We are not all of us destined for Olympic greatness. I learnt as much at the swimming pool last weekend, where aquatic locals are divided into slow, medium and fast. Personally, I'm a medium but I like to be a medium in the slow lane to ease the performance anxiety. A big fish in a small pond, if you will, and a constantly impatient and slightly irascible one at that.
Will similar etiquette be observed at the Olympic pool? Will the men all splash far more than is necessary just to exert some sort of patriarchal authority over those of us with chemically treated hair that we don't want to get wet? Will they swim down the centre of each lane, even though the sign clearly states you should paddle in a clockwise direction? Will anyone's groovy new Team GB kit unravel and unfasten itself, as my swimsuit did last week, displaying a rather different set of medals to all and sundry?
As much as I love the idea of all those hard-bodied Olympians also having to queue for grotty showers full of plasters and negotiate screaming little hellians in water-wings, I can't help but think it'll be slightly different for them.
But it throws a nice light on our own, everyday Olympics, doesn't it? We might not be as lean or as tall or as talented as the titans currently adorning the sides of big red buses, but we muddle through to finish our lives as if they were races, whether we make the podium or not. While the relay race run in Stratford hinges on a baton being passed, it could just as easily be plates handed down from the cooker to the table. Or the TV remote, as it makes its endless circles around chairs and sofas; the car keys passed from wife to husband, from father to daughter.
When the Games start and our every conscious thought becomes tinged with a commentary like those blaring from all the electronic devices nearby, no doubt they will start to structure our lives. "He picks up speed as he passes the water cooler, really leaning into that right-hand bend by the photocopier and strikes the finish line just as Jacqui from marketing offers him a flapjack," yours might intone of a Tuesday afternoon.
"She's done it before, she knows what she's doing; she know she can do this, but it all rests on the next three minutes," your brain will no doubt chunter as you boil an egg, or make a cup of tea for your boss or try to text someone you really like and can't find the right words.
It isn't just about what you're doing; it's the scale of it, too. The Olympics make everything huge, despite the fact that the achievements in east London will dwarf our own puny victories by a factor. But Olympians deal in dream and aspiration; the Games are infused with a heroic sense of making the impossible possible. What's to stop us being epic in our own little ways with that sort of backdrop?
I rode my bike this week, for the first time after breaking my leg last year. And despite expecting my left leg to simply detach with every turn of the
peddles, it was fine. I made it. This is Olympic in its own way, isn't it? One of my sisters ran the London Marathon this year; the other got her personal best in the gym just days before she went back to work from maternity leave. These are the Olympics that deserve a bit of commentary, even if it just comes from the voice that bounces back and forth inside your own head.
When my friend texted me last Sunday morning to let me know she was at a charity 10k run, I was immediately humbled by her drive; I had spent that morning drinking tea in bed. She wanted my gossip from the night before.
"You're texting and running?" I replied. "Impressive. How much should I sponsor you?" "No, no," came the answer. "I'm a marshal. It's the most boring thing ever. Tell me you're doing something more exciting."
Yet the effort still seemed to me to be something close to Olympian. After all, nobody really wants to go and stand in the rain on a Sunday morning.
The Olympics should help us to revel in the tiny achievements we are capable of. That's how I'm determined to see them, anyway. I'm riding my bike again; I haven't cried for almost a month; I'm my own epic hero, whether my baton is of the relay variety or a stick of garlic bread.
And if you still aren't convinced, simply avoiding any mention of London 2012 will be a Herculean task in itself. But you'd do better to get involved: sit on your sofa and shout for our athletes; and eat your crisps and win your own gold medal just for being you. 1