My eight Olympic lessons
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.