Games spirit rises above jingoistic media

MEMORABLE MOMENT: Kiwi rowing legend Mahe Drysdale with his Olympic gold medal.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Kiwi rowing legend Mahe Drysdale with his Olympic gold medal.

What has been your moment of the Olympic Games so far? It is very hard to choose, but as a Brit I am going to go for Mahe Drysdale's gold medal.

It was a victory that made you believe that these Games can be about something other than jingoism, gloating and an almost total disregard for the achievements of johnny foreigner.

Most of New Zealand already knows how Drysdale has come back from food poisoning at the previous Olympics and a bike accident six weeks ago.

They probably also know that the rower is widely regarded as a good bloke in his own sport, a tag that might not always be applied to the supreme men's pair of Bond and Murray, although it was pleasing to see them pull on the oar of the British boat and shake hands.

No, the part of Drysdale's victory that should have sent a message to the rest of the Games was in the moment of celebration.

Drysdale managed to get through the national anthem without blubbing (although shame on the BBC's British TV feed for ignoring the New Zealand anthem in favour of yet another patriotic interview) and was then hoisted on the shoulders of his defeated rivals.

A few minutes earlier bronze medallist Alan Campbell, of Coleraine in Northern Ireland, had been unable to stand. “So sore, so tired,” he gasped. A Polish rowing medallist had already been taken to the rostrum in a wheelchair and Campbell looked in need of similar assistance.

“Have you got any energy to stand up,” asked the interviewer with genuine concern.

“I think I'll just hold on to Mahe,” wheezed Campbell.

But after Campbell was almost carried to the presentation ceremony by Britain's greatest Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave, the little iron man found the reserves of decency to lift Drysdale.

Ondrej Synek, the silver medallist and former world champion from the Czech Republic, looked in better physical shape than Campbell, but he must have been mentally devastated.

He hadn't dreamed of coming second. Yet he joined with Campbell in showing the New Zealander the ultimate respect. And maybe those of us who were not born at the time could realise some part of how the Allies had once come together to beat Hitler.

War can give even these Games a little perspective. Back in 1948 London held the Austerity Olympics as they were known. David Bond is the last surviving British gold medallist from those Games (one of the five deceased gold medallists, curiously, was the father of actor Hugh Laurie). There were no MBEs for Bond.

The sailor had to take unpaid leave from his job at the British Overseas Airways Corporation to compete. And when Bond returned to work, a colleague refused to believe he had won until he plonked his gold medal on the table.

If you want a perspective on these things - and after 10 days of "we" from the supposedly impartial commentators of the BBC, I really crave some perspective - then Charles Upham is always a good man to draw from.

He didn't run around the country on a tickertape tour with two Victoria Crosses draped round his neck. He just got on with life and I suspect Willie Apiata is made of the same stuff.

Sadly, there is a growing trend among sectors of the media - and the broadcast media is by far the most culpable - to behave like fans with microphones.

One BBC interviewer has taken to putting his arm round the winning athletes in a nauseatingly chummy way. Most of the athletes look extremely uncomfortable at this manoeuvre.

He is just another fan who regards the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah as his personal property.

What has happened to the BBC? Overseas guest analysts like Ian Thorpe and the excellent Michael Johnson have been coerced into behaving like Brits with flags.

Each evening they hop off the couch to add more faces on the medal board or to move the gold-o-meter up another couple of gloating notches.

Of course we didn't see the highlights of the women's 10,000m, the first track gold.

No chance. A Brit didn't win.

If the Beeb and other parts of the world media get their way, then the Austerity Games will have been replaced by the Capitalist Games. Prime ministers old and new are falling over each other to be associated with Britain's new-found wealth. David Cameron, Tony Blair et al have been at the velodrome.

The performance of Drysdale, Synek and Campbell still gives me great hope for the legacy of these Games. And London's smiling volunteers have picked up the baton from Sydney that was at times lost in the smog of Athens and Beijing.

Despite the disgraceful conduct of much of the broadcast media, the people and the athletes can still triumph. I loved the part of the opening ceremony when Sir Steve handed the torch to the young future Olympians to light the flame.

Watching Farah, a Brit of Somalian descent, win the 10,000m made the flame burn brighter, just as watching the miraculous Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethiopia, chase down the great Paul Tergat in Sydney made some of us want to run for joy.

That was 12 years ago. On Sunday a New Zealand runner called Jessica, encouraged by her grandparents to follow in the footsteps of Jessica Ennis, watched her role model win gold.

It mattered little that Ennis did not have a silver fern across her chest. Inspiration comes from all around the world.

That's the Olympic legacy.

Fairfax Media