After the gold rush, why so many tears?
Akin to (but fantastically distinct from) the mass-mourning of Diana almost exactly fifteen years back, the Olympic triumph generated a social noise dominated by talk of tears. The nation somehow became our nation again on the warm night of “Super” Saturday. In a time of supreme division we had a unifying principle. In days of real hardship for some, we had a new common wealth.
I spoke to quite a few friends and family just after 10pm on Saturday night, some of whom could credibly claim to have brushed grains of sand from their eyelashes during Watership Down. Every single one (including many men) reported optical flood alerts as Ennis, then Rutherford, and then Farrah left living rooms nationwide in raptures and, as reported across news channels and Twitter, tears.
As a father to a young daughter I personally, em, spilled eye water at the sight of Mo Farrah’s little girl jangling across the track to find her Champion Daddy. This took me a bit by surprise, not least because I – like many other Team GB sobbers – have held and still hold in stock reservations about the games.
This notion – that questioning G4S, corporate sponsorship, the negative impact on small businesses, the nebulous legacy plans, real economic benefits or militarisation of London is somehow mutually exclusive to enjoying sporting contest is of course utterly fatuous. Many with anxieties looked forward to the games with zeal. But why have just so many of us been so emotionally moved by London 2012?
Firstly, as we move slowly from the something for nothing epoch of turbo-consumption, gargantuan bonuses, fiddling MP’s, FTSE 100 billons and most relevantly, footballing multi-millionaires, we have to look to remuneration. Its widely assumed and well reported that our athletes generally do not receive large pay deals, though there will be obvious high profiles exceptions.
Many operate almost as amateurs; the PE teacher, the army officer etc. We know they are driven by something other than financial reward, and in country nauseous with greed; this contrast is vivid.
Secondly, the greed disease at the top – so visible, corrupt and potent – has given birth to a far more virulent malaise, one which permeates all bands of British culture from Taunton to Toxteth: the “as little as I can politely get away with” mode is a modern orthodoxy.
Degradation of the UK labour market, financialisation of our economy, the mass dealing of debt addiction and that dominant feeling of unfairness – that whatever one does one can only ever keep one’s head just above water at best – has created bitterness. If the jury is rigged, why play by the rules?
This is exemplified by accident compensation adverts running non-stop on daytime television; the resentment of low paid employment in service industry jobs and the audible anger and frustration of callers and assistants echoing around customer call centres. If work is unfair, if life is demeaned and only elites can ever “win”, populations like ours become malcontent and begin to think more of what they can extract, rather than what they can make. This feeling separates and divides both our communities and our country.
The Team GB athletes are the absolute antithesis of this mode, and we love them for it; perhaps because it represents the spirit of what we want to be, at our unadulterated core, as a joined up mass of people?
The fact that we recognise the pain they have endured, the interminable training schedules, the early mornings and seriously disrupted family and social lives; and the fact that this sacrifice holds little fiscal motivation and no guaranteed return represents a polar opposite of the contemporary British way. But we like it, we ARE them, they ARE us, and on Saturday night we glimpsed the emotional wash that realisation brings.
Thirdly, the reason that rejoice in this UK Gold rush is greater than we might have thought is not only because its quantity has exceeded all medal expectations, it’s not just because this decaying, annoyed, shrinking old empire sits at third in the medal table, just below the world’s only two super powers and it’s not simply because we are the hosts.
The central reason our national self-esteem has received such a boost is because the extraordinarily dedicated athletes who have delivered it are nice people that look and sound like us; all of us. From Eton Dorney to Stratford, pleasant human beings have excelled on a global stage and when asked to comment on that achievement, they display humility, gratitude to others and even shyness. They don’t book into five star Mayfair hotels, swigging Kristal champagne and cavorting with aspiring Page 3 girls.
They don’t swear; have the new trophy tattooed across their backs or – in a manner befitting the high octane trading rooms of the City of London – scream at any sign of criticism or call for accountability.
They are nice. They come from every social and ethnic background, they are men and women in equal measure, they’re from Sheffield and Hounslow not just Surrey and the Cotswolds; they work impossibly hard for something outside of money, and critically, they passionately believe in something bigger than the individual.
They are the UK Gold, hallmarked by their achievements, and we could all learn so much from them.Tagged in: greg rutherford, jessica ennis, London 2012, medals, Mo Farrah, olympics, team gb
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter