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Britain’s Gold Standard

I haven’t got much work done this week.

For the past few days, each time I sit down at the
computer in my study, or wander into the garden, my wife, glued to the Olympics
on television, yells at me to come and watch some Brit in the process of
winning a gold medal.

On some irrational patriotic level it’s all been quite
exhilarating, but I have to confess that most of the events in which my
countrymen, and countrywomen, excel happen to be sports in which my interest is
low and my comprehension even lower.  If
nothing else, the cycling has taught me some new words, such as peloton and
kierin, though grasping that sport’s tactical subtleties eludes me. 

Britain has even won gold – and silver – in
white-water kayaking.  This entails two
men in a flimsy canoe spinning around, apparently helplessly, in swirling
water, while trying to negotiate a route through several pairs of poles.  I understand why cycling or rowing have
caught on, but how did a country in which most rivers meander lazily through
gentle meadows filled with ruminating cows get to be good in such an event as
white-water.   Shouldn’t the winners have
been Rocky Mountain Canadians, perhaps of Inuit extraction, or Finns?     

As I write, Britain
stands third in the medal table behind China
and the United States,
emulating the team’s success at the Beijing
games four years ago.

That earlier success tends to undermine the excuse –
mainly offered by frustrated sports-mad Australians, whose team owns just one
solitary gold medal to date – that Britons ought to do well since they have the
advantage of wildly partisan home crowds.  

A writer in the Sydney
Morning Herald
laments, “Losing the so-called Olympic Ashes should not be
unbearable given the British – heavily funded by lottery money and making the
most of home field advantage – had been expected to do well, just as
Australians excelled in Sydney”.  The
last point is admirable, but he goes on to nullify it by adding, “Although,
with Australia
so often second best, the jubilation of the Brits was becoming a touch hard to

The Aussies, as is well known, are great winners but
terrible losers, and nothing if not hypocritical about matters involving rare
displays of Pommie superiority.  What do
they expect, British crowds to watch their heroes in polite silence?  And, by the way, what’s to stop Australia
providing its sports with lottery cash?  

Nearer to home, the French have been sulking, too,
complaining of British partisanship – but only after their prime minister had
gloated, in the early stages of the Games, that France had won four gold medals
to Britain’s none, noting incidentally that many of the spectator seats were
empty.  Paris,
it should also be noted, failed seven years ago to win the Games in a
head-to-head competition with London.

Point-scoring is clearly not confined to the playing

Now they’ve got me at it.  “Come on you Brits!”


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