What an uplifting, heartening, electrifying and engaging summer of sport it’s been – enough to backflip you out of the armchair and keep you buzzing all year around.
The cynics can sit this one out: I’m here to cheer on those whose physical and mental efforts, setbacks, sacrifices, successes and defeats – whose stories – say something about what’s best in us, in the enriching way only great art can match.
England’s footballers’ faltering, fabulous, and ultimately failed attempt to get their fingers on silverware energised the nation’s conversation and opened up new ways to think and talk about ourselves. Wimbledon then served up its much-needed and much-missed mix of thrills and comforts … and barely was the last of the strawberries polished off before the Olympic banquet was laid out.
It was a deep shame the curse of Covid kept the fans and followers out …. but such was the appetite for ‘The World’s School Sports Day’ that nothing was spoiled.
Team GB proved glorious, adding more than glint of gold to summer – and while this was a team, it was the competitors’ personal stories that often connected most vividly, perhaps because these reflected the tough 18 months many of us had experienced, individually. I couldn’t control my own joy – hadn’t cried so much watching the Games – since the magical time that was London 2012.
It is always moving to see courage overcoming adversity – and this time the circumstances were often very specific. GB swimmer Tom Dean had Covid twice; at one stage, he ran out of breath walking upstairs at home. Now he’s back home with two Olympic gold medals. During lockdown, while (some of us) worked out ‘with’ Joe Wicks, in an effort to stay in shape, GB swimmer Adam Peaty was getting a pool delivered to his garden. By crane!
Like superheroes with two identities, our Olympic dreamers had in some cases been working hard and humbly, driving taxis and in car factories, to pay for training. The National Lottery funded some, if they were lucky; others used online appeals.
Here, homegrown talent in the (awesome) shape of Bulwell weightlifter Emily Campbell restored an old-fashioned sense of civic and national pride, a bit bashed about by Brexit. Some of us might now stop tutting the skateboarders in Slab Square and start applauding, instead. We might also start thinking differently about the price of winning and losing after the actions taken by cricketer Ben Stokes, tennis’s Emma Raducanu and Olympic athlete Simone Biles in response to their own mental health.
Quick thought before Paris 2024, and next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham: strike medals too for the selfless family, friends, and supporters who get up at 4am to take future champions to the court, track and pool.
They’re part of what we cheer, when we cheer, and what cheers us up and on – because nothing connects people quite like sport.