This time last week I was in my seat in the ExCel arena, London, at Katie Taylor’s quarter final match in the Olympics. Now that she has won a gold medal, causing the country to come to a standstill, the incredible thing is that I might have missed the experience. My eldest daughter was lucky enough to get four tickets for the event in the Olympic ticket lottery. She invited me and I declined, knowing nothing about boxing and feeling she’d invite someone who would get more value out of the experience. Luckily she insisted and prevailed.
The London experience was thrilling beyond belief. We took the ferry to Holyhead, drove to London and stayed with my second daughter in Bow, East London. Home from home, in the midst of one of the largest cities of the world en fete. The streets were bedecked with banners and flags in the colours of the Olympics and the Union Jack. Volunteers were everywhere, smiling, directing us and offering any and every assistance. All leave must have been cancelled as there was a high police presence. Warm, sunny weather made it perfect. People of all races and countries wore their national colours and flags.
Since we were marching to the drumbeat of my 31/2 month old grandson, we knew we couldn’t go far from home. London had obliged. Victoria Park was a few blocks away, with large screens set up for the viewing public. It was an delight- we walked to the park and went through airport-style security to get in. Security personnel took our water bottles, emptied them and directed us to a water point to refill. Food stalls offered a variety of options, bars sold beer and soft drinks. Londoners and tourists lolled on the grass and at picnic tables, enjoying the outing. All that was lacking from the Dublin experience was the hordes of young, legless drunks. Funny, we didn’t miss them at all!
The big wheel offered a spectacular view of the Olympic village and the London skyline in all directions. Sunset really gives a spectacular profile to the Gherkin, the Shard and their architectural comrades. We hadn’t planned to take a ride on the 35 metre high zipline (the one Boris got stranded on…anything for a publicity stunt!) but couldn’t resist and all had a WHEEEEEE! experience flying over the crowds at speed. No pics were taken, I’m happy to say, as we were the last customers of the evening and it was too dark. High point of Sunday evening was watching the Mens’ 100m final on the large screen, surrounded by dancing, singing Jamaican supporters willing their own Usain Bolt to victory.
There was remarkably little evidence of MacDonalds, Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s and Samsung merchandising. Had we wanted a Pepsi-Cola, I doubt we’d have found one within an ass’s roar of the Olympic stadium, but we didn’t go looking. Refreshments of all sorts were available from independent purveyors. As always, when you have formed an impression or an opinion that you later find to be untrue, you wonder where the idea came from in the first place. While three of the above named producers are synonyms for fattening foods ( although they deny it), their support for the Olympics was more ‘behind the scenes’ than expected. I suppose the paradox of their support for the biggest athletic championships on earth is understood by knowing that Olympians and a small percentage of others actually exercise. Most others, even the ‘sports-mad’ ones don’t exercise. Their participation in the event is as consumers- of the TV coverage and the sponsors’ products.
Katie’s smallest supporter didn’t manage to stay for the match. Despite wearing his industrial strength noise-excluding, paediatric cans, the roar when the Judges were announced was too much for him, so my daughter watched the match on screen outside. Just as well, as all 10,000 of us (well, 9,999) broke the decibel record with our support for Katie.
What endures afterwards is the impression made by all dedicated Olympians whether we saw them in the flesh or on TV. They work so hard, commit so fully to their goals and their programme, and they persevere, no matter what. Annelise Murphy’s interview with RTE after a heartbreaking 4th place in the Women’s Laser Sailing event was raw and riveting; I hope she finds the drive to go forward to Rio.
But what of the ‘Legacy’ of the Olympics in London 2012? Will this stunning event which had us all glued to our TV screens translate into more runners pounding pavements, more use of public pools? According to a comment made by Dr. Pete Lunn of the ESRI on RTE’s Morning Ireland today, “the evidence is, at best, mixed”…a polite way of saying that it makes little, if any, difference to ordinary people. Here in Ireland, as obesity rates rise with all their added healthcare expenses, we’re not exercising enough. The GAA and other voluntary organisations lead the charge in getting children out of bed early on a Saturday morning and out training no matter what the weather. Supportive parents are essential- it couldn’t happen without them. The mentors in our local GAA club, Na Fianna on St Mobhí Road, and in most others, are local heroes.
Great stories of fun and frolics came home from the European Soccer championships in Poland in June 2012. Those who stayed at Sopot beach, an old seaside resort outside Gdansk, reported that behind the Irish campsite, there was a running and cycle track some 18 Km long. This is a public amenity, in constant use. We have one here in Dublin, along the seafront from Clontarf to Sutton- scenic and bracing. There’s another along a disused railway track in Mayo- the Great Western Greenway. Most of us have the technology in our shed or garage (a bicycle) but most are justifiably nervous of taking on the city traffic or quiet country roads.
‘To be or not to be…’ the opening lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy, were printed on the walkways at last night’s closing ceremony. It’s a choice we all make, to be fit, to be supple, to exercise or not. I’m fond of good food…too fond of it in fact, and it’s no more than a habit. The body needs proper nutrition for growth, repair and energy. It needs the right amount, not too much, balanced with exercise.
At the European Forum of Science 2012 in Dublin recently, at all the talks and discussions regarding obesity, there was a noticeable divide. Those from an American and UK background addressed the subject from the perspective of the consumer’s personal choice. Those from the Scandinavian countries always prioritized public health matters such as balanced school meals in Finland, cycleways in Denmark and gyms in the workplace in Sweden. They maintained that unless facilities are publically resourced, the individual is less likely to make a health-giving choice.
I went swimming in the Shannon at the weekend- ‘wild swimming’ they call it now. The feeling of stretching one’s limbs in cool, fresh water is so galvanising. Here in Dublin, we have lots of Blue Flag beaches, and while people take walks, there are few swimmers. It’s bucketing rain here today, but I don’t rust, so the dog and I are off to the park for a brisk walk.
Thank you Katie Taylor, John Joe Nevin, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Cian O’Connor and all your coaches and advisors for showing us what can be done. Even the humblest food blogger cannot fail to be inspired and motivated by you all.
To be or not to be? The legacy starts here and now. On my doorstep.