As I write this I’m half aware of some brightly coloured fruit and vegetables dancing in front of me. I’ve checked the ingredients of the M&S “Spirit of Summer” Cocoa and Pecan fudge that I’m currently snacking on (a welcome and undeserved gift from Mrs Proclaims who just returned from the afore-mentioned M&S), to see if there are any known hallucinogens therein. Seemingly there are not.
On closer reflection, the ‘dancing produce’ seem to be part of the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games. It appears that I’m watching the repeat of last night’s coverage on BBC2.
I don’t really know why I’m watching it. I’ve never been a fan of opening and closing ceremonies. Four years ago Mrs Proclaims and I did watch the 2012 closing ceremony on the TV, but mostly because of the huge emotional investment we put into those particular Games.
Four years on, even though we watched avidly, the investment was rather less.
Still, as I’m writing about the Rio Games, the closing ceremony seems a suitable background distraction. So I’ll keep it on.
I did enjoy the Rio Games. As a Brit it made particularly good viewing. What is beyond doubt is that they were absolutely our most successful ‘away’ Games ever.
What is less clear is whether they can be regarded as our most successful post-war Games.
The 1908 London Games, when apparently we won a ridiculous 146 medals, 56 of which were gold, still ranks as our best ever, but even for that point in history, when such things as a British Empire still existed and, for the worst possible reasons, we were ‘kind of a big deal’, it was still an anomaly.
Indeed, throughout history, Team GB has tended to fare rather less well and following the Second World War, our highest rank in the medal table, prior to Beijing, had been eighth place. Atlanta 1996 was a record low point with us finishing in 36th place, fifteen medals in total and amongst them a solitary gold (take a bow Messrs Redgrave and Pinsent) – indeed that was almost as much of an anomaly as 1908.
Since that dreadful showing, GB has fared better, with both Sydney and Athens being unspectacular but respectable tenth place finishes.
Beijing represented something of a turnaround for British Sport with 47 medals (nineteen of which were gold), London 2012 built on that significantly with a haul of 65 medals and Rio with our highest post-war medal count of 67 might well be regarded as even more successful than that.
But there is room for debate on whether Rio 2016 can truly be regarded as more successful for Team GB than London 2012. I don’t entirely agree with professional oppugner and Twitter troll, Piers Morgan, in his belief that we should only be excited by gold medals and discount silver and bronze. Being the second or third best at something in the world is still pretty impressive. Nonetheless it is the number of golds a country wins that determines its place in the medal table. Team GB did win two more golds in 2012 than this time around so by that measure, 2012 was the more successful campaign. Then again, even with slightly fewer golds, Team GB finished second in the medal table in Rio and third in London. So it really depends on what criteria you use to judge.
Nonetheless, it’s abundantly clear that Team GB is performing pretty consistently at a high level at the moment. Finishing above China is no mean feat, even if this was China’s worst performance at an Olympics in terms of golds since 1996 (apparently not a great year for GB or China. Or me for that matter – but that is a subject for an entirely different post).
Obviously having the entire Russian athletics team banned because of institutional doping didn’t hurt GB’s ranking.
None of that should belittle the performance of Team GB. Second is still an amazing result. Indeed the BBC informed me this morning that we’ve been described as a ‘Sporting Superpower’. A high accolade indeed. Which country bestowed this illustrious title upon us? Well we bestowed it upon ourselves as it turns out. That was a quote from the head of UK Sport.
Still the evidence suggests we’re punching above our weight at the moment.
It’s a great time to be British.
Except that a recent protest vote, that has resulted in us leaving the EU, suggests that, for a lot of people, it’s really not that great being British at the moment.
But the Olympics is no time to worry about the disaffection of a large percentage of the population.
Indeed it’s no time to worry about politics at all.
If we were to worry about politics, we might concern ourselves with issues such as what kind of ‘bad news’ the government has buried in the past two weeks while the UK media has been obsessing about the Olympics. But that sounds like a bit of a downer, so let’s continue to focus on how brilliant and inspirational being British is after our best/second-best (delete as appropriate) post-war Olympics.
There’s currently a massive parrot on the TV. It’s probably part of the closing ceremony but I’m checking the ingredients of the fudge again to be certain.
Nope, the fudge is fine. Indeed it’s delicious. I’m not being paid to advertise M&S or anything (I think, in general, advertisers prefer larger readerships than I can claim) but seriously, their new ‘Spirit of Summer’ range is really good.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, the Olympics.
So Team GB did well and on balance that’s a good thing. Because I’m British and I do generally get behind my team. Not to ridiculous levels obviously.
I mean I did have a Chinese takeaway last night, but that wasn’t so I could rub it in the face of the proprietor. She didn’t really seem that interested anyway. So my victory dance just made me look silly really.
One of the brilliant things about the Olympics is seeing people from any nation perform ridiculous feats that defy logic. In this regard it was hard to see past Simone Biles as being the shining light of the Games – the star performer of the gymnastics was just something extraordinary to behold.
Others to transcend nationality would have to include Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps in the swimming (the former for setting world records every five minutes, the latter for his insane longevity and amazing death stare). No doubt the US wishes that their entire swimming team were as universally admired as those two medal machines and that certain competitors spent less time destroying toilets and fabricating robberies. Unlike his team-mates, Phelps at least reserves his drunken misdemeanours for times when the world’s media is not fixated on his every move.
