My nine-year-old daughter Laura has much more faith in my athletic history than it deserves. At secondary school, the kindest comment on the PE section of my school report came from Miss Yardley: “Deborah needs to have more confidence in her ability”. That was before I discovered that careful manipulation of my school timetable would allow me to skip PE lessons entirely.
But then I remember one brief moment of glory when a timely growth spurt ensured that my legs were the optimum length for the hurdles. My stride was the perfect length to enable me to soar over them without knocking any down. Miss Yardley was as amazed as I was.
“Hurdles,” I tell Laura confidently. “Hurdles were wonderful. They made me feel like I could fly.”
“And what else?”
Stumped, I quickly think back to this term’s homework, which has been dominated by the whole school’s study of the Olympics.
“Pole-vault,” I decide. “Or high jump. Because I’d be airborne then too.”
I’m beginning to enjoy this pleasant fantasy.
“But what about the triple-jump?” she suggests brightly.
Laura is the Olympic expert in our house, able to reel off with ease the full list of sporting events and to name many record-breaking athletes too.
“Yes, triple-jump would do it too.”
When these mascots first came out, I thought they were hideous. But on Friday I caved in and allowed her to buy them with her pocket money, the toyshop having just reduced them to half-price. She hugs them to her ecstatically on the way home in the car.
“I’m so glad I’ve got them!” she beams. “They’ll always be extra special now because I bought them on the day of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony!”
I feel like a heel and a killjoy for not endorsing them earlier.
It’s not that I don’t love the Olympic movement. I’ve already bought the London 2012 Olympic Top Trumps (UK and International editions) and an official Olympics t-shirt to Laura to wear in our village’s 5k Fun Run (wonderfully led, I hasten to add, by the former GB Olympic runner Nick Rose). I even acquired a badge of the dubious 2012 logo for my collection of enamel pins.
I took Laura to see the Olympic torch relay the day before her birthday and organised her birthday party on an Olympic theme (Hawkesbury 2012 – please don’t sue me, LOCOG!) These Birthday Olympics, which thankfully coincided with a heatwave, included less than authentic sporting events such as the Carry A Cup Of Water On Your Head Race. The birthday tea consisted entirely of circular food to reflect the Olympic rings. Each child represented a country and was a flag carrier for that country in the opening ceremony (a route-march around the perimeter of our lawn).
To avoid squabbles over who would represent GB, I instructed Laura beforehand to choose the ten prettiest national flags, and these were the countries that we used. She’d only heard of two of those countries (and there was at least one that I hadn’t heard of, either), so it was a good geography lesson too.
Consequently, as we watch the London 2012 opening ceremony on television, Laura is looking out for her friends’ countries.
“Oh, there goes Molly…. that one was Lily’s country. Hello, Alexis!”
Wenlock and Mandeville are still lounging about our coffee table as we fill it with popcorn and cold drinks to fuel us through the whole ceremony. I wonder whether Laura will stay the course.
But to my surprise and satisfaction, we both enjoy it enormously, right to the bitter end (yes, I’m talking about you, Sir Paul). As the stadium finally begins to empty well after midnight, my face is still wet with the tears that flowed as the many touches of genius emerged: the 7 billion strips of paper dropped to represent every occupant of this earth; the striking up of Bowie’s “Heroes” as the British squad entered the arena; the appearance of Mohammed Ali to help carry the Olympic flag; the unexpected and perfect selection of young hopefuls to light that beautiful cauldron – to name but a few of the many, many highlights.
By next morning, in my eyes at least, the London 2012 logo has morphed into a thing of great beauty and I don my enamel badge with pride.
My other blog posts on the Olympic theme: