London 2012: Whatever Happened to the Standing Long Jump?

26/07/2012 13:17 BST | Updated 24/09/2012 10:12 BST

In the Olympic Café, just a bacon buttie's throw from Wembley Stadium, enthusiasm for the London Olympics was decidedly muted. But then this was 2002: even the Athens Games were still a couple of years away, and whatever goes for tumbleweed in East London was still blowing through the unregenerated Lower Lea Valley.

We were making a television documentary, because the question we asked the Olympic's customers - "Would you like London to bid for the Games?" - was exercising other minds elsewhere in the capital at the time. In Downing Street, Tony Blair and the Cabinet were also said to be sceptical, but in Wandsworth the British Olympic Association had already written up the results of a feasibility study.

This document, which ran to no fewer than 126,000 words, concluded that London could do it, but the press was doubtful and seemed taken aback that anyone should raise the topic at all. The Telegraph's reviewer was typical: he called our programme "a slice of sharply-observed science fiction, set in a near but somehow unrecognisable future, in which a London miraculously regenerated from the rubble of the city we know now is considering bidding to host the 2012 Olympic Games". Not for the first time, our presenter Richard Littlejohn found himself out of step with his fellow journalists: he urged Londoners to invoke the spirit of the Blitz and have a go.

Now while columnists thrive on controversy, TV producers are meant to be impartial, but I think I can confess, 10 years on, that my answer to the question would have been a loud and fervent "Yes!'" I had grown up with stories of the Olympics at my mother's knee. She had been to the extraordinary Berlin Games of 1936, and my childhood dream was to see for myself the heroic successors of Jesse Owens in action, preferably not too far from home.

But it was of those customers at the Olympic Café in Wembley that I thought as I stood on a village street in North East Scotland last month awaiting the arrival of the Olympic torch. 10 years on, I wondered, had they been right to be wary of the idea of their city staging the Games?

The motorcade, which had set off that day from the standing stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, more than 200 miles and a ferry ride to the west, trundled slowly towards us along the road from Balmoral: towering sponsors' buses almost brushing the trees, young women pushing bottles of Coca Cola and strange long balloony things into outstretched hands, police in running kit, surprisingly graceful and impressively speedy, and, eventually, the torch bearer, proud but slightly sheepish, all pounding into the damp summer evening. In Aberdeen, a crowd of 9,000 people later welcomed it to the oil capital of Europe, but in the village where I saw it only a few hundred spectators, strung out along the pavements, watched it pass, and suddenly even I, the lifelong fan, was not so sure.

LOCOG had done its best to make even those of us in the far-flung sticks feel included in the party, but, if the torch procession was anything to go by, it promised to be a rather joyless one. And little since then, not even the weird prospect of an Opening Ceremony said to be starring a flock of sheep, some chickens, Sir Kenneth Branagh, and Mary Poppins, has managed to dissipate the feeling that the London Games will not be as fun as they should or could be.

A friend has long argued that it is time all those organisers lightened up. I was his first (and only) recruit to a campaign to restore to the Olympics such inexplicably discontinued events as the Tug of War, dropped after great Britain won in 1920, the One-Hand Weightlifting, abandoned post 1906, and the Swimming Obstacle Race, held only in 1900, in which competitors had to dive under strategically-placed boats to win a medal. Who could have deemed the 17-man Naval Rowing Boat Race, last run in 1906, unworthy of inclusion, especially in the days when the Royal Navy could still find 17 men to wield the oars? But unlike Ray Ewry, 4 times winner of the Standing High Jump and the Standing Long Jump (both dropped after 1912), our mission never took off.

So that's what I will be looking for: some fun to leaven the earnestness of the athletes, the attention-seeking pronouncements of the politicians and all that pious talk about the Olympic family. I fear, though, that it may be hard to find, which is why I have put that childhood dream of actually being there on hold. Instead, I think I'll wait another 4 years and go to a place where they really know how to party. I'm sure those cautious types in Wembley would be up for a trip to Rio too.