Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Crying Games

“Don’t forget to call me in for the bit where they cry at the national anthem,” I called out from the kitchen where I’d been constructing a mountain of spaghetti bolognese for ten hungry mouths.

Their appetites are insatiable, not just for the food, but also for large doses of the Olympics drug that for days has cemented the family onto the giant L-shaped couch in the TV room. Even the cook mustn’t miss the moment where we all blub along with the athletes during the medals ceremony.

This has been the Olympic Games where Britain finally lost its stiff upper lip. There have been so many tears over the weekend, it’s no wonder there have been flood warnings. Our region should be particularly proud that the person who really showed how it should be done is originally from Ashington and grew up in Stockton-on-Tees. Katherine Copeland sobbed uncontrollably beside her weeping rowing partner, Sophie Hosking as the import of the moment came to her. “We’ve won the Olympics” she mouthed, before collapsing into Sophie’s arms.

Standing beside them on the podium, silver-medallist Huang Wenyi could only muster a single, lonely, losing teardrop down her austere Chinese cheek. They must have been in floods down at Tees Rowing Club.

They were passing the Kleenex around the television studio too – Denise Lewis was inconsolable as Jessica Ennis, darling of the nation, brought home the gold; Jessica got the entire nation bawling as her little frame powered across the 800 metres finish line, and then again as her eyes welled up in the medals ceremony. John Inverdale blubbed as he tried to reassure oarsmen Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter that they hadn’t really let us all down by winning a mere silver medal.

The BBC’s presenters, like seasoned tabloid hacks, switch on the athletes’ emotions by mentioning families (“Your Mum would have been proud of you”), the long hard journey to success (“Did you ever think, in the middle of those years of injury, you’d be here today?), or the rest of us (“The whole country is proud of you today – here, take my hankie”). Doesn’t the BBC know how exhausting it is watching all this stuff? It’s like viewing back-to-back finals of the X-Factor without the songs.

I couldn’t bear to look when, after Mo Farah’s incredible victory, his six-year-old step-daughter and very pregnant wife came onto the track to greet him. “No –please don’t hug him, I can’t take any more emotion,” I shouted at them. What on earth has happened to Britain’s usual ironic, self-deprecating sense of resignation at international sport?

But then, these are no ordinary Olympics. What started last week with Danny Boyle’s uplifting pageant is fast turning into a national love-in. Britain has rediscovered a word it hasn’t used since the 1950s: patriotism. Which is not to be confused with the nasty, aggressive jingoism we associate with football supporters abroad. It’s the self-confident, if sometimes eccentric way our union jack has been gradually wrapped around us for the last week. All the more pleasing because it’s so surprising. Quite literally, we didn’t know we had it in us. We’ll be raising and saluting the flag in school assembly next.

My family is hoarse from cheering. We had to calm Granny down during the football penalty shootout.

“Stupid boy,” she screamed at our goalkeeper as yet another South Korean shot evaded him, “I told him he shouldn’t have bent down.”

“Mum, he doesn’t know which way the man is going to kick it,” I tried to explain, but she would have none of it.

“It was obvious – even I could see he was going to kick it to the left”.

I know I wrote a few weeks ago that wild horses couldn’t drag me to London to support the Olympics. Well, I confess that my mood has turned red, white and blue. Somewhere in the shed there’s an old union jack left over from the Silver Jubilee. I’m dusting it down and, even though I can’t be there in the crowd I’m going to wave it at the television. Loudly.


Anonymous said...

I had a look at the New Zealanders accepting their medals. No tears there, it was just the wussy poms blubbing like big girls blouses. Good on the Kiwis!

Clippy Mat said...

The Olympics was absolutely wonderful. I watched the first week on TV in Canada and the second on TV whilst in the U.S. and then the closing ceremonies back in Canada,(mediocre coverage). NBC coverage was excellent throughout in showcasing team GB; the back-stories,the sights and sounds, and the people and places of the UK. They were as genuinely delighted for Britain as all Brits were. What a great event. Thrilled that it was such an amazing success. Well done Seb Coe, never thought that he'd rise to such lofty heights.