THE JONNY GOULD COLUMN
I watch the Olympic Games every four years. I embrace sports I have never heard of – let alone have an interest in – and I shed tears of joy for unknown athletes who stand on top of a medal rostrum. I truly believe the Olympic Creed is almost an adult’s guide to good parenting:
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
I’m sure I’m not alone telling my son Tommy that everyone gets knocked down, but what truly matters is what you do next. Do you have the strength to get back up for instance? Mohammed Ali – a former Olympic Gold Medallist himself – once said: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
Shoot for the stars. I love that – even if most of us will fall woefully short. And this often gets me thinking – what does it feel like to know at that very moment the Gold medal is put around your neck, that you are literally the best in the whole wide world?
Usain Bolt is famous – oh and for the record what a name for a Sprinter – and he is still the fastest man/person that ever lived. So, according to recent research, that means Usain is/was faster than 117 billion other humans. That is just crazy numbers. Yet most Olympians are NOT famous. Most Olympians sacrifice their childhood in the hope of becoming a Champion, and even if they’re successful, spend the majority of their lives in relative anonymity. And I wonder, is that why we invest so much emotion into their struggle, and their triumph? Because they invest so much blood, sweat and tears, not for lasting fame or financial reward, but for the purity of being the best – if only for a day?
SHOOT HIM! Sir Steve Redgrave gave his permission 25 years ago, but here he is, still the icon for all oarsmen. (Rex Features).
I think back to the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Sir Steve Redgrave was back competing in his 5th Olympics despite what he had famously said after his Gold medal winning performance in the Coxless Pairs of the 1996 Olympic Games: “If anyone ever sees me near a boat again” he said, “they have my permission to shoot me!” But return to a boat he did, and along with his big mate Matthew Pinsent, preceded to do what no man had ever achieved before or since – win a Gold Medal at 5 consecutive Olympic Games in an endurance sport.
I reference this achievement because Sir Steve is clearly world famous, yet I’ll never forget the life-affirming aspect of the medal Ceremony for that 5th Gold. There was the true icon that is Sir Steve receiving his 5th Gold medal and beneath his lycra rowing suit was a very definite middle-aged man tummy. I couldn’t believe it. The greatest Olympian ever had a gut. I so loved him for that. He might have 5 x Olympic Golds, 9 x World Championship Golds and 3 x Commonwealth Golds, but Sir Steve was one of us. Just for a moment, as I rolled off the sofa and stepped on my discarded Pizza, I truly believed that I could still be an Olympic Champion.
Well that dream took a bit of a bashing of late. You see halfway through this year’s Olympics I turned 60. Yes – 60 years old? There are priceless Whiskeys younger than I am. It’s therefore now impossible for me to escape my glaring reality – that the glory days are well and truly over. My only hope of Olympic stardom now is if the IOC introduces an event for nightly toilet visits.
Mia Hamm the famed US footballer once said: “I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
Well my fire is now heartburn. Or is it?
One of the highlights for me of the Tokyo Olympic Games has been the wide margin of ages amongst the medal winners. The Australian equestrian Mary Hanna for instance was the Games oldest competitor at the age of 66. This was her sixth Olympic Games. Her teammate Andrew Hoy became Australia’s oldest Olympic medallist at the age of 62, when he won an individual bronze and team silver in the eventing. Asked after whether age or experience was more important, he responded: “Age!”
Georgian Shooter Nino Salukvadze was competing in her 9th Olympics at the age of 52. She made her Olympic debut so long ago that she was representing the Soviet Union when she won Gold as a teenager in Seoul in 1988.
Obviously age is not a barrier to a shooter or an equestrian, but it is to a gymnast. And that makes Oksana Chusovitina’s achievement of competing at the age of 46 so incredible. Up against gymnasts 30 years her junior, Oksana was relying on experience gained 29 years previously, when she won Olympic Gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
But each of these Olympic greats are confined to the bin of relative youth compared to the all-time record for the oldest Olympic competitor. That honour is held by Sweden’s Oscar Swahn. Oscar was born in 1847, and won two shooting Gold Medals at the 1908 London Olympics. He also won gold in Stockholm four years later. 1920 proved his last Olympic Games at the tender age of 72. So perhaps there is time for me yet – if only I could ride, or shoot!
Until next time!
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