Christina Patterson: The joy of the human body, unshackled

I grew up thinking sport was for boys, not girls. Boy, have we girls done well

Christina Patterson
Monday 13 August 2012 11:02

In the end, I wanted to watch it all. I couldn't, unfortunately, because of things like work, and people, and life. I couldn't get to the Olympic Park, because it never occurred to me to try to get tickets, and when I did, at the same time as two and half million other people, it was too late. But this year, at this Olympics, for the first time in my life, I really wanted to watch it all.

I hadn't watched the Olympics since I was a child. What I liked then, and what got me into a leotard, was gymnastics. The leotard, or at least the wearing of the leotard, didn't last. Neither did the waving of the tennis racquet bought because of Bjorn Borg. And nor, unfortunately, did any interest in any sport. My father and brother watched it all the time, but I grew up thinking sport was for boys, not girls. Boy, has this Olympics not just been for boys. Boy, have we girls done well. There we've been, if those of us who've been stuck on our sofas can dare to say "we", running like the wind, slicing through water and flying like a bird. There we've been, throwing spears and pointing swords, and powering pedals and hitting balls, and gripping wooden sticks, and metal poles, and hurling something that seems to turn into a flying saucer. There we've been, clenching our muscles and setting our jaws, and gathering every last ounce of our last strength to get there, to make it, to win gold.

And we have! We, if British women who didn't actually do it can dare say "we", have won more gold medals than ever before. It has been very, very nice to see all these British women winning gold. But it has also been nice to see British men winning gold, and Chinese men winning gold, and Jamaican men winning gold – and, in particular, one Jamaican man winning gold – and British men, and Russian women, and Kenyan men, and Dutch women, also winning silver and bronze. It has, apart from the people playing badminton who tried to lose, which wasn't much fun for the people who'd paid to see them, been very nice to watch it all. It has been nice for the reason politicians like to say it's nice: to see hard work get its reward. It has been nice to be reminded, or at least for those of us who have forgotten, if we ever knew it, to be reminded that sport can actually be fun. And it has been very, very, very nice to see what a human body looks like when it's performing at its peak.

Most of us know what a male body looks like when it's very fit, and very fast, and very toned. It looks, I think we can all agree, and so would he, like Usain Bolt. But the women who are presented to us every day as examples of what women are meant to look like don't look like Jessica Ennis or Christine Ohuruogu or Nicola Adams. They look, or most of them look, like women who think the muscles in your calves are what you use to stay upright in your heels.

Many of us, particularly those of us who spend our lives hunched over computers, particularly those of us whose idea of a good time is to swap a computer for a book, actually forget that what we live in is a body. We think a body is there for food and drink and sex. We think legs are what get you from wherever you're sitting now to wherever you're sitting next. We think moving the body is a chore.

These special men and women, in these special Olympic Games, at this special time for our country, have reminded us that the human body is as important as the mind. We may not know all that much about the journey that took us from animals hunting for our daily food to creatures that expect to get everything at the click of a mouse. We may wonder when it was that our bodies stopped being a tool for survival and became instead something that just gave pleasure or pain. We may think that, if we've never leapt, with poles, over wooden bars, or done backwards somersaults from a very high board, we're really not likely to now.

But we may also think that to see other people doing these things, and clenching their muscles, and setting their jaws, and gathering every last ounce of their last strength, hasn't just given us some of the best entertainment we've seen. It has made us want to do more with the body we've got.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in