So our summer of love of sport is over. It began when Bradley Wiggins rode to victory in the Tour de France, a first for a British rider, and has ended with Andy Murray winning the US Open, the first Grand Slam for a British man in something like 76 years, and in between, there’s been all the Olympic and Paralympic activity.
Soon, we’ll be left only with the prospect of the usual tedious stuff to which I pay no attention other than to turn the television off when it’s on.
I’m not a natural sports fan, so I’ve been surprised at how compelled I have been by the summer’s events. I’ve even attended, and enjoyed a couple of the Olympic events, watched other things on the television and cheered the achievements of the competitors. Given my usual antipathy towards the sport shown on television and occupying so many pages in newspapers, I’ve been wondering what it was that engaged me this summer.
I think it’s the stories of the people involved, how they have found ways to practice their sports to excel, when no-one was paying any attention to them. They represent the complete antithesis to the prevalent images of the premiership footballers which litter our sports news coverage, floundering in mediocre performance and excessive rewards, doing nothing that is remotely interesting or admirable.
Whether they are apocryphal, exaggerated, or actually true, the stories that Bradley Wiggins sensed in himself the risk that he would go down the same drunken disappointed path as his father, and so consciously decided to do everything in his power to win at cycle racing; or that Mo Farah’s parents, knowing they could only afford to send one of their sons to the UK, sent him, leaving his twin brother behind in Somalia, are stories that contain elements of light and dark, difficulty and triumph, of human frailty and strength, that are fascinating. The sporting achievement is just one aspect of them.
Watching Andy Murray try and fail, and try again, until he achieved his ambition, in spite of all the expectations weighing on him, and to do it with his much misunderstood, dry, West of Scotland humour intact, is something I admire. Instead of settling for always being fourth, in an era when the top three were exceptional players, he tried everything to get his game right to beat the best, even when that set him back for a couple of years; even when he faced humiliation and defeat at the centre of a huge arena and in front of a massive television audience if his nerve failed him.
There’s a lesson in that for us all, I think, and that’s what’s interesting in it for me, not the competition itself, and that’s why, often, I’ve no need to see the contest itself, it’s enough to simply know the result.