I’m still weaning myself off the Olympic Games. I could have watched contentedly all day and every day. Wonderful to see the Jamaican success in sprinting. I’ve long thought the Fijians have similar potential. And talking of sprinting, It was pleasing to note the decrease in swaggering, shirt-off, arrogant and insensitive posturing. Perhaps that’s why the behaviour of two sprinters stood out. One was a winning Cuban hurdler who treated his competitors with supreme contempt. The other was Bolt, the incredible Jamaican sprinting machine who, by ignoring his competitors at the finish, left a tang of arrogant insensitivity in the air. A petty observation? Not in top Olympics official, Jacques Rogge’s book. He commented that Bolt should have shown more respect for his competitors and shaken hands, give a tap on the shoulder...
Hayden Meikle, sports writer for the Otago Daily Times, described Mr Rogge as a dinosaur, an old man who will never learn. “His attitude sums up a myopic approach to sport. He wants it played by some draconian code of ethics instead of enjoying the beautiful drama and mind-boggling entertainment of the moment.”
Rick Broadbent in The Times was reported as saying “We cannot tell a guy who has run 9.69 seconds and 19.69 seconds how he needs to react.”
Why not? Bolt and the Cuban are barely past twenty years old. They need to learn that talent does not exclude them from the demands of Olympic standards.
Still, it was a grand sporting spectacle and I loved it. But until the lure of prize money siphoned off many top athletes, the Commonwealth Games was my favourite. Christchurch 1974. Ten days sharing a tent with a bunch of harriers in a camping ground. Although our accommodation was not first class, we had good stadium seats above the home straight for that memorable 10,000 metre race on the first day of athletics. Shouting ourselves hoarse as Dick Taylor came from two thirds of the track behind the leaders to gradually claw his way to the front to win the race, right in front of us.
Still in the seventies, I remember watching Rod Dixon win a race in Lower Hutt. During the awards he waxed on, advertising for the sponsors; I think it was Ford Motors. His speech was met with conflicting responses, from frowning disapproval to laughter at his cheek. I was one of the confused and disappointed frowners. That speech was my introduction to professional athletics. Okay, I’m biased. Long live amateurism and all that, although I admit that professionalism has allowed top athletes to make a career from their talents.
But a throw-away comment about Nick Willis, bronze medal winner in the 1500 metres, made me think hard. Something like: “He’ll be able to pay off his mortgage now. He’ll be invited to all the big-money meets in Europe. He’ll...”
I couldn’t be happier that Nick Willis won a middle-distance medal. He’s a fine athlete and apparently a fine young man and I wish him well. But New Zealand taxpayers forked out 60 million for the Olympics team. Was that in addition to money paid for elite athletes to concentrate on training?
In Britain they are talking about paying a bonus for medals. It gets worse: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has given a large amount of taxpayer’s money to a successful Olympic swimmer. We’ve come a long way from the time when we all sneered at the Soviets for ‘keeping’ athletes while ‘our’ athletes trained after work.
Is honouring success no longer enough? Have we become so desperate for reflected glory on the international stage that we are willing to buy it?
© Chris Horan September 2008