No sack race? What's Olympic about that?

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The Independent Online
So far I have avoided all sight of the Olympic Games, except for an accidental glimpse of a Bulgarian girl standing upside down on a piece of wood, but yesterday I did hear a report on Radio 4 that the athletes themselves are unhappy at the arrangements in Atlanta, as the organisation and transport situation is said to be catastrophic.

By coincidence I went to my son's village school sports day yesterday and the contrast was tremendous. Everyone had fun, everything started on schedule, and everything was over before lunchtime. Yes, the Olympic Games could learn a lot from Westwood School.

For a start, it was compact. It started at 9.30am and was all over by 11.30am. During that time more than 40 events had been run, ranging in complexity from the bean-bag race to the mothers' egg and spoon race. This involved a lot of sophisticated apparatus - getting the right number of bean bags on the course, or clearing the track of hoops after the hoop race takes some organising, yet it all went like clockwork. And if there were any technical hitches, the organiser of the games herself, or what is technically called the headmistress, was there to call out: "Angela! Take that toddler off the track, would you?" I bet they don't have a hands- on head of the organisation like that in Atlanta.

And there was a great spirit of fairness abroad. It was not only the winner who got the cheers, it was the losers as well. In fact, in some races, the person who came last had more cheers than the winner. Indeed, I noticed that the people who came just last were not cheered half as much as those who came a long way last and were in danger of being overtaken by the leaders of the next race.

The only thing that the school sports day did have in common with Atlanta, perhaps, was media coverage. I may have been the only parent there who did not have a video camera to hand. Technology has clearly affected the games in other ways as I noticed that none of the egg and spoon races were egg and spoon at all; they were golf ball and spoon.

I also noticed that anyone who dropped their golf ball in the egg and spoon race had to pick it up again using only the spoon, not their other hand, although one or two competitors did kick their golf ball a considerable distance before picking it up again, which is not entirely in the spirit of school sports.

On the other hand, I noticed that most competitors in the hurdle relay, if they knocked a hurdle off, turned round and went back and put the hurdle back on again before going on with the race. This was not part of the rules. It was simply an instinct for tidiness and order instilled in them by the school, and even if it tended to cost them the race, I think it shows the right attitude. Would not the Olympic hurdles races be improved if those runners who knocked their hurdles over had to go back and stand them up again instead of leaving a trail of havoc behind? I think so.

One other point of technique is worth mentioning. I noticed that nobody had quite decided which was the best way to get into their sack when the whistle blew for the start - whether to stand and put one leg in after the other, or sit and put the sack over both legs, then try to get up. Of course, you won't learn anything about this from the Olympic Games, because they don't have sack races at the Olympic Games, only really silly events like the women's 10-metre air pistol shooting and softball and synchronised swimming....

No, if it comes to a choice between Westwood School Sports Day and the Olympics, give me Westwood any day. No drugs, no tears, no commentators muttering, "She'll have to do better than this on the parallel bars if she is to stay in contention," no pretence that baseball is an international game or that Andre Agassi is an amateur, no false starts to any race, organisation like clockwork, prizes for everyone and no sign of a national anthem anywhere.

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