Sport. There’s nothing like it, is there? The Olympics are being wheeled out with pride, like the dessert cart at a reasonably-priced-but-slightly-better-than-average restaurant. (You know it’s better-than-average because dessert is on wheels.) There’s no escape. So I’m stoically putting up with it. Ahem.
Oh okay. I’m LOVING the sport. Really and truly. Woo the Olympics! Aside from the chance to act like you know everything about an activity you’re only ever interested in once every four years (for me, it’s a tie between weightlifting and boxing – i.e. “Hey, did you see that one-two combo she just dished out?” “Ooh he dropped his snatch there!” Snigger snigger, and so on) – and aside from the fact you get to gawp at some of the ‘fittest’ bodies that ever strode the earth – and not to mention you also get to judge an entire nation on the quality and colour blocking technique of an endless parade of discipline-specific uniforms (or lack thereof, in the case of Germany’s Opening Ceremony polyester pile-up of blue and pink madness)….aside from all this, I’m loving the Olympics experience because it gives you the chance to drop that stiff upper lip and have a good old fashioned cry.
This to me is one of the ultimate benefits of a massive, international sporting get-together. Even if you aren’t that keen on the physical fitness side of things, it’s an emotional stretch for anyone following a team or individual, (in some cases the only representative of their nation), through several gruelling rounds of competition (or even more heartbreakingly, failing to make it through the first round), with the field getting progressively tougher, the stakes higher, and regardless of the outcome, to not end up, you know, feeling something.
It can be joyous happy-wails, a private ‘something in my eye’ moment sniffling away on the couch, a mysterious metaphysical lump in the throat; there’s basically all manner of leaky emotions on display in the UK at present thanks to the Olympics. Whether in celebration – check the super-gleeful tears of Katherine “I can’t believe we’re on a stamp” Copeland and Sophie Hosking winning the women’s double sculls – or commiseration, such as the ‘”We’re sorry I let everyone down and only got a silver” choked out by gave-it-their-all rowers Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, crying alongside and along with the world’s most amazing athletes in my opinon leaves us feeling better about the human race and what it can achieve than some of us have felt in a long time.
I find I need only a flimsy excuse to want to cry these days, and I don’t think it’s just all this medal schizzle that’s causing it. (Which isn’t the same as actually giving in to the tears, but more on that in a moment.) Maybe because I’m less worried about appearing in control now that I’ve hit my mid-thirties and realised that, by jove, the older I get, the less I know about well, anything, but from the looks of it, no-one else does either, so why worry about trying to act like I’ve got it sorted? The cause could also be something more mundane, such as a long-term hormone imbalance thanks to decades of oestrogen-enhanced tap water consumption, or more likely, my dependence on the local Chinese take-away’s won-ton soup as one of my ‘five-a-day’. (Hey now – it’s got cabbage in it.) Whatever has brought it on, I have to admit it doesn’t take much these days to make my bottom lip quiver.
Olympic achievement/heartbreak to one side, I’m contending with the whole spectrum of everyday triggers, from toilet paper commercials with live puppies (so young! So happy! So delighted with double-ply thickness!), to a certain former terrestrial channel’s straight-to-TV dramas, imported fresh from the US, starring such luminaries as the feisty Barbara Hershey and a curly (and oh-so-slightly surly) Tom Berenger who together, leave no wild Montana ‘lost Native American tribe defending its traditional way of life’ stone unturned. (It’s called Last of the Dogmen in case you’re keen, and yes, there is a dog in it. I think he was nominated for an Emmy.) But it isn’t often I actually feel like it’s okay to give in to the urge to cry – I certainly keep it in during the loo roll adverts for example.
Keeping a lid on your emotions is part of day to day life, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Breaking out in tears every time you get cut off in traffic, talked over in a meeting, or overcharged by Tesco isn’t going to prolong your life or brighten your day is it? There’s definitely something to be said for the attributes of discipline and professionalism, both in the sporting arena, and in everyday situations such as when you’re able to respond to some wanker’s flippant remark about your efforts/haircut/powerpoint presentation not with tears, nor rage, but by calmly pointing out what you’ve achieved/how great you look/your kick-ass slides, and then asking them how it compares to their tremendous cabinet full of Fuck All. I’m a big fan of 18-year-old British competitor Zoe Smith’s response to the moronic abuse she received on her twitter feed for finishing 12th in her event as a great example of this approach. ( I’m thinking of making a shirt up and sending it to her which just say THE BIG TWO FINGERS.)
As for those taking part in the final week of the world’s biggest sporting event, controlling emotion is often the difference between achieving success, or leaving the track, pool, ring (and so forth) with dreams unfulfilled. So when we shed a tear of happiness or sadness with a sports professional and all they’ve been through, it’s because they’ve provided us with incredible, real-life examples for how to deal with the pressure and the pleasure that is living to the greatest reaches of your potential, with all its’ flaws, imperfections and sweat-marks. It’s okay to get emotional, even when the world is watching. We’ll have the tissues ready.
I’ll leave you with the BBC team’s overjoyed reaction to 10,000m runner Mo Farah’s final lap last Saturday. Cause you know, even professionals have to let it out sometimes. C’mon Mo!