“Sorry seems to be the hardest word“. Not for Team GB, it seems. Along with the raucous sound of the crowds across the Olympic venues, London has been treated to a succession of apologies from its competitors at the Games, all of whom, under extreme pressure and the weight of expectation that they have never experienced before, feel they almost “owe” the nation a gold medal.
It has reached the stage where few would have been surprised to hear Tom Daley, Olympic poster boy and marketers’ dream, apologise for bringing home the bronze medal last night. As it was, the 18-year-old frolicked around in the pool with his coaches and trainers after narrowly surrendering first place to America’s David Boudia and China’s Qiu Bo courtesy of a lower tariff dive than the respective gold and silver medal winners.
Becoming Britain’s first diving medalist for 52 years is, unarguably, a huge achievement, especially for a teenager forced to cope with the tragic death of his father and living a “normal” life of A Level studies alongside training and regular competitions. Nonetheless, Daley is just one of many athletes representing the nation that appear to have succumbed to the idea that success this summer is inevitable, not desirable, and failure must be rigorously apologised for until those watching on television or in the stadia are satisfied with their penance.
As the medals have stacked up for Team GB, and success has poured forth in a variety of events, from dressage to taekwondo, and cycling to athletics, these utterances of sheer regret and lamentations of failure have become few and far between, needless, almost. Yet even the least qualified psychologist would probably be able to state with a reasonable degree of confidence that Britain’s athletes are suffering from extreme nerves as they begin their events and carrying out sporting rituals they have practised every day for the past however many years.
This is understandable, for perhaps the greatest aspect of the London 2012 Olympics has been the way in which crowds at the park, the general public and those wholly uninterested in Olympic sport outside of this fortnight have taken to the Games, the sports, the athletes and particularly Team GB. Daley, to take one example, was allowed to re-take his first dive in the 10m final last night due to being “distracted” by camera flashes. While every sportsperson is aware that, should they fail to reach pre-set targets, their coaches, trainers or families will be disappointed, this time around each athlete representing Team GB has a family of around 60m people, the members of which are all passionate, optimistic and expectant.
There is another dimension to the relationship between supporters and Olympians. While we expect so much off people we may only have read about by chance in the morning paper, and our journalists, broadcasters and commentators tell us are “big medal hopes”, surely these athletes have the right to expect a similarly high level of commitment from us? After all, rather like Wimbledon, the Olympics is not a year-long competition. It is a brief sojourn from regular life, a fortnight in which sportspeople take to the world stage and battle for supremacy across a multitude of sporting disciplines.
One part of this “agreement” has already been reached, with the announcement that funding for Team GB has been extended from the original 2014 deadline until 2016, and the Games in Rio de Janeiro. This should ensure that, when the cameras are switched off and the eyes of the world move from the United Kingdom to Brazil, our athletes are able to continue to thrive and develop, perhaps without feeling quite so “owned” by the nation, secure in the knowledge that a legacy is truly being provided.
After all, these Games were meant to inspire a generation, were they not? Few can fail to have been inspired by the exploits of Team GB, not to mention all the other incredible moments of the London 2012 Olympics. However, rather than simply packing away the souvenir programme and official merchandise, a greater legacy would be for Olympic sports to have even a quarter of the coverage garnered by the Premier League – in newspapers, on television and the internet. Our athletes have done their bit, now it is our turn. There is no point in bragging about “our greatest team” and how amazing our medalists and competitors have been if they are simply forgotten and discarded come tomorrow morning and the mad rush for Heathrow Airport.
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