If the Olympic Games over the last couple of decades has increasingly taught us anything, it’s this. As a nation we’re not what we used to be. Far from it. We’re no longer the losers, the crushing disappointments, the media jokes.
To be honest, all this winning has got a bit too much. Look at the state of play in Rio. It’s almost going against the natural order of things. Once we hardly managed a few mediocre thirds. Now we’re like heroic sun gods and goddesses basking in the glow of gold medal after gold medal.
What happened to the good old days when our sportsmen and women were sent off to battle with Nelson’s rallying cry echoing in their ears only for it all to result in inglorious failure? We expected. Yes, expected them to come a cropper. Indeed, on those rare occasions when we did triumph, it was put down to being a lucky fluke by an underdog.
Even the continued hopelessness of our footballers, who in international competitions can always be relied on to mess up and return home – via a Caribbean beach – to a hostile reception, is scant compensation for the current brilliance of our athletes, gymnasts, cyclists, swimmers and rowers. Today, you’re hard pressed to name a discipline we aren’t successful at. News just in. We’ve won yet another gold, narrowly beating the Chinese in Short Row Speed knitting. What do you mean, you didn’t realise that was actually an Olympic event?
This isn’t what modern day Britain is meant to be about. There’s no point kidding ourselves. We’re no longer a world power. We exited that particular stage many acts ago and relinquished our role to…hmmm, exactly who didn’t we relinquish it to? What makes us think we can make up for it by trimming another second or two off a sporting record?
If we’re not careful, we could soon start pretending that we’re a force to be reckoned with outside of the pool, running track and show jumping arena and begin flexing our military muscle with a view to forging a new Empire. We’ve never quite got over the loss of the old one.
Let’s quickly examine where it all went right; sorry, wrong. For this we must go back to Atlanta in 1996 where we came 36th with 15 medals. Thanks to John Major, in 1997 we started channeling all that lovely lottery cash into making us less of a global laughing stock.
In 2000 at Sydney, we therefore climbed to 10th with 28 medals. Four years later in Athens, we were again 10th, but this time with 30 medals.
Then events took a distinct turn for the better; sorry, worst, when in 2005, the IOC in their wisdom (infinite or otherwise) decided to award the 2012 Olympiad to London. What a dark day that was for the country’s finances. Naturally, as the next hosts, we had to up the ante for Beijing in 2008.
As a result, we came fourth with a tally of 47 medals. By 2012, we were primed for victory and ended up third with a grand total of 65 medals.
Ok, we’d made our point. We’d proved that with enough money thrown at the problem, we could be great. But no, we had to be greater. So for Rio, we’ve spent £350 million to get to where we presently are. If by the end (this Sunday, August 21) we beat our last haul, and don’t bet against it, that will still work out at over £5 million a medal.
Is it all worth it? I’m doubtful. You can’t help feeling that for a lot of the participants, it’s all about them and their considerable egos. They can’t be blamed, of course. They’ve trained hard. They deserve the plaudits and the rewards. But something’s gone awry when they’re crestfallen and teary-eyed at getting a silver or a bronze.
Way back when we didn’t splurge so much on what used to be a tournament for amateurs, that would have been a huge achievement instead of a withering regret.
Maybe they’re concerned that with so many other homegrown top medal winners, any forthcoming reality show chances won’t be as strong as they’d once hoped for. Perish the thought that they might have to resort to Celebrity Big Brother 2017 or 2018 if another ex “star” from Geordie Shore isn’t available.
According to Lorraine Kelly on those TV ads, I am Team GB and should be celebrating accordingly. Well, alas, I’m not.
When Tokyo 2020 comes around, it would be nice to think that out thirst for medal success has finally been sated and the cash can be spent in other areas for the gain of the many rather than the few.
Mind you, if they ever hand out Olympic medals for cynicism, I like to think I’d be in with a fighting chance of a gold – public funding or not.
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