x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Let us have some fun and games at the Olympics

Glorious victories are a must, of course, but so too are failures. Heroic failures are fine, if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer the shameful ones.

A tearful Paula Radcliffe at the 2004 Olympics.
A tearful Paula Radcliffe at the 2004 Olympics.

Well, here we are at last. The stadium is built, the tickets sold and the athletes beginning to muster beneath national flags, possibly even the correct ones.

But while sports fans across the world are hoping for the same thing - a successful Olympics - their definitions will vary.

For purists, "success" means lots of shattered records during a secure and well-organised event.

Me? Well, I am greedy. I want more.

My wish list for a truly "successful" London 2012 ranges far beyond the remit of mere sporting achievement. It is also deeply contradictory.

Take, for example, the toppling of a hot favourite. I do like to see a sure thing beaten, particularly a boastful one. When the heavily favoured American 4x100m relay team were pipped in 2004, it felt like payback for their obnoxious podium antics four years previously (although, of the 2000 winners, only Maurice Greene remained).

And yet, perversely, I am longing for Usain Bolt to either beat or match his lightning feats of 2008. And he is far from a shrinking violet in victory.

Acts of tear-jerking sportsmanship are also a must.

I am an absolute sucker for acts of mutual respect between rival athletes, particularly when there is a political significance.

Few of us are old enough to recall the unlikely friendship between the Aryan poster boy Luz Long and the black American Jesse Owens in the 1936 Games, for example, but I do recall the lump in my throat when Derartu Tulu and Elena Meyer shared a lap of honour in 1992, heralding the start of a new chapter for black and white Africans.

On the other hand, who among us can honestly say we do not enjoy a bit of niggle?

From clashes of rivals (the Zola Budd-Mary Decker tumble is my clearest memory of the 1984 Games) to friction between teammates (Seb Coe versus Steve Ovett; Darren Campbell versus drug cheat Dwain Chambers) or with the media (Coe's reaction on winning the 1,500m in 1984 was to race up to assembled reporters and snarl "Who says I'm finished?").

Glorious victories are a must, of course, but so too are failures. Heroic failures are fine, if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer the shameful ones. Give me a Kostas Kenteris over an Eric the Eel, any day.

Finally, and most importantly, my "successful" Games will also contain those unscripted - and unscriptable - moments impossible to predict: Paula Radcliffe's tearful marathon collapse in 2004, Tommie Smith and John Carlos's black power salute, the South Korean boxer Byun Jung-il's refusal to leave the ring in 1988, the Cuban taekwondo fighter who kicked a judge in the face in 2008.

It is simple really. All I am asking for is heroes and villainy, assorted chicanery, humble pie, a teary eye, pride before falls, catcalls, bottlers and battlers, bickerers and sticklers, mopers, slopers, rope-a-dopers - but not dopers - and those who lose focus.

Oh yes, and good weather would be nice. How hard can it be? Let the Games begin!

sports@thenational.ae

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