With not long left of the Olympics, I’m on course to emerge on the other side with the same pointless, nagging regret that I do after most international sporting feats: that I clocked in here and there, caught the odd big moment and got a vague sort of a sense of it, but just didn’t fully immerse myself enough.
Full immersion: an increasingly wild fantasy with regard to any sort of even medium-length activity in adulthood, an inability to commit – which I blame lazily on the demands of new(ish) parenthood – but is, let’s be honest, far more to do with deeper-set attention span issues and the bloody ’Gram.
The good thing about the Olympics, obviously, is that it is a buffet comprised almost entirely of these bite-size (second lazy food metaphor clang) narratives: a chance to drop in on whatever’s on and within a few minutes have yourself properly pumped for the minutiae and micro-narratives of whatever niche sport you’ve never watched before and may never watch again.
A casual glance during a domestic lull last Sunday turned into a mesmerising 45 minutes watching the furious grace (and satisfyingly-reality show slow elimination) of the high jump, culminating in the #Tokyo2020Moment of Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi deciding to share the gold rather than compete in a final jump-off; a moment so delightful for the clear, instinctive mutual desire to resolve the issue this way (and then jump manically around in delight) rather than any Goldenballs-esque bet-hedging hesitation.
Pity the poor Belarusian who’d cleared the same 2.37m height as them but had more failed attempts in the competition so wasn’t offered the chance to join the Golds For All Club.
As far and wide as this moment has been shared and celebrated, the decision not to whittle the jumpers down to one winner – in a sporting arena so dedicated to whittling – rankled with a few, namely one notorious TV presenter with a reliably vocal position on how athletes should conduct themselves.
I get that viewers like to see a return on their emotional investment. Lord Sugar’s decision to take two people on as his apprentice in 2017 made me feel physically sick at how much time I’d wasted in getting to that point. And in a field where the competitors have actually dedicated their lives (no disrespect to Apprentice contestants) to the pursuit of excellence, one expects to see that physical obsession reflected in the athletes’ entire ideology.
A whole corner of the internet this last week seems to have been dedicated to debates about whether you should celebrate non-gold medals, an armchair perfectionism that was duly satiated by British boxer Ben Whittaker crying at narrowly missing out, saying: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold”. It was not a face that suggested his medal would be getting pride of place in his front room.
Well, it takes all sorts to make an Olympic village and perhaps – and this is exactly the sort of cack-handed diplomatic waffle that shows you where I stand vis-a-vis competitiveness – we should allow ourselves to be led by the athletes who are actually living this reality.
If they think they’ve done well enough, you’ve got to be pretty sure they have. And if they want to share, they get to share. That being said, if you’re reading this, Lord Sugar, who was really your favourite, James or Sarah? I simply have to know.
Ivo Graham’s rescheduled ‘The Game of Life’ tour begins in September
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