I don’t think I can remember quite such a low key Olympic Games. It’s not really surprising after the Games being delayed for a year due to Covid. As the numbers of infections rose in Japan over the past few months I think we were all still half expecting the whole event to be postponed again but the decision was made and here we are one week in.
The last time the Summer Olympics was in held in Japan was 1964. It’s the first Olympic Games I remember for 2 reasons.
The first is that we bought the record single ‘Tokyo Melody’, the music used by the BBC for their TV coverage. It was one of a very few records we had outside of Welsh hymn singing and The Salvation Army Band’s Christmas Collection. The blue Dansette record player lived in the parlour of my Grandmother’s house and I still remember being fascinated by how you would place the record on a spike in the middle of the turntable and click the button at the side to start the table spinning. Then the record would drop onto the turntable and the arm would magically cross to just the right place to make the music play. I would often get quite dizzy watching the record spin and spin.
The second reason I remember those games was Lynn Davies, Lynn the Leap, the Welshman who won Gold in the long jump. Of course, the Olympics was in black and white back then, but those images have stayed with me ever since. That was the day Lynn became a hero of mine. By the time I actually got to work with him at the BBC 20 years later I still found it hard not to want to talk to him about that ‘jump’.
As with all Olympic games the first week or so are away from the athletics stadium. It’s a chance for us to renew our intermittent love affair with more unusual sports.
Some sports raise more questions than answers. I can quite see you might organise a competition between horses and riders about who can jump the highest or run the fastest but who on earth came up with the idea of dancing horses. Having said that after a couple of hours of watching the dressage its amazing how quickly we all become experts on…Piaffe (trotting on the spot), Leg Yield (that bit were the horse skips across the ring by crossing their legs over each other) and The Pirouette (turning through 360 degrees).
Fair play to Charlotte Dujardin who became the most successful British Female Olympian of all time this week by winning her sixth medal in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Its hard to tell exactly how old Charlotte is because of the very smart Dressage uniform and helmet she has to wear but I’m pretty sure she’s still got a number of games in her and the chance to extend her medal collection further in years to come.
This year has seen the introduction of Street Skateboarding and if you ask me they are simply asking for trouble. If you haven’t seen the competition, the stadium where they compete is made up of ramps, steps and handrails pretty much like you would see in the centre of any city. They then proceed to skate full pelt down the ramps and slide and skid over the handrails whilst flipping their board mid-air, before hopefully landing and doing it all over again. The big star this week has been 13 year old Momiji Nishiya who won the first ever Olympic Gold in the sport. No wonder most of the contestants are teenagers, I’m sure their knees and ankles won’t make it past 25!!
Team GB has had tremendous success in the pool. It seemed that every morning this week I’ve been woken up by pictures of swimmers hugging each other and their medals. It’s also been fantastic and very moving seeing their family and friends all having pool watching parties back here in the UK because they haven’t been allowed to travel due to the pandemic. Of course, just as horse and riders have found unusual things to do to compete against each other in the Olympics a swimming pool offers all sorts of combinations for competition.
In the pool you can race against each other either as individuals or in teams. You can breast stroke, back stroke, butterfly or freestyle or a mixture of all 4. You can have boys against boys, girls against girls and a fantastic competition which puts boys and girls together in the mixed swimming relay.
Of course, I’m now something of an expert on this subject having heard the various strategies explained on the BBC world service Olympic special. It’s generally accepted that boys swim faster than girls so…do you lead with a slower female swimmer and have the boys play catch up or do you go boys fast first and expect your female swimmers to get caught later on? Hmmm!
The problem is that if a team gets too far ahead they can create waves which are almost impossible to fight back against even for a strong swimmer. As someone explained it is the most exciting of competitions because you don’t actually know who is really winning until the last 50 metres.
Back to competitions in the pool, as well as racing in the pool you can also compete in artistic swimming (formerly known as synchronised swimming until 2017). Here teams and duos, dressing in spectacular outfits perform amazing feats of strength and agility whilst smiling all the time. Their performance starts from the moment they take to the stage, and its set to music. It’s a combination of the opening routine to Strictly Come Dancing whilst trying not to drown. Its stunning and exhausting and as someone who has trouble staying afloat by doing a doggie paddle I think everyone competing deserves a medal.
Finally, if you have a swimming pool you can always jump into it. Tom Daley has been going to the Olympics since 2008. When he went to Beijing at aged 14 he was the baby of the team. Tokyo 2020 is his 4th games and he’s still only 27.
The thing I keep reminding myself is that people who compete in sports that only seem to feature at big sporting competitions still have to carry on practising every day. We might only become experts every 4 years, but they have to dedicate themselves all year around. Now for someone like Tom you would think with so many other things going on in his life trying to win an Olympic Gold might have lost some of its attraction, especially after getting so close in the past but just missing out. Some people might have said, ‘I tried my best, but it just wasn’t to be’.
Maybe it’s the past failure achieving that Golden Olympic dream that made this year so emotional not just for Tom but for all of us at home too. It was back in 2005 at the age of 11 that he said, ‘I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to win a gold medal’. There’s an old Bible proverb that says
‘a hope deferred makes the heart sick’
Ah, but when a dream comes true all of the disappointments disappear.
As Tom Daley stood on the podium wearing his gold medal the tears streamed down his face and I must admit I shed a tear of joy for him too. These Olympic games maybe seem different to normal, but they can still inspire delight and leave you an emotional wreck…just like always.