Watching the Olympic Flame waddle through Battersea on one of it's London legs was both touching and bewildering.
1. The ritual, sight and simple symbolism of a normal person running with the torch and waving to a crowd contains the 'Olympic Spirit', there is no doubt about that, if the Olympic Ideal is about bringing people together in peace and friendship through sport, from every neighbourhood, and from every country. The off-shoots of this contain all that is good about sport, and people. People have a starting point to communicate from, a safety zone, symbolised as universal by a flame that is lit by the sun's rays, and as such is unaffiliated to any power other than a human fire.
2. Anyone who has stood and watched the runners flood past in the London Marathon will recognise the surge of compassion and elation that a simple act of effort can bring, it's wider sense of community. Vocabularies are stripped down to basic human efforts that don't need language to understand.
3. The Olympic motto reads 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' (Faster, Higher, Stronger). In the right hands (avoiding easy cynicism) this really just means being the best version of yourself that you can be, and that striving to improve is a noble thing to do, and more important than being victorious or glorious.
4. A political dimension is unavoidable (even in the motto) but in essence the original Olympic sporting arena was designated as one in which people could compete regardless of politics or inter state relations. Of course, as a symbol of such a precarious ideal, the games has been host to tragic acts of political will aswell as acts of heroic defiance and myth creating feats. How much has ever been directly changed by acts of symbolism and violence is of course impossible to measure, and perhaps the greatest ever Olympic story, that of Jesse Owens (skipping of course the domestic discrimination he faced) is best summed up by Owens' own major recollection, that he was adored by Berlin's athletics fans and struck a strong friendship with German long jumper Luz Long; it gracefully transcends the tint and tar of politics in a personal tale.
"It took a lot of courage for (Long) to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment."
5. The stories that emerge from the games are always more powerful and enduring than the story of the host nation and the entertainment that is put on. The simple stories that endure tell of human beings attempting to overcome great odds, and for all of the great champions, we remember just as well the athlete who fell, or failed or tore a hamstring.
Loud Warning. The simple ritual of the torch was almost completely ruined by the peripheral nonsense of giant corporate sponsored buses blaring characterless music and handing out free merchandise with no significance at all to any of the things mentioned here. As we wait for our world superstar film director and world superstar musician to 'brand' the London Games, it is with bated breath, because star endorsements and sponsorships by sugar pedlars and mega banks threaten to warp that Olympic ideal in the bitter tasting otherworld of 'faster, higher, stronger' that does not seem in any way noble. Luckily, whatever the outcome of that side of the event, and I hope Danny Boyle's ceremony is a fitting spectacle for a country that does have masses to offer, sport can and will be its salvation, let the games begin.
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