Why I'm Out of the Olympic Closet

Running really fast in matching outfits, collecting expensive bling and singing ‘God save the Queen’ with total sincerity are, as we all know, some of the least punk ways of passing the time.

But, regardless of the opinion of our brilliant leader, I’m still coming out as an Olympic convert, having been won over by a combination of pure joy and supreme image quality.

But first, let’s go back a few months. The only impact the London Olympic Games threatened to have on my life was in the toilet department, firstly as a given reason that Glastonbury wasn’t happening this year (not enough portaloos for both events) and secondly as the reason my mate Jen would be missing my birthday due to her role on the anti-doping squad. Or, as she put it, ‘collecting various bodily fluids from athletes’ (she has been hoping to pull an Australian swimmer between shifts testing their urine samples). So I was appropriately pissed off with the massive, jumped-up sports day for affecting my summer before it even began.

Add to this the fact that I don’t watch any sport, at any point, for any reason, ever. I didn’t even really like going to the dog races, and there was actually a chance I might win some money there, as well as finding some cute animals to stroke and some comedy names to choose from. Some of the Olympic athletes do have funny names, but you’re not allowed to stroke them, even if you are on the anti-doping squad.

My sport aversion also includes the World Cup, even if England is in the final. In fact, especially if England is in the final, because the sight of thousands of England supporters scrapping and bellowing their way around Foreign is the reason I can’t order stuffed vine leaves in Greece without getting chips on the side, and that is awkward. I mean what do I do? Do I eat them, because they’ve gone to all the misguided trouble of trying to make me feel at home? Or do I leave them because I don’t like chips, and risk making it look like I’m disgusted at their shoddy preparation of our national dish? So, yeah, fuck football.

Anyway, the London Olympics was stretching out before me, looking almost aggressively boring, like one of those childhood Sunday afternoons with only the horse racing, the snooker, or a fight with my brother to choose from – nothing but sport, whichever. Only this time it was set to be worse, because social media exists now, which means the one place I go to escape from things I don’t want to deal with will be full of people moaning about how they can’t even escape the Olympics on social media, and then I’d have sport AND irony to deal with.

But then it happened, and it was impossible not to get swept up in it from the very start.

There’s nothing I can say about the opening ceremony that John Robb hasn’t already put in his Open Letter to Danny Boyle, except for the fact that it made our school plays look totally crap by comparison. Also, being from The North, it was nice to see Boyle’s vision of the post Industrial Revolution era, which we expect to make its way up here any day now.

From then on, whenever I turned on the TV and caught an event, I had to watch it to the end. Thanks to the commentary and the pre-event media coverage, I was like a hostage-taker being bamboozled by a clever negotiator; I felt like I knew a little bit too much about the competitors to coldly press the trigger and blow them away for another episode of Ashes To Ashes. And that’s saying something, because my Philip Glennister crush has recently reached unmanageable levels.

There’s something magical about knowing that you’re probably seeing the very best moment of a person’s life, happening live in front of you. And not because they’ve just won X Factor, but because they’ve put years and years of effort into something at the expense, most likely, of things they’d otherwise quite like to be doing, like sitting down. You’d have to have the emotional range of Andie McDowell to watch – without a lump in your throat - the joy, relief and amazement of someone who’s just realised that after all that work they’ve won a gold medal. Particularly if they’re winning medals in front of ecstatic home crowds.

It’s encouraging, too, to think that a generation of people who grew up with the X Factor model of success to aspire to – a cynical lottery to win overnight fame on a plate for nothing more than some dormant vocal talent and a willingness to dress from head-to-toe in Marks & Spencers – might be thinking twice about maybe finding out what they’re good at and spending some time harnessing it, to emulate the purer success of someone like Jessica Ennis. It’s always been a dull message to convey, until something like the Olympics brought it chokingly to life before us. I can’t muster tears for a jumped-up karaoke competition, but apparently for a jumped-up sports day I can. Nearly. Am obviously far too hard to actually cry.

Not watching much TV, my consumption of the Games has been predictably sporadic and rarely a result of vegging on the sofa channel-surfing. Time is precious, and any TV I do watch is the result of a careful selection process informed by personal recommendations, preferred genres, and presence (or otherwise) of Philip Glennister. This means that when I have caught any Olympic action it’s grabbed me in more unusual ways. For example, there was the time I was at the gym (I’m not totally averse to physical exercise altogether) and found that running on the treadmill whilst watching the athletics was even better inspiration than watching Beyonce’s thighs stomping all over 4Music – although watching people run in one direction whilst you run in another would make a great sobriety test.

The result of this is that I caught Andrew Osagie’s amazing 800m semi-final performance when he broke through from 5th to 2nd to qualify for the final encouraged by a baying crowd – something he desperately needed to do after his posturing at the start of the race. I felt emotionally invested in the validation of his ego in front of so many people, and was so engrossed in the race that I almost faceplanted and made a right tit of myself in front of everyone. Oh the ironing.

My favourite encounter with the Olympics, though, was courtesy of the National Media Museum, which was offering free tickets to watch highlights from the Games in super hi-vision – 16 times the resolution of HD. This was available in only six places around the world – London, Bradford, Glasgow, Washington DC and two locations in Japan. I went more for the spectacle of super hi-vision than for the sport, but welled up regardless.

And while we’re on it, super hi-vision is absolutely incredible, so much so that after watching the highlights I almost proposed to the man behind the ticket desk who told me that the Closing Ceremony was being shown live and asked if I’d like some tickets. Hard as it might be to believe if you were actually in the stadium, I reckon it was even better than being there. It was disappointing, however, that neither Freddie Mercury nor the Queen could be arsed to show up, but maybe they each thought the other would cover for them.

Aside from the discovery that horse dancing, zebra zumba and ass tango are all Olympic events, we were all further confounded by the discovery that we’re quite good at sport. This flies in the face of our politely pessimistic national identity, and this injection of unfamiliar achievement seems to have thrown the country into a temporary spasm of ambition. People I know who could barely be bothered to change their underwear are now planning life overhauls. Even I am considering entering the 2016 Games in Rio following a reasonably successful crack at kayaking where we only had to be rescued by a school group once.

But just in case we were worried that the Olympics had changed the British spirit beyond all recognition, behold my favourite video of the entirety of London 2012:



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  1. Roll on the Premiership starting… then I don’t have to read any more depressing rants about the Olympics.


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