Monday, 11 August 2008

Ali, Zatopek, Spender and the Fire's Centre




So the Games are in full flow, the opening seemed a consummate lesson in wire work but as it was directed by The Crouching Tiler Flying Bread Knives man one would expect someone to be suspended in space for a little longer than is natural. I have to say I always hold my breath when it comes to the lighting of the torch, is it arranged so nothing can ever go wrong these days? If that archer missed in Barcelona would someone have just quietly thrown in a lighted match, if Ali had collapsed in Atlanta would a look alike have been there to stand in.

Of course I am a real sucker for that grand gesture, and I can’t watch it without beginning to get that tight feeling in my throat. Here was Ali, racked and shaking with Parkinson’s, the man who flung his Olympic medal away in response to his treatment as a black man in the United States, the man who was a real showman but who in his prime fought and looked like a athletic god, struggling to light a small flame.

I know Stephen Spender in his introduction to his poem The Truly Great thought of Beethoven, Eisenstein, D.H Lawrence but I think this poem could also be applied to those great athletes who were/are greater than the politics, the razzmatazz, the money, who, when you watch them raise your spirits just a little about humanity. They may not stop wars, find cures for diseases, create great works of art but a truly great sportsman or woman does show us something akin to fire in their centre.

‘….wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.’


I wonder who will be the truly great of the Olympics in living memory. Of such stuff is endless arguement made down the pub. Phelps looks on track to deliver eight golds but then sometimes it is not always the ones who are weighed down with bright metal, that get the sponsorship or the advertising deals that you remember.Some that stick in my head from old filmed highlights are of course

Jesse Owen

Emil Zatopek at the 1952 Olympics

But some of those things I recall from sitting in front of my television either crying at, cheering on or generally biting my nails at are

Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards

Derek Redmond and his Dad

Lillian Board

It's that old question of 'Do you know where you were when England won the World Cup'. I recall that the settee was green, the cat needed worming and I had shepherds pie on a tray on my lap when Lillian Board got beaten for the gold in the last few seconds of the race. Enough said

1 comment:

Mrs Slocombe said...

and of course that Australian guy who won gold when every other skater fell over.