It’s the tak­ing part

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

IN 1896, John Pius Boland, a not overly en­er­getic Ir­ish law stu­dent, trav­elled to the re­vived Olympic Games in Athens, where he was in­vei­gled into the ten­nis tour­na­ment be­cause they were short of play­ers (run­ners and weightlifters joined in, too) and ended up as a sur­prised gold medal­list. Four years later, Mar­garet Ives Ab­bott, an Amer­i­can art stu­dent, en­tered a nine-hole game of golf in Paris and won; the event was so chaotic that she’s said to have died 55 years later with­out real­is­ing she was an Olympic gold medal­list.

It’s hard to en­vis­age such a ca­sual at­ti­tude to Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion now nor, sadly, is it easy to rec­on­cile the ap­palling rev­e­la­tions about sys­tem­atic Rus­sian dop­ing with the ideals of Pierre de Cou­bertin, the French ed­u­ca­tion­al­ist who founded the modern Olympics, fired by a be­lief in the power of sport to re­store na­tional pride.

Sport does have the power to up­lift— after a cyn­i­cal pream­ble, the Lon­don Olympic Games of 2012 made every­one cheer­ful and proud—and an Olympics can do great things for a coun­try and its host city, Barcelona be­ing per­haps the most tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of sub­se­quent re­gen­er­a­tion ( Athena, page 34).

Rio, where the XXXL Olympiad opens on Fri­day, is not the hap­pi­est place. Many of its be­lea­guered peo­ple, not least the po­lice, are deeply dis­il­lu­sioned by the ridicu­lous sums of money be­ing spent on a two-week ex­trav­a­ganza, but we have to be con­fi­dent that Brazil’s fa­mous car­ni­val spirit will pre­vail and that the lo­cal econ­omy will ben­e­fit.

There are, still, a few ath­letes with ‘real jobs’ and some heroic par­tic­i­pants— Great Bri­tain’s showjump­ing team will have a com­bined age of 209, even­ter Wil­liam Fox-pitt over­came se­ri­ous head in­juries 11 months ago to com­pete and keirin rider Becky James has dealt with chronic knee and shoul­der pain—but the ques­tion must be asked as to whether the Olympic move­ment has gone too far and if we ask too much of host cities.

One glar­ing co­nun­drum is that the Olympics is far from the pin­na­cle of sports such as ten­nis, foot­ball and golf. An­other is the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s credi- bil­ity after pass­ing the buck on Rus­sian dop­ing. Some friendly chaos is pre­dicted in Rio, but per­haps that’s what is needed to bring the Olympic Games back to its orig­i­nal more home­spun, sport­ing aims ( Bluffer’s guide, page 58).

Any­one for croquet?

Never mind the syn­chro­nised swim­ming and race-walk­ing, back here, vi­tally Bri­tish sum­mer pas­times (we could call some sports) are dy­ing out. In a sur­vey by Pimm’s Cider Cup, 90% of re­spon­dents con­fessed to wear­ing any old colour on the ten­nis court, 88% have never in­ex­pertly steered a punt and 75% couldn’t launch a ball across a bowl­ing green. Worse still, 71% have never swung a croquet mal­let.

To com­bat the de­cline, Pimm’s has launched the ex­treme Croquet Cup, with matches played on the White Cliffs of Dover, 800ft above ground at The view from The Shard in Lon­don and on a boat on the Thames.

Croquet hasn’t been part of the Olympic move­ment since 1900. Per­haps that’s where it’s all gone wrong?

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