought the athletes were the only stars of the Olympics, think again. Their parents are in the running too

Minutes after Chad le Clos did the unthinkable on Tuesday night and out-swam a man who, minutes later, confirmed his status as the greatest of all Olympians, his rather less athletic father went one better and managed to upstage them both.

Bert le Clos looked as if he might explode when his boy beat Michael Phelps by a fingernail in the 200m butterfly final, but it was in a post-race interview with the BBC that the South African revealed what sport can do to an Olympic parent.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable!" he told Clare Balding as his son's victory was replayed on screens in the Aquatics Centre. "Look at him, he's beautiful, I love you." When his own image flashed on to the screen, Le Clos asked whether the interview was being broadcast live. "I have never been so happy in my life," he added. "It's like I have died and gone to heaven."

Behind the emotions of the athletes, in these Olympics we have watched a greater range in the faces and contortions of their mothers and fathers, who have provided some of the most touching scenes of the Games. Television directors have become wise to the goldmine in the stands, zooming in on relatives to show what all the sacrifice and expectation can mean when it's your boy or girl performing down there.

When the US gymnast Aly Raisman swung and leapt about the uneven bars on Sunday night, her parents went through a routine in the stands that looked almost as physically draining. Lynn and Rick wriggled and writhed in a clip, left, that has now gone viral, mirroring Aly while shouting: "Stick it, please. Stick it!" When she does stick it, they punch the air, realise where they are and collapse, exhausted. "We know how long and how hard she's worked, literally every day for the past 15 years," Rick said the day after.

Parents can provide emotional bridges between superhuman athlete and the mortal viewer at home. It takes something special to compete at the Olympics, but mums, dads, sisters and brothers have day jobs. They're like us, their own sacrifices notwithstanding, but for a few seconds beside a pool or a pommel horse, they must go through hell, powerless to help their offspring. It's like seeing off your child on their first day of school when, seconds later, school has the power to change everything.

There are cooler observers, of course. One does not holler when one's daughter is on her horse, though the Princess Royal did beam as she presented Zara Phillips with a silver medal and a hug (below) on Tuesday. The pushiest parents, meanwhile, will not always be pleased. "We expected gold but it is a very good achievement," said BS Narang, the father of Gagan Narang, who came third in the 10m air-rifle final on Monday.

Bert le Clos was wonderful, but it's unlikely a parent will ever create sporting drama as heart-wrenching as that which unfolded at the 1992 Barcelona Games. When British favourite Derek Redmond's hamstring snapped on the back straight in a 400m semi-final, he picked himself up, determined to hobble to the line. Terrified his son would make his injury worse, Jim Redmond fought his way on to the track to stand by his son. Derek stopped and wailed on his father's shoulder. And then they finished together, father supporting son in a way few Olympic parents will ever manage to do, and 80,000 people cheered through tears. If you haven't already done so, watch it and weep: ind.pn/redmonddad.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
and  

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

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?