As the Coronavirus lockdown
continued into its second month, I found myself looking for some inspiration.
Something happy, something to make me feel good about the world.
I decided to watch
some highlights of the London 2012 Olympic Games, notably the Opening Ceremony.
I had been in the stadium
that evening eight years ago, to witness the patriotic extravaganza that marks
the start of the greatest sports show on the planet, crammed into the following
frenzied fortnight. It had cost me a lot for a single ticket, but the memories of
the once-in-a-lifetime event vindicated my decision to go.
When you’re in the stadium,
you notice different things than on TV. For example, during the spectacular re-enactment
of the industrial revolution, I missed a lot of what was going on in the centre,
but the thing that sticks in the memory was the incredible drumming. The rhythm
was all consuming, pulsating through me from head to toe.
The most boring bit of
the ceremony is, of course, the seemingly endless parade of nations. Except
that when you’re there in person, it has a real buzz about it. Every country,
no matter how small, gets cheered and has a set of fans somewhere in the
stadium. It’s actually quite incredible to witness the diversity of the human
race coming together like this, cramming in for the finale.
Something I didn’t pay much attention to on the night was the appearance of possibly the most
famous person with Parkinson’s of modern times, Muhammed Ali. In the London 2012 games he had a small
role in the flag ceremony but, in Atlanta in 1996 he had been given the most
important role of all: the world held its breath as, with shaking hands, he
lit the Olympic flame with the torch that had travelled thousands of miles around
Ali got his Parkinson’s from brain injuries resulting from his life in boxing ring, but the effects are the same as for people like
myself with unknown causes. He died in 2016 at the age of 74, shortly before
the start of the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
I had mixed feelings when
I watched the brief footage of him. On the one hand it’s sad to see such an
iconic sports person reduced to a trembling cripple. On the other hand, I then
watched some YouTube clips of him lighting the flame in Atlanta. Now that was the sort of thing I was looking for. The defiance
he showed as he held the torch aloft in front of an audience of billions was – truly –
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