The London 2012 Olympics were officially kicked off by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II last Friday after a spectacular Opening Ceremony featuring the Industrial Revolution, the Child Catcher,Great Ormond Street Hospital and the inventor of the World Wide Web. Following a parade finale of the 204 teams taking part in this year’s Games, the pressure on the shoulders of Danny Boyle and his team was relaxed as the Ceremony had been received as a roaring success. Said pressure was then immediately transferred to the shoulders of our athletes. Coming out last, Team GB boasted the legendary Chris Hoy as flag bearer, young Tom Daley and numerous others of the 541-strong team who will be the subject of the world’s attention for the next two weeks.
Watching the parade back today gave me the same goosebumps that I had watching it live. The pride in the athletes’ eyes, their beaming smiles, the deafening cheers and screams by the 62,000 fans present in the stadium and the 7 billion pieces of biodegradable ticker tape to represent every person on the planet all catalysed the rush of patriotism that I have apparently been hiding inside me. My butterflies were making their presence known in my stomach, which begged the question: if I’m this nervous just watching the Opening Ceremony from my living room, how nervous must the athletes be right there in London, knowing they have to compete under the judging eyes of the entire world?
Each country has its own expectation of which sports their athletes will do well in. For Team GB, we expect to have at least the rowing and cycling in the bag; but with heightened anticipation connected to these particular sports, can it in fact cause the contrary to happen? Is it not enough that the athletes are under their own pressure and the pressure of the Games in general? To add the further expectation that “we’re going to win this”, like it’s a given, is wholly unfair, because when it doesn’t happen, the fall for that poor individual athlete feels so much further.
Yesterday, Mark Cavendish partook in the men’s 250km road-race. Having made it to the Olympics harbouring a World Champion title and 23 Tour de France stage victories, all eyes were on him to bring home one of GB’s first gold medals. When he missed out on a podium spot and took 29th place, however, finishing a minute behind the leaders the whole of the United Kingdom took a sharp intake of breath; what happened?
How can we expect these already incredible athletes to meet our expectations 100% of the time? And why does it feel like such a smack in the face when they don’t?
Our athletes need to be applauded, regardless of their finishing position. To reach Olympic level is a tremendous triumph in itself; to be performing with other athletes at the very top is something about which most people can only dream. It incorporates skill to an elite level; strict discipline; enormous physical and emotional strength and nerves of steel amongst other qualities I (as a non-athlete) am not even aware are important. The Games are the perfect time to inspire our youngsters to take up a sport and they need to be shown that the pressure that comes with competition is a positive force to do well, certainly not a negative force where they feel they’re racing for the people watching instead of for themselves and their team.
We are always going to enforce some pressure on the athletes; it’s comes with the act of offering support. We want our country to break some records and go down in history or we just want to beat China at their own game. Either way, we need to remember that as well as being incredible athletes, they are also individuals who have every potential to crack under the pressure, especially if they don’t perform as well as they, and everyone else, had hoped. They need to be encouraged to be proud of whatever happens; that is what the Olympic Games are all about. Disappointment for some is inevitable in competition and we shouldn’t add to it unnecessarily. The Games are a historic and memorable event and we ought to remember it for all the right reasons.