Saturday, 11 August 2012

It's Their Party, They'll Cry if They Want to . . .


The Olympic Park this week: Perhaps hay fever is causing some of the tears?

PERHAPS Paula Radcliffe and her gammy foot are to blame?

Or, to be more precise, Paula and her tear ducts?  When she withdrew from the Olympics a few days before the marathon took place, she told the nation she’d been “crying more tears than ever”.  She’d lost the battle against osteoarthritis in her left foot, a long-term problem that cruelly flared up just a few weeks before the Olympics.

She would have no glorious farewell on the streets of London and no first medal in her fifth appearance at an Olympics. The nation’s most popular athlete was sobbing miserably again – and this time it really did open the floodgates everywhere.

Since then a veritable tsunami of tears and emotions has washed round every Olympic venue and seeped into all corners of the UK.  People have cried over success, cried over failure and cried for just about everything between.

TV and radio have lapped it all up, commentators and pundits happy to spend hours chattering  about emotion, atmosphere, goose bumps, lumps in throats, hairs on their necks, and tears on their cheeks. Now and again they even reverted to analysing the sporting action itself.

There’s no denying that many moments during London 2012 have brought a lump to all our throats and shivers to even the stiffest of spines. But it’s fascinating how this particular Olympics has become ‘The Crying Games’, the one when stiff upper lips and holding-it-together went right out of the window. 

It started with Paula and has spread like a virus. Young competitors who exceeded expectations and put in superb performances have queued up to tell the BBC how gutted they are to have “let people down” by not winning gold. Until now I can’t recall ever hearing a sportsperson go on live TV and almost beg forgiveness for letting people down. Apart from Paula after the Athens Olympics, that is. (I told you this was all her fault!).

Radio 5 Live have been particularly guilty of majoring on ‘emotion’ rather than the sport itself. Many of their presenters are not sports specialists, suggesting the general brief was to go out and get ‘colour’ rather than just the dry facts. The classic example has been the shrieking Victoria Derbyshire, who to her credit was at least prepared to read out texts and e-mails  complaining about her “toe-curlingly embarrassing” performances!

These days, of course, it has become crystal clear the TV cameras are desperate for close-ups of any person undergoing triumph or disaster (all that rubbish reality TV depends on it, of course).  And at these Crying Games, the heroes, heroines and even the also-rans have latched on to a uniform method of coping with Kipling’s twin imposters: even before they are being interviewed they have often dissolved into tears.

Earlier this week I was at the Olympic Park and witnessed a remarkable Norway comeback to beat Brazil in the women’s handball quarter-finals. Six goals behind in the second-half, they rallied in the late stages to pip the South Americans in dramatic fashion. I’m mighty glad the Norge cowbells in the row behind me weren’t being rung by Jeremy Hunt. The end of the match signalled – you guessed it – agonised sobbing from the Brazilians, and joyful tears from the Scandinavians.

One observer reckoned this week we are now in the age of the new emotionalism, where it’s not only acceptable but almost compulsory to let it all hang out and give free rein to innermost feelings.  It was reported that every single member of the British women’s hockey team was in tears following defeat by Argentina (‘Don’t cry for us, Argentina – we can do it for ourselves!’) Once upon a time you’d get the odd solo cry - as per Gazza in 1990 - but now they’re doing it mob-handed.

Nevertheless, the likes of TV's Clare Balding, Michael Johnson and Gary Lineker have largely kept their feelings under control but without becoming boring. But some of the less professional interviewers have crumbled – even to the extent of creating strange silences while they try and pull themselves together.  Sometimes it has been highly amusing, as when equestrian expert Pippa Funnell regularly ignored questions from her co-commentator because she was so intensely focussed on the action, choking back tears and seemingly having lost the power of speech.

It’s been an Olympics of extremes that has provoked extreme reactions - sometimes from unlikely sources.  Even laddish footballers have been swept up by it all and lost their cool. For example, Don Hutchinson, former Liverpool international, said of one athletics session: “Without a doubt the best sporting event I've ever been to in my life. Forget football, this was electric.”

On the final evening of festivities this Sunday we’ll all have a lump in our throats as we realise how proud we are of London for staging the best-ever Games. But come Monday there’s a danger we’ll be all cried out and slumped under a grey cloud of anti-climax.  It will probably hit home when we turn on the TV that evening and find Syria and the economy are the lead stories on the news again.    

For the very last day of the Games I’ve managed to get tickets for the mountain biking, which is being staged here in good old Essex. However impressive the action turns out to be, I promise not to cry. Mind you, if there’s traffic congestion outside, or they sell out of Magnums, I may stamp my foot a little . . .

* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s published books on running and football at www.robhadgraft.com 


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