HOW GOLDEN IS THAT MEDAL?

Inside Sport - - ANATOMY OF A CHAMP -

All Olympic gold medals are equal. Or are they? In the spirit of Or­wellian farm an­i­mals, some suc­cesses seem more golden than oth­ers. Cathy Free­man’s 400m gold medal from Syd­ney, for ex­am­ple, still shines brighter than just about ev­ery medal awarded since.

With the Sum­mer Olympic pro­gram be­ing re­mod­elled to wel­come more youth­ori­ented events, what should be the high and low stan­dards of what mer­its Olympic glory? Here is one man’s opinion.

High: Abebe Bikila, Rome 1960

By my marker, all great Olympic gold medals are mea­sured be­side Abebe Bikila’s achieve­ment in run­ning bare­foot through the streets of Rome to win the 1960 men’s marathon. This was when the marathon was still the pin­na­cle event of the Games, rather than the too­long­for­TV af­ter­thought it is in dan­ger of be­com­ing now. Bikila set a world record, won Ethiopia’s first gold medal and opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties for the gen­er­a­tions of African dis­tance run­ners, men and women, to come.

Think Jesse Owens in Ber­lin, Free­man in Syd­ney, Cas­sius Clay and Herb El­liott in Rome, Bob Bea­mon’s leap in Mex­ico City, Na­dia Co­maneci in Mon­treal, the mul­ti­ple glo­ries of

Fraser, Cuth­bert, Strick­land, Jack­son, Bolt and Spitz. As fans, we know a Bikila-level gold when we see one.

Low: The Tug of War, Stock­holm 1912

Okay, okay, Stock­holm 1912 gets cho­sen in part be­cause it is the one Olympic tug-of-war con­test you can find on YouTube. It’s also the only one in which only two teams both­ered to show up. Swe­den beat Great Bri­tain, whose team was made up en­tirely of po­lice­men. This means they were lit­er­ally the first team of Plod­ders. Ah, those were the days.

The fact is tug of war lasted at the Games from 1900 to 1920. No harm was done to the Olympic move­ment. Ditto when mo­tor­boat­ing got a run at Lon­don 1908. For those who fear the ar­rival of new, non-tra­di­tional events di­lutes the brand of the Games, his­tory sug­gests the Olympics is best-cel­e­brated as a broad church. Af­ter all, it’s sup­posed to be just a bit of cheery fun, right? Right?

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