This is scary. Completely unbidden, my iTunes library has started playing “Nothing Else Matters” as I sat down to blog about the second week of the London 2012 Olympics. Lissie’s cover version of Metallica’s 20-year-old power ballad fits the bill nicely as the soundtrack to my ongoing despair at our Games-obsessed media. For unbridled triumphalism, jingoism and tunnel vision, Britain’s eager beaver army of reporters and feature writers take the gold medal every time.
In case you’ve been holidaying in another galaxy or couldn’t care less about sport, I should point out that Team GB is enjoying unprecedented sporting success at the London 2012 Olympics. With 51 medals — 24 of them gold — we’re currently in third place behind superpowers China and the USA. Not bad for a nation of 62 million chip-eating, Coke-swilling couch potatoes, with a dwindling supply of open space in which to run, ride, cycle and swim.
I have nothing but admiration for all the members of Team GB — the medal-winners, the heroic failures and the also-rans. Britain’s modest and hard-working Olympic athletes are a refreshing change from listening to the weekly rantings of overpaid, inarticulate and morally bankrupt footballers. But it worries me when the athletic achievements of the home team have completely hijacked the news agenda. If you’re reading this outside the UK, bear in mind that I’m not just talking about the two weeks of the Olympic Games: we’ve had a full seven years of media hype.
The first week was fun. Admittedly, Team GB’s failure to get among the medals in the Olympic road race on Day 1 did cause a massive post-Tour de France hangover. But then there was Lizzie Armitstead’s silver in the women’s road, (Sir) Bradley Wiggins’s gold in the time trial, and successes galore for our rowers and track cyclists. Before you knew it Team GB had more gold on its hands than a marauding pirate crew. But it wasn’t so much a case of “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum” as an unending chorus of “Where’s the next medal coming from?”
I can pinpoint the exact moment at which these Olympics “jumped the shark”. Last Saturday night, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, marvellous Mo Farah and unassuming long jumper Greg Rutherford all won gold in a breathtaking 45 minutes in the Olympic Stadium. After a summer in which Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour de France, I remember thinking that it couldn’t get much better than this for UK sport.
So instead of savouring this golden moment, BBC1 viewers were abruptly whisked off to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff just in time to see the GB football team lose on penalties to South Korea. Talk about a mood killer. It was a bit like leaving a champagne reception to attend a 2 for 1 curry evening at your local boozer. Presenter Gary Lineker looked almost as tearful as when his studio guest Ian Thorpe got a free transfer to the Clare Balding team at the Aquatics Centre. I’m sure it wasn’t Gary’s idea to cut from scenes of unparalleled sporting triumph to (let’s be honest) inevitable football failure, but someone should have known better.
The next morning at least one Sunday paper was describing Super Saturday as Britain’s “greatest day for 104 years”. What, better than VE Day 1945, the World Cup Final of 1966 or the glorious occasion on which Margaret Thatcher finally said “sayonara” to Downing Street? You cannot be serious!
Since then there have been loads more medals for Team GB, including an improbable gold for Andy Murray in the Olympic tennis, against an underpowered Roger Federer. We’ve seen Grenada earn its first ever Olympic gold, courtesy of the brilliant 400m runner Kirani James. We’ve also applauded Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia’s first female track competitor to take part in the Games.
Yes, the Olympic Games is supposed to be a celebration of diversity and international sporting achievements — not parochialism and sour grapes. Steve Cram’s reaction to Algeria’s Taoufik “Lazarus” Makhloufi winning gold in the 1,500m on Tuesday was so peevish that Brendan Foster had to step in and shut him up. Makhloufi had been controversially reinstated in the event after being disqualified for not really trying in his 800m heat. We all knew he wasn’t really “injured”, but this hardly seemed the moment to keep harping on about it.
With all our medals and so many athletes to be proud of, do we really need to “big” ourselves up by denigrating less successful countries at these Games? If I had a fiver for every time some BBC twerp has sneered about the Australian medals drought I’d be on a plane to Nice right now. This “Yorkshire’s more successful than Australia” line is very childish and completely irrelevant if you look at the big picture outside the sporting sphere.
The UK has a ballooning trade deficit, negligible growth prospects and an idiot for a Chancellor; the Australian economy is holding up better than expected. When the dust settles on London 2012 I wonder who’s going to be feeling more secure about the future.