Olympics in a pandemic

The distant chugging sound of the underground train somehow brought with it a sense of tranquility. Life is slowly returning to normal. People are going about their business cautiously but with a knowledge that we are hopefully entering the exit stages of the plight that blighted us for over a year. Nothing lasts for ever, something we forget. I was reminded of this saying as I listened to a documentary clip about Japan rebuilding to become the second biggest economy in the world a mere four decades after the Second World War ended. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial stands firm, a reminder of the fateful day, but life carries on and with more vigour.

The Olympics is over for another three years, but the stories still fill the sports pages. An Olympics gold medalist who took the wrong bus to the stadium and almost missed his semifinal heats. If it wasn’t for the kind gesture of one of the volunteers who paid his taxi fare and pointed him in the right direction he would have left empty handed. Another world champion who on the day of her flight to Tokyo tested positive and had to stay home watching the games on TV instead with her team GB kit on. A Russian wrestler who was involved in the Beslan school hostage siege on the very first day he started school in 2004. His mother died that day as she tried to protect him and his sister. He is now an Olympic bronze medalist. For me the incident is one of those JFK moments when I clearly remember where I was during those nerve wracking three days when militants took school children hostage along with their parents and teachers. We were having a mini break with a pregnant Anitha and Simon in Centre Parks before the school holidays ended. A holiday when I had a minute crisis of my own. I was just learning to swim in those days and was in the pool with Kavitha and Simon, the only other two swimmers in the family. Every now and then the wave mechanism in the pool is activated. It comes on after a warning bell and those who are not able to withstand it rush out of the pool. I stupidly stayed in not realising how strong the current was and got swept around the pool with the water. I waved to Simon and Kavitha to help me out. They thought I was enjoying the free ride in the water and waved back. I had no choice and was hurled around as if I was in some giant washing machine. I am digressing. Andy Murray was similarly involved in the Dunblane school massacre. Lessons that childhood trauma doesn’t need to define you but can shape you to overcome any adversities if you have the right mindset.

When Jason and Laura Kenny left for the Olympics they already had eight medals between them. If they were to make it twelve they were going to build a clock face and now they have all twelve, 9 gold and 3 silver. The first British Golden couple. ‘Made for each other’, a term that seems to be written in the stars for them. Then there is Allyson Felix, who won her 11th Olympics medal to become the most decorated US track athlete, someone who took on the mighty Nike and showed them how it is done. Kellie Harrington, the Irish part time hospital cleaner from Dublin, who won the light welterweight boxing gold medal. Lauren Price who was a world kick boxing champion and footballer who turned to boxing and used to drive taxis during the weekend is the middle weight boxing gold medalist. The sixteen year old Gadirova twins went to the Olympics, won our hearts and returned with the team bronze medal. Sky Brown, the youngest British girl at just thirteen won the bronze in skateboarding, while a 12 year old Japanese youngster beat her to win the silver medal.

Along with the highs came the tribulations and lows. The heartaches and miseries played out on the world stage. The injuries and loss of confidence that scuppered dreams. Years of training disappeared in puffs of smoke. Three British women reached the final race of the 800m, of this one works for a sports shop and had to take unpaid leave to attend the race with no funding or support, while the other two were deemed worthy of funding. The climb to the top is not an easy one. Even for those who get there, the future is not a bed of roses. A split second determines whether one is a medalist or a participant who will be duly forgotten. For the athletes it is years of toil and sweat with no guarantee of success but for the Nations it is a period of joy when future generations get inspired. For us it is also a reminder that success doesn’t come easily . In 1996, our medal tally was 1 gold with a total of 15 medals languishing in 36th place on the table. Now we’ve reached the top four and was second in the Rio Olympics overtaking even China. This is how we build a healthy nation both in body and mind and it doesn’t come bigger than during the Olympics when these athletes show the next generation what is possible. Lauren Price’s grandmother, who raised her, advised her to reach for the moon and if she fell short told her that she will land on the stars. Let’s see if Neeraj Chopra can do the same for the next generation of kids in India.

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