Like most men above a certain age, I fantasise about running in the Olympics, or rowing or fencing. Not swimming, since I have a thing about taking off my shirt in public. Fencing is ideal – it leaves me fully clothed, and perhaps I can outsource the job since the face is covered too.
Maybe I should have listened to my mother when she said to me as a child (I was the child, not she): ‘Eat your vegetables if you want to run fast and take part in the Olympics.’ I was six or seven then. I avoided vegetables with a passion. Did Usain Bolt’s mother insist he eat his vegetables?
I prefer inspiring stories from the Olympics that do not include eating vegetables as a child, listening to your parents, training hard or making sacrifices. I didn’t eat my vegetables, I disobeyed my parents sometimes, I never trained and I couldn’t be bothered to make sacrifices. Doubtless a champion athlete with that exact set of accomplishments will come along soon.
I watch the Olympics and ask myself: which event would I be good at, maybe even win, had I eaten my vegetables? I could have jumped up and down the trampoline, I think, but equally, I might have landed in a judge’s lap – they don’t give you points for missing the trampoline. I can see myself twisting any number of times in the air, straight up, upside down, sideways, diagonal, but then I might finish up in the handbag of the lady sitting in the sixth row.
The Olympics do something to you. They pump you with a false sense of self, although friends tell me that the reverse is also true. The perfection in some of the attempts depresses them to no end – what is the point of living, they ask, if they can’t do the 400 metres in under 44 seconds?
The best part of the Games is the telecast. You watch random people do random things in random order before the ads take over. Bolt has just over nine seconds to strut his stuff, but someone somewhere has clearly been working on squeezing a 15-second ad into that time frame.
After a period of intense watching, you are confronted with the closing ceremony. Just like the opening ceremony, only worse. For a few days, you chuck the salt at the dinner table or jump over the gate or punch a wall like you saw men and women do on television, except they were using different implements.
The fantasies, however, continue for a while. And are then kept in storage for four years more, when even thinking about running causes a hamstring injury.