Clem Sunter

My eight Olympic lessons

2012-08-15 13:37

Clem Sunter

Now that the final episode of the games which I watched like a series most nights on television is gone, how did the spectacle strike me apart from its entertainment value? I learned eight important things from the experience:

1. No affirmative action is required provided the training is good. The Jamaicans beat the Americans in the one area that Americans have always excelled - sprint events. There are two obvious reasons for this: Jamaicans now have training programmes equivalent in quality to Americans; and right now they are ahead of Americans on natural talent. However, the same can be said across most other events whether we are talking archery, fencing and men's javelin. Unusual nations are winning them. My point has been reinforced that if you want to be a winning nation, it comes down to education, education and education. That is why teaching is one of the most highly paid professions in Singapore. But then teachers there are held accountable for results just like coaches are in athletics.

2. The rules of each sport apply equally to everybody participating in it.
No exceptions are allowed on the grounds of fame, wealth, gender, age. Moreover, retribution is swift if the rules are broken. For example, when a participant jumps the gun at the start of a running or swimming event, he or she is now ruled out of the competition unless some reasonable cause can be established. The consequence is that, unlike in the past, there are very few false starts disrupting proceedings. The Olympics work because of law and order. The same applies to countries.

3. The human race is a competitive species.
If you want to win, you have to do your homework, prepare yourself over many years of toil, work out your strategy with due regard for the characteristics of your rivals and perform on the actual day. What applies in sport applies to any other career. In addition, should you be part of a team, you have to learn to co-operate with others and even on occasions sacrifice your own interests of achieving individual excellence to the interests of the team in order to win the game. Cycling is a very good illustration of this principle in action in the team events. Most organised human activity is collective, not individual, and requires the same degree of unselfishness.

4. We win gold in many different fields.
The variation of sports on display at the Olympics is dazzling. It features humans in all shapes and sizes from the giants in weightlifting with whom you would not mess around if they caught your eye in the street to the young, fragile ballerinas involved in gymnastics. It would suggest that, in real life, a society should offer its citizens as wide a range of legal pursuits as it is possible to do because a champion will be found in even the most esoteric niche. Diversity of calling is the essence of living.

5. There are winners and losers, but sometimes losers are winners.
In this politically correct age, everybody expects equal treatment and indeed you are scarcely permitted to differentiate individuals on performance, rewarding some with bonuses and others not. Thank heavens in the Olympics, this outlook does not apply. To be an Olympian is an honour, but to be a medallist is special and certainly not something to be sneered at because it is too elite. Yet, non-medallists in a particular event can be winners for a host of other reasons, like beating your personal best, accepting defeat gracefully or overcoming a major handicap. In this last respect, Oscar Pistorius emerged as one of the great stars of the London games.

6. Words mean nothing in the Olympic Games, only deeds on the field.
Think of how many times you have heard the phrase on television that the problem is being attended to or appropriate steps are under way – and then nothing happens! In sport, medals are not rewarded for rhetoric. Furthermore, when world records are broken, it is a sobering thought that you are witnessing a deed that has never happened before in the history of mankind.

7. Youth is really beautiful and ogling is perfectly okay.
My pick of the female athletes was Anna Chicherova, the Russian high jump medallist. The way she eyed the bar made me feel weak at the knees. A close second was Carli Lloyd who was in the winning US soccer team and scored both goals in the final. It was not so much her looks as the quality of her second goal which proved she could bend it just like David Beckham. Magnificent even if I watched it on the screen thousands of miles away.

8. National flags count as much as the universal message of the Olympic symbol.
Over 200 countries were represented at the games, so there were a lot of flags on display and a lot of national anthems. Somehow, the Olympics manage to bring out the best in us by kindling the national spirit in a very positive way while sending out the signal that we all live in one world. Sport is better than war and one can celebrate the victory of another country particularly when the individual is as charismatic as Usain Bolt. Nevertheless, the biggest kick comes from watching ones own athletes picking up the medals. So congratulations to Cameron, Chad, our four-man rowing crew of Sizwe, Matthew, John and James, Caster and Bridgette. You did us proud and made us forget about our divisions back home for just a short moment in time. Thanks to all the members of Team South Africa for the joy you gave us and laying the foundation for 2016 in Rio.

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