Tomorrow it will be exactly a year ago since we all sat down for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Games. I watched it in Manchester with my boyfriend and his parents on a 3D telly, but with just two pairs of 3D glasses between the four of us we had to take it in turns to actually see anything. I live blogged the fashion stuff for MSN whilst deciding I desperately needed a corgi. And a David Beckham in a boat.
Of course the excitement started way before that Friday night. I loved watching us win the bid in 2005 (or rather, loved watching Paris lose the bid) and I got as excited as the best of the them when tickets were released. I recklessly applied for just under £4000 worth of tickets, spent a year worrying I’d get all of them, then wasn’t allocated a single one.
I don’t have a great deal of Olympicy memories from childhood, not for the Summer Games anyway. I remember watching various Winter Olympics, but maybe that’s because they involve mental things like being strapped into crazily massive skis and jumping off mountains. And then of course there are all the Gypsy Wedding appropriate sparkly figure skating outfits.
I watched all of the 2008 Beijing Games though. Like, ALL OF IT. My jaw bizziness was really bad then, so I wasn’t at work. I laid on the sofa wrapped in a duvet strapped in an ice mask watching every single thing the BBC threw at me. Archery? Sure! Table tennis? HIT ME. It was a nice distraction at a horrible time.
As the 2012 Games approached, my £4000 worth of ticket bids never materialised (THANK GAWD). The new worry was that I thought I wouldn’t get to see any of the Games in person. But luckily my parents got tickets to one of the canoe sprint events at Eton Dorney. It was a very special day. I then went on to watch ‘Super Saturday’ at the Olympic Park during the Paralympics – AMAZING.
I don’t need to remind you how awesome Britain was during the Games last summer. And London was that too, but 100 fold. We were a really gorgeous happy smiling family. With a golden retriever and everything.
I fell in love with Wenlock. I fell in love with Games Makers. I fell in love with the ‘mini Minis’ that collected javelins. I fell more in love with Claire Balding. I fell in love with our heroes momentarily being dedicated, hard working, amazing, inspirational LEGENDS as opposed to people who’d fallen out of the Big Brother house with their bits hanging out.
I didn’t want to take up sport though.
And did that matter? There was a big emphasis on an ‘Olympic legacy’ being sport related, but we’ve already seen some of the other legacies just being brilliant things like ‘being nicer people’ and ‘bothering to volunteer for things’.
I take a huge amount of inspiration from sportsmen and women in my business life. Their dedication to one thing for such sustained periods of time baffles me. I wish I could have a tiny amount of that awesomeness. Watching Katherine Grainger win her gold medal with Anna Watkins after three successive silvers was one of my favourite moments ever, not just sporting moments ever…but ever moments ever. I won’t ever be able to comprehend how she went through sixteen years of Olympics (and all the years before that to get there!) to finally achieve what she knew she could do.
Another ‘favourite’ Olympics moment, which has already had me in tears this morning knowing I was writing about it, was seeing Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase – gold medallists at Beijing – interviewed at Eton Dorney after their silver medal win in the lightweight double sculls.
It sounds weird to describe that interview as a favourite moment, it was harrowing, but it was a favourite moment of mine because it encapsulated everything about hard work. These boys were practically carried out of their boat and could barely stand – a level of exhaustion that I can’t even begin to comprehend pushing myself to – and were devastated. I was completely and entirely inspired by their passion and dedication to their sport. And as someone that thrives on excuses, I had so much respect for the way they completely dismissed the seat kerfuffle as a reason for them missing out on the gold. The way Zac handled that question almost made me want to re-assess my attitude to everything, as evangelical as that sounds.
I am in complete awe of people who can dedicate themselves to something to become the best at it. People who give a fig about something 365 days a year, often from being a child, to hopefully maybe one day please God fingers crossed be on a podium.
I’m really good at caring a lot about things, but for tiny bursts of time. Days, usually. I’ve never had a sustained passion or interest or dedication to anything for a decent period of time.
I really hope one of the main legacies from the Games is an understanding in the general public how much time and effort it takes to become the best.
As a society we’re in a really screwed up place of wanting everything for nothing. The sense of entitlement people have is staggering. Of course, a big part of that comes from seeing overnight celebrity. During the course of setting up WIWT it was quite amazing how many people told me to go on Dragon’s Den, seriously, as if that’s the only way businesses are made. We want to succeed through X Factor and The Apprentice rather than by 5am starts and not drinking gin all the time.
I say it all the time when I speak on this sort of thing, but do read Outliers and familiarise yourself with the 10,000 hour principle if you don’t feel like something you’re trying to master is working out. Most people, 99% of people, simply don’t work hard enough for a long enough period of time to be anywhere near the best.
As I mentioned previously, a sportier nation was a massive goal for the UK post-Games. And as I also mentioned previously, I wasn’t interested.
At one point last Autumn though I decided I hated the way I looked so joined a gym – not for anything other than to lose weight – and I trundled along begrudgingly to exercise for no other reason than to hopefully be thinner.
On the rowing machine one day I was listening to Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness and there’s a bit in the background that sounds like intense cheering, whooping and hollering. I found myself pretending I was Katherine Grainger at Eton Dorney. Katherine Grainger being cheered on by thousands of home fans to win the gold. Suddenly I found, unsurprisingly, that I was rowing a lot harder and for longer and with an energy that I wouldn’t usually bring to anything other than opening a Dominos box.
It was fun. I couldn’t stop thinking about 2012. I felt like I was being legacised.
I wasn’t really well enough (or motivated enough) to keep up the gym at the time but this year I was discharged from hospital and I made a pledge to myself to take up swimming – my fave sport to watch at the Games.
When it was hard, I tried to remember the exhaustion in our athletes’ faces in their post-event interviews. We can push our bodies much harder than we think.
As I enjoyed swimming in the pool, albeit rubbishly, I saw an ad for an open water Human Races event at Eton Dorney – the very same magical piece of water where I’d watched so many medals won and lost.
Looking back, I don’t know if I’d have started open water swimming if it hadn’t been the lure of ‘OMG I’M GONNA SWIM IN KATHERINE GRAINGER’S LAKE’ (that sounds very dodgy) pushing me to sign up.
It was astoundingly marvellous to compete at Eton Dorney, with my family all there just as they had been for the canoe sprint, but this time I was in the water. ME! The least sporty person ever. And I hadn’t fallen in! I was there by choice! We just needed Wenlock to gatecrash and it would have been perfect.
I’ve now swum in lots of lakes, completed the three open water races I signed up for naively earlier in the year, and met my £3000 fundraising target for Barnardo’s.
I was pretty adamant that the Games would have no legacy for me, yet here I am – ‘a swimmer’ – with medals and an inspired work ethic and a love for sport that goes so many millions of miles beyond ‘bikini body’ and all that weight loss bullsh*t.
Thank you 2012, it wasn’t instant but your magic worked on me.