OPINION: Forget the pre-Olympic worries about security and directionally challenged bus drivers.
It's the same every four years. Reporters descend upon the host city a few days before competition begins and look for ways to fill pages and pad out their bulletins. At Athens it was unfinished stadiums, at Beijing it was air pollution, and in London it has been missing security guards and bus drivers who cannot find their way from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic village.
Inevitably the concerns prove to be unfounded. In Athens the seating was in place when the crowds filed in. In Beijing the skies miraculously cleared and a host of records was shattered.
In London, where the opening ceremony for the 30th Olympic Games began this morning, British troops will fill the gaps left by the security guards who've gone AWOL and it's a penny to a pound that bus drivers will discover a previously unknown talent for map-reading.
It is time to turn our attention to the real business of the Games. In the main, Olympic sports do not command the year-round attention of Kiwi fans in the same manner as rugby, football, netball, rugby league or even cricket. But, for two weeks, every four years we are entranced by watching the planet's greatest athletes perform feats the rest of us can only dream of. National pride is a secondary consideration. To older generations the names of Nurmi, Owens, Blankers-Koen, Zatopek, Korbut, Spitz, Comaneci and Lewis are as familiar as the names of Lovelock, Williams, Halberg, Snell, Todd, Ferguson, Loader and Ulmer.
Four years ago we were as excited by the performances of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps as we were by those of the Evers-Swindell twins and Valerie Adams.
We got to see Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell triumph in a finish so close that TVNZ commentator Peter Montgomery initially placed the Kiwis only third. And we got to see Adams send a 4kg metal ball soaring high into the night sky, before circling the Birds Nest stadium with the New Zealand flag hoisted aloft by her massive arms. But we also got to see two of the greatest individual performances in the 116-year history of the modern Olympics - those of Phelps and Bolt. Phelps, the hyperactive kid who found peace swimming laps, motored relentlessly up and down the Olympic pool to win an unprecedented eight gold medals. The long-legged Bolt won five fewer medals, but, arguably, did so in even more memorable fashion, lurching out of the starting blocks in a tangle of arms and legs like a drunk ejected from a bar, then straightening up and turning to look for his fast-receding rivals.
Who will excite our imaginations this time? We don't yet know. But two glorious weeks of sport stretch ahead of us in which we will find out.
IN PRAISE OF MARGARET MAHY
Imagination flourishes in the young. A child might look at a meadow and see a lion, fantasise about strapping a shark fin to her back to terrify fellow swimmers, think what it would be like if her mother was a pirate and conjure up a vision of 17 kings and 42 elephants ''going on a journey through a wild wet night/Baggy ears like big umbrellaphants/Little eyes a-gleaming in the jungle light.''
However, it is a rare adult who retains the capacity to see the world through that magical lens. It is an even rarer one who has the skill to convey such a sense of wonder to others. Margaret Mahy did.
There can be few New Zealanders who have grown up in the past 40 years who have not enjoyed the fruits of her imagination. Like any good writing, her stories and poems speak to their readers, whatever their culture. However, despite her conviction that she could not write well about her native land, some convey a sense of what it is to be a New Zealander.
There can be few Kiwis who have read A Summery Saturday Morning for whom the poem does not evoke the rustle of the wind in the grass and the sheer joy of being a kid with nothing to do, a world to explore, and limitless time to do it.
- The Dominion Post