I hope everyone has been enjoying the Olympics, I’ve loved it. An inspirational opening ceremony, GB doing well, records tumbling and even the transport system holding up- to my great surprise.
In particular I’ve liked what it has shown about providing a good example to others and allowing young people to flourish and to step forward. Although YCT focuses specifically on trusteeship we are keen to support all kinds of youth leadership