True athletes like Bradley Wiggins can inspire us to a brighter future

It is all too hilariously accurate. We Olympic committee types really do sit around and talk about “legacy”, “sustainability”, “diversity”, “inclusivity” and “multiculturality”, and contained within those woolly abstracts are of course many good things. But when the Games begin this week they won’t be remotely inclusive — not on the track, not where it counts. They will be elitist, ruthlessly and dazzlingly elitist. They won’t be diverse, not really. They will be an endless parade of a fraction of the top one percent of the most physically gifted human beings on earth. If you want the antithesis of the “all-must-have-prizes” culture, this is it. You either win gold, silver or bronze — or else you are an also-ran.

But the important point about the Olympians is not just that they have exceptional bio-mechanical equipment. It’s not just the paddle-shaped hands of the swimmers or the muscle twitch of the sprinters. What makes the sport so compelling is that it is not enough to have a well-made skeleton or musculature. It is all in the heart, or all in the mind. It is a palpable lesson in human achievement and effort. It’s about overcoming pain, and bouncing back from defeat. It’s about endlessly denying yourself some elementary pleasure, like a Mars Bar or a lie-in or a pint of beer, because you hope for some greater long term reward.

Listen to this paper’s wonderful online interviews with great Olympic gold medallists, and how they put in their best performance. You can hear the extraordinary 400-metre hurdler Ed Moses explain his system of measuring 13 paces between each hurdle, and running eight inches from the inside track. Sir Steve Redgrave discusses the exact division of a 2,000-metre race into segments, and the techniques of psychological self-management that are necessary to deal with the lung-bursting agony of the final push. Denise Lewis tells how she threw the javelin in Athens with a broken foot. Seb Coe reveals his trick for beating Steve Cram in Los Angeles (the secret was to stay in front of him all the way round).

As you listen, you realise that these performances were the result not just of physical genius, but also of colossal intellectual and emotional effort — years of self-discipline. The Olympics, in other words, is about character. It’s about the will. Of course, as Baron de Coubertin was at pains to point out, it is not all about winning. But if you want to win, then you need to work. That is the basic message of the Olympics.

Young people in this country are going to see it demonstrated, before their eyes, on the grandest possible stage and in the most vivid and exciting way. Of course you need all sorts of things to have a chance of success. You need opportunity. You need facilities — and it is one of the scandals of our time that both Labour and Tory governments allowed the playing fields to be sold. You need people to take an interest in you and coach you. But you also need to understand that success – in any field – means drive, and the will to win, and the resolve to do things that are dull, repetitive, uncool and very often painful and exhausting.

Yes, of course the Olympics is about legacy, sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, posterity and multiculturality. But it is really about competition between human beings; the glory of winning, the pathos of losing, and the toil that can make the difference. That is the grand moral of the Games, and a very good one, too. It is also the key to economic growth.

11 thoughts on “True athletes like Bradley Wiggins can inspire us to a brighter future”

  1. You could win the bronze medal for twaddle, Bozza. I can see you up there on the podium, still prattling while gold medal winner chews on his McDonald’s burgers and discusses the benefits of wholefoods.
    The key to economic growth is exploitation, the difference between the competition in the Olympics and market place is that in the Olympics the loser has sore feet, in the market place, the loser loses his home, and sometimes his family starves.

  2. I hope Sir Bradley does not try and ride his bike in an Olympic nomenclatura lane, or he will be run over by a gold-bangled Olympic gang leader or the Roma DSS hurdles relay team. The Olympic hype is now so OTT as to be self-parodying the Olympic thought police should be laughed out of town

  3. The worthwhile point is the one about playing fields. Sleazy nasty cheapjack politicos of every hue conspired to sell off playing fields to mullet-headed developers. The result is the pointlessly stupid elistist sport that Boris drones on about.

    I’d much rather see rag-tag kids running about unsupervised having unauthorised fun! Rather than branded battery-hen athletes dedicating their lives to some excruciatingly stupid event…for money.
    (Incidentally, is there any activity less entertaining for a spectator than athletics?)

    Oh and, Vicus! Yay!

  4. Nigel, I deplore your lack of patriotism. Were Wiggins to wiggle into the wrong lane, we would have a new sport of bicycle skittles. I am sure the Brits would do well in that. Three cheers for sporting innovation!
    Ed. Please do not use the word “fun”. Where is the profit in that?

  5. Vicus, you’re right. If there is one thing that the banking scandals have taught us it’s this; there’s more to life than having fun.

  6. …and something else. Has David Cameron been at any time a member, a supporter or a fellow traveller of the Conservative Party?

  7. Cameron has modelled himself on Harry Wharton, Form Head at Greyfriars school He believes only in being form head for as long as possible.he has no other mission – and would curl his lip at the very concept of there being any other purpose.

  8. Amongst the concepts that David Cameron curls his lip at and sneers is Toryism. Instead, bankers, energy companies and PFI contractors take, take, take at every turn.

    Are we really going to grin and bear it? This is becoming a kleptocracy. Anyone working in a profession like education, health, the police or the armed forces, anyone trying to build a business, anyone, in fact, standing for basic Tory values is spat upon by a small, self-serving, evil little group of legally backed thieves, with, it would seem, the full connivance of the government. Barclays, G4S, Capita and on and on.

    And to provide the icing on the cake, after three quarters of recession, the Games, for the benefit of some very large US suppliers of fat. London 2012 – Taking the Piss.

  9. one of Boris’ few errors is to believe the propaganda that the City is anything more than a gigantic parasite, protected by a conspiracy of cowardly political silence. It adds no value.

  10. Nigel, the City is another country. They speak a different language there, they have different customs and different morals. Perhaps they have ensured that contractually, the entire City will pass happily through the eye of a needle? Who knows?

  11. The golden rule is, “do no harm”

    The kleptocracy of the City should have remembered that. perhaps all their wealth should simply be confiscated and given to the Co-operative Society? pour encourager les autres. Come on Millibrain – perhaps now is the time to have a socialist policy?

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