I’m not what you might call a Sports’ Fan. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that I come from a family who are singularly left cold by sports. Nobody follows a football team, nobody watches it on the telly – except, that is, for the Olympics. Last time we got carried away with the rush of enthusiasm that swept the nation and applied for tickets (which we didn’t get), and rushed off to see the Paralympics (tickets for which we did get) on a sunny day in September. My mum and my uncle, her brother, even went so far as to keep charts, and ring each other up to compare.
One of the things I like about the Olympics is the variety. I have to admit that I don’t go a bundle on the horse dancing thing or watching archery and I can’t see myself ever becoming a fan of boxing, but I find myself transfixed by the gymnastics (will they, won’t they fall off that beam?) and the cycling, if somewhat confusing in its scoring has been, for a UK audience anyway, an exciting spectacle.
Another of the things I like, as a teacher especially, is the sports-people themselves. I like the way that they are so gracious (well, most of them, anyway) in both victory and defeat. If they have a bad event, they pick themselves up and they carry on. Sometimes, they even win when everyone thought their chance was lost. I feel a bit sorry for them though, when they are interviewed, straight off the track or out of the pool, sweat dripping, still breathing heavily from their exertions, expected to come up with something coherent for the cameras – especially if they just missed out coming out on top.
I remember watching Victoria Pendleton interviewed, post-race, eyes bloodshot and the skin of her cheeks blood pricked, and I remembered the time that I looked like that. After giving birth, I made my way to the loo and caught a glimpse of my veined reflection in the mirror over the sink (nothing like that old advert for tea where the slightly flushed young woman took a grateful sip of her steaming brew while everyone offered her their smiling congratulations), and I thought that I had never made quite so much physical effort either before or since.
But, apart from the evidence of hard labour, the thing that strikes me, almost every time I watch and listen to these athletes at the peak of fitness, an example, if you like, of the tippety top a human being can actually be, is how, when they clutch their medals, they give the credit away. They don’t stand there and agree that yes, they are the best of the best and thank you very much; instead, they are at pains to point out that they couldn’t do what they do without teams of people, friends, family, people paid to look after them, at their side, supporting them to live their chosen lives.
I thought about these Olympians, these examples of human greatness, the other day, when I watched a programme on TV and I listened to a debate on the introduction of a new blood test that will help doctors to identify possible pregnancies where the baby is carrying a little extra in the form of chromosomes. I thought about them, and I wondered how terrible it was that somebody should have to be helped, or that someone might need some support in order to achieve their dreams.
I wondered if there wasn’t anyone who didn’t worry for their child after they had gone, and how using this worry, the fear of how other people will behave towards them, fear of living a life supported, as a justification for not bringing that baby into the world at all was perhaps the saddest thing of all.
You can watch the debate here, from about 18 minutes in. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.