The Olympics: where young dreams grow

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2012

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Sean Plunket

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OPINION: By the time this is published, the 30th Olympic Games will have kicked off in earnest with a doubtless stunning opening ceremony that may or may not involve morris dancing around a maypole.

Last year's Rugby World Cup left a legacy in my house of a massive flat-screen television that covers half my living room wall, so I feel technologically ready to make the most of the hours of wall-to-wall, couch-potato viewing that will be offered across the myriad Olympic channels created especially for the event by my cable TV supplier.

But, for all the whizbang graphics, team coverage, computer analysis and breathless commentary, I am sure it will not match my first Olympic memory.

It was 1972 and we were on school holidays at a bach in Taupo. On a grainy black-and-white TV, we sat round watching a bunch of guys sitting backwards in a boat on a lake near Munich and beating everyone else to take a gold medal.

I can't recall whether the coverage was live but the moment was absolute magic as the New Zealand anthem was played and our flag flew above all others.

I've seen great Olympic moments since, John Walker at Montreal, Ferg and Macca dominating the kayak racing, the evergreen Mark Todd on Charisma and Danyon Loader in the pool, to name but a few; still none compare for me with that moment in Munich, despite those Games being racked by terrorism.

Over the next fortnight, we will witness more magic in London, commentators' voices will break with emotion as plucky Kiwi athletes either beat the rest of the world or have their dreams crushed in the crucible of competition that is the Olympic Games.

One hopes a new generation of young Kiwis will have their equivalent of a magic Munich moment which they can carry for the rest of their lives.

Now I know the Olympics have changed and evolved over the years, that some sports such as synchronised swimming simply aren't, and that competitions such as the soccer don't actually represent the world's best of their particular code.

But, conversely, despite doping, commercialism, tabloid coverage and the like, the glorious feats of those who can run, swim, pedal, throw and row farther and faster than the rest of the world deserve recognition and celebration.

And it is not just Kiwis that we will marvel at. At these London Olympics there will be, as there have been at every Olympics, fantastic stories. Stories of those who win multiple golds (Mark Spitz), stories of the most beautiful or gracious (Olga Korbut), and those who simply take their sport to a new and unimagined level of excellence (Jesse Owens).

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They don't have to be New Zealanders for us to share and engage in their stories because Olympic competition celebrates humanity as a whole despite the seeming obsession with medal tables and national per-capita-success rates that dominate media coverage.

I am also looking forward to seeing news from Europe that isn't about financial meltdown, the imminent collapse of the eurozone or the Greek, Spanish and Italian debt crisis.

The Olympic Games will not in any way solve those problems but it might be nice, for just a wee while, to concentrate on figures and statistics that tell us what humanity is capable of rather than how it has failed.

I have never actually been to an Olympics and can't say doing so is anywhere on my bucket-list but that memory of those men in the black singlets on the grainy TV stays with me.

The idea that individuals can aspire to be, and indeed become, the best in any field of endeavour is universally appealing and, when they come from your distant land at the bottom of the world, it is all the more poignant.

There will be bleary eyes at workplaces, a marked increase in absenteeism and some distraction in the nation's classrooms while the Games are on. But new heroes will be created, legends born and young people inspired to reach for gold. Most of us, of course, are not Olympians and most Olympians are not medallists but it is a fair bet we will have a few more when the London Olympics are over.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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