London 2012, maybe the most “human” Olympics ever to take place. Why? PR gaffs by legends, mediocrity in pageantry, atop utter coolness and enthusiasm, the UK has come through in simmering style. The gaffers, Lord Sebastian Coe and America’s Carl Lewis, show the fragile side of the human equation. Usain Bolt and Kenya’s David Lekuta Rudisha, remind us of echoing greatness. London 2012 will be remembered for a very long time as a time and place of superhuman humanity.
It’s About Class
I started this article intent on roasting Carl Lewis. The legendary sprinter, you see, was a favorite of mine. If anyone could ever seem akin to the great Jesse Owens, Lewis and his achievements seemed to resound of such prowess. Golden, at the very least, Lewis stood atop a long list of extraordinary athletes. And then he opened his big mouth some more.
Sebastian Coe must have been discontented with greatness too, even knighthood must have become boring to insult not only a champion but a nation. And there it is! Casting dispersion on Jamaica’s whole sprint team, poking jabs at Usain Bolt, Lewis must be incoherent to fail realize what he did. And, the BBC too did their PR goofy part to show the mediocre side of humanity, of the games. Showing British athletes to the exclusion of just about everybody else, making excuses for every little loss, the world’s best broadcasting network overdid it a bit. But then.
It’s About Being Human
As humanity seems to balance itself in other realms, so too London 2012 leveled the playing field. Bolt’s seeming arrogance, when one looks closely, reveals a smart man, a very smart man. More importantly though, looking at Usain Bolt with the right sunglasses on shows us his people. Utterly enamored with running and the forgotten Olympic sport of FUN, Jamaicans are the quintessential optimists, playful, joyous, smiling always. And Carl Lewis decided (as an American BTW) to sling mud on that little Island nation. Oh, and as it turns out, his former fans and several million other Bolt enthusiasts. WOW!
Usain Bolt – Bob Hayes (upper left), David Rudisha – Kipchoge Keino, Michael Phelps (below left) – Johnny Weissmuller, London – Stockholm. What’s that? Oh, the paralells I point to are not so obvious. Bob and Usain I mention because some still say Hayes was the fastest ever. Rudisha, he reminds me of Kip Keino somehow. Tarzan should come to everyone’s mind. London 2012 and the Stockholm games in 1912 is a more interesting stretch however. The games where the King of Sweden proclaimed Jim Thorpe “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” I mention this Olympic moment so that athletes, especially those predisposed to be uncool like Carl Lewis, remember of what and where and whom they speak.
Sullying one’s own name, as a hero of a nation, the world, is only surpassed by the damage done to others. Think of the kids who will think it is okay, even good, to repudiate the victories of others. Interestingly, during the games of 1912, this was the last time the Gold Medals were made of pure gold.
Another contrast of sorts, King Gustav V’s opening remarks seem a bit more golden than Queen Elizabeth’s this go round.
“It is with legitimate joy and pride that we Swedes see athletes from every part of the world gathered here with us. It is a great honour for Sweden that Stockholm has been chosen as the scene of the Fifth Olympiad, and I bid all of you, athletes and friends of athletics, a most hearty welcome to this friendly contest of the nations. May the grand thought that found expression in the Olympic Games in classic times be so held in honour by our age too, that these competitions may become a powerful means to promote the physical health and development of every people. With these words, I herewith declare the Olympic Games of Stockholm opened.”
Sweden’s King did not read this speech from a scrap of paper. In contrast, Queen Elizabeth II read aloud from a prepared statement: ““I declare open the Games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era.” Well, there really are not so many parallels between 1912 and 2012, save maybe the spirit of the athletes and the fans. British fans just have to be the best part of London 2012. Seldom in my recollection of Olympic competition have I seen such utter enthusiasm, kindness, glee, and childlike wonderment from a people. The British fan is a wonder, really.
London 2012, unlike Stockholm, did not have a legendary general compete in the first modern pentathlon. Then George Patton did use his Colt 45 revolver in the shooting aspect in Stockholm. Later one of WW II’s most famous generals, Patton also fenced and he finished 4th in a very close competition. Back then the US finished first in medals too, and Britain 3rd, just as now. Ah but lack of class is not something that just came out in the 21st Century though. Reading about marathon runner Kanakuri Shizō disappearing during the race, Stockholm saw its share of human error too.
As it turns out, Shizō decided to stop along the route of the race at a villa where a party was going on. His reasoning was ostensibly to quench his thirst, but after having overstayed the athlete later caught the train back to Stockholm and left the games the next day. And to show the Brits are not the only people with a sense of humor – Sweden officials invited Shizō back to Stockholm some 50 years after the incident, to compete his marathon bid. The Japanese runner now posseses the unofficial Olympic Marathon time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.
It’s A Legacy
The moral of this short story is. London 2012 ends tonight, but no really. 100 years from now an old man will remember, having raced so gracefully, spoken so softly, won so graciously, as to have enthralled a nation not his own. David Lekuta Rudisha is not just a gold medalist in the 800 meters, he is the 800 meters. Usain Bolt finished off the 4 x 100 in a fashion not unlike Bob Hayes when the US was down going into the anchor leg in Tokyo. No, Bolt did not make up 20 meters, but he and his team did shatter the WR. In Style too.
Thorpe, Coe, Keino, Mathias, Duke Kahanamoku – yes, you read Duke’s name correctly. The Olympic Games are not just about today’s heroes, world record holders, the pin up boys and girls we are channeled to see and love. When Carl Lewis or any other icon opens their big mouth and inserts their own foot, there’s a lot more at stake. Duke Kahanamoku (mag cover at right) was five time Olympic medalist who competed at Stockholm, a century ago exactly. Not only was Duke near superhuman in the pool, he is also credited with having spread the sport of surfing. A beach volleyball player, lawman, businessman, and actor the Hawaiian athlete was an is a legend to not just Hawaiians, but as well. And what of heroic losers who won?
At the same time Kip Keino was preparing for his Olympic moments, a marathon runner named John Stephen Akhwari provided another emotional instant none who witnessed it can forget. Less than half way through the marathon Stephen cramped up badly and fell. Dislocating his knee and injuring his shoulder badly, the Tanzanian runner struggled onward to finish dead last. When asked why he continued, Stephen replied;
“My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”
It is not the well known today athlete Carl Lewis, Sebastian Coe, or any other noted Olympian tarnishes with poor form comments you see. Bad form puts a dark spot on us all. Coe said Phelps is not the greatest! Maybe not. Perhaps the fact that Thorpe won both the Decathlon and the Pentathlon. On sheer determination and character, maybe Kip Keino leaving his hotel room against doctor’s orders, taking a taxi to the stadium, getting caught in a traffic jam in Mexico City, then getting out and running to his moment in history at Estadio Azteca. There, Keino cemented himself and his people into the fabric of Olympic DNA, beating America’s greatest ever 1500 meter runner Jim Ryan by the largest margin ever.
Keino’s feat remains to this day one quintessential competitive example. The spirit of the games lives in such moments. A boy from Kenya runs to run, to defy the American world record holder. Usain Bolt, and his fellows, lift millions to their feet (yes my family stood and cheered in front of the TV last night). And the American champion of years past pokes and jabs, scratches at mediocrity.
Britain, you are SUPERB! Superbly Human.