The Beijing Games has its moment of history. Usain Bolt’s astonishing run in the 100 metres final, the premier event of the Games, in a world record time of 9.69 seconds, has set a new standard of speed for mankind. Bolt has now become an instant international superstar. As the great athlete Michael Johnson said: ‘Michael Phelps, Michael who?’. Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the motto of the Olympic Games. Usain Bolt’s ‘Citius moment’ has set a benchmark for others to follow, and is an achievement all humanists should celebrate.
The triumphant Usain Bolt
‘The warp-speed industrialisation of China is one of the wonders of the world,’ writes Simon Barnes in The Times. ‘What if they had said: “All the modern countries are now entering a period of dreadful regret at what they have destroyed…. We don’t have to do that. We can be smarter… We can learn from all that has gone wrong elsewhere and show ourselves to be the wisest nation on Earth.”’
Barnes reflects the ambivalent attitude of many Westerners towards modern China. Admiration at the speed of progress and economic development, but profound unease at the aspiration of the Chinese to follow the model of development of Western nations, a model with which people and goverments in the West are increasingly uncomfortable. During the current Olympics, visiting the traditional hutong neighbourhoods of Beijing has become de rigeur with Western visitors who feel much more at ease in the narrow streets of old Beijing, than with the large-scale modern Olympic developments and Beijing’s new, gleaming skyline.
Sports scientists have put out a warning that some people are trying too hard to emulate their Olympic heroes in Beijing. People have been damaging equipment and potentially themselves in the process, and have been warned to ‘ease off’. We even have our own ‘Nicole Cooke’ in the Institute of Ideas office. I think it is great that people are being inspired by the world’s greatest athletes, and want to push themselves. It is sometimes argued that ordinary people cannot relate to elite sportsmen and women, as they are so much better than the rest of us. Sport England’s Everyday Sport campaign was set up in 2004 to redefine mundane activity like walking to work or walking up the stairs as sport. The idea was that this would lead to greater sporting involvement and a healthier nation. It was probably one of the most uninspiring campaigns ever launched. Whilst it was an orthodoxy only two years ago, Everyday Sport now seems to have been shelved, and not before time. The Beijing Olympics has shown once again that it is the excellence of a Rebecca Adlington or Bradley Wiggins, not ‘everyday’ mediocrity, that inspires people to take up sport.
The new ‘British Empire’?
‘The British Empire is taking over in football,’ warned Sepp Blatter the head of football’s world governing body FIFA this week. He is concerned at the strength of the English Premier League and the influence it has around the world. The Premier League began on Saturday, with massive hype and discussion, and will be once again beamed around the world. It is the one sporting event which can successfully compete with the Olympics for airtime, and England currently has the best players in the world playing the best club football. We can often take the Premier League for granted, and this year it looks like a two-horse race before it has started, but we should never forget how far we have come since the dark days of the 1980s, when English clubs were banned from Europe, and fans were caged into stands between metal fences.