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Monday, 25 August 2008

The great Olympics heroics

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality," wrote the historian Macaulay.

Well, I think the British public in one of its periodical fits of Olympiamania takes a bit of beating. It’s hard to determine which is more tedious: the howls and lamentations when we get fewer medals than Bechuanaland or the torrent of nationalistic self-congratulation when we get lots – which seems to occur about once every 100 years.

Before any of you start sending poison pen e-mails in response to that, this is not to demean the achievement of those who won. The degree of self-sacrifice and determination required to get a medal hardly bears thinking about. But I think the great steaming torrents of slobbering praise bespattering all the national press trivialise those achievements.

Anyhow, I see some gormless Sun journalist thinks we must “pay tribute” for this to “a man who two years ago had the courage to stump up £500 million for our top athletes … Step forward, Gordon Brown.”

Just a couple of points of order here.

Does anyone with an ounce of brain think this success all came about suddenly within the last two years? I would imagine it takes a just a teeny little longer than that to become an outstanding athlete.

And how much courage does it take to “stump up” other people’s money. All Gordon had to do was wake up one morning and think “what can I do today to make myself marginally less unpopular? How about throwing a few million at the Olympics? Maybe the great British public will fail to notice these are their millions, silly buggers.”

Every winner of anything at the Olympics seems to have been described as a hero (or heroine). What is true heroism? I took time to think about this over the last weekend, when my partner arranged a surprise trip to Dorset for my birthday.

In a memorial outside the churchyard in Beaminster – a small county town – I saw engraved the names of those who died fighting in the First World War. Maybe there were 150 in all. But whole families had been near-wiped out. 10 members of just one family - the Pooles - died in battle. Two other families lost eight. Several lost five or six. God, what a price was paid to win that pointless war.

I think there were two V.C.s won by that small band of men. Amazing. Now they were heroes.

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