Usain Bolt remains the superstar of the Olympics in the eyes of many, and he’s certainly a hard person to dislike. Despite being ridiculously talented, charismatic and successful, he seems to be loved by all. He didn’t disappoint in his final games and athletics will miss him.
What did disappoint a lot of people in the UK was the BBC’s coverage. Flip-flopping was the term used to describe the constant switching between BBC1 and BB2. The public outcry was huge and not surprisingly. Having to press a button on the remote control every few hours is certainly a hardship that no civilised human should have to endure in this day and age.
While the rolling coverage meant there were plenty of opportunities to witness the spectacles on offer, it was not without its issues. The main one perhaps being the need to fill airtime when there was nothing happening These gaps were mostly filled with inane wittering.
Constant debates about who Britain’s greatest Olympian, with Redgrave, Hoy and Wiggins all in apparent contention, if we could only agree whether number of medals, number of golds or number of ‘gold-winning’ Olympic Games is what defines ‘great’. It’s a ridiculous debate, but fortunately “golden couple” Laura Trott and Jason Kenney should put the matter beyond doubt in Tokyo. Maybe there will continue to be a debate about which of them deserves the accolade, although it’s pretty hard to draw a distinction, they’re both so ridiculously good. Perhaps it will make for an interesting ‘tea time’ conversation for both of them, assuming they can agree who exactly it is that makes the tea.
If Chris Boardman’s apparently sexist comments might have been taken out of context, then critics could be forgiven – there was no small amount of sexism on display by the media during the games – summed up fairly concisely in this link. The outcry at John Inverdale’s inability to remember the successes of the Williams sisters when congratulating Andy Murray for being the first tennis player to win two gold medals might also have been a touch harsh on the BBC presenter – Murray was the first tennis player, male or female, to win two gold medals as a singles player, Venus and Serena won most of their Olympic titles in the doubles. On the other hand, Inverdale does have form for sexism – his comments about 2013 Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli being pretty hard to justify in any context.
On the subject of Inverdale, he seems to have had an Olympics to forget. Back in 2012 he must have felt that the role of main anchor was his for the taking, and then they gave it to ‘national treasure’ Gary Lineker off of the football. Lineker was never going to travel to Rio though, particularly with the football season overlapping the Games and a certain commitment to presenting Match of The Day in his pants. No Rio glory for Inverdale though – the rise and rise of new ‘national treasure’ Clare Balding was always on course to dismantle his ambitions, even had he not made the Bartoli comments in 2013.
Nevertheless, taking him out of the studio and putting him to work as an ‘event-side’ reporter may have been ill-judged. He managed to irritate his Olympian co-hosts at both the boxing and the rowing. Indeed, if Anthony Joshua looked less than delighted to be paired with Inverdale, Sir Steve Redgrave was openly aggrieved and hostile.
And against Redgrave, who is the quintessential ‘national treasure’, Inverdale never stood a chance. If Redgrave were to be criticised, one might point out that he was actually paid (with licence-fee money no less) to be a co-host so it might have been a touch unprofessional for him to keep hugging the competitors instead of, you know, letting Inverdale interview them.
But it would be churlish for anyone to criticise Britain’s greatest Olympian (or second greatest, or third greatest or whatever he currently is).
It’s much easier to criticise John Inverdale who must be looking forward to February and the return of the Six Nations, a televised sporting event that he understands, where casual sexism is largely tolerated and coverage of the women’s game is fleeting at best.
The BBC reporting was thorough, at times too thorough. I’m never certain what anyone expects to achieve by interviewing an athlete who has just lost and there were certainly some awkward moments as defeated competitors sobbed uncontrollably or raged at perceived poor judging.
Sometimes it did seem that, as a viewer, I was being told what I should feel about certain triumphs and failures. It was particularly irritating when I did feel those things and the excessive eulogising made me question my feelings.
Certainly a highlight for Mrs Proclaims and I was the success of the women’s hockey team. I’m not sure I’ve seen Mrs Proclaims sit through an entire match of any team sport before, but she was transfixed. How we cheered when Maddie Hinch made save after save and then Hollie Webb scored the decisive penalty. Then the BBC just went on and on and on about it and in the end a pretty exciting narrative became a bit boring.
Another thing that became boring was the constant assertion by all winning athletes that their success was the result of “four years hard work”.
Cos, you know, a lot of people work pretty hard.
And most people don’t have the privilege of working hard at something that they genuinely love doing.
And how must the losing athletes feel hearing that?
I bet they worked quite hard for four years too.
But these are small gripes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Games, and even though I contributed nothing to the overall success of Team GB, I’m more than happy to bask in this shared national glory for a few days.
But I do have a new, post-Games cause for concern.
For as we watched the last bit of coverage yesterday eve, and the collective views of former Olympians (Pendleton, Pinsent and Redgrave in this instance) were gathered one final time, Mrs Proclaims turned to me and said “You know what? I quite fancy Steve Redgrave.”
I’m not worried. He’s happily married, as (to the best of my knowledge) is my wife.
Then again, he does live reasonably close to Reading.
Maybe I need to be careful.
Perhaps John Inverdale just found a new ally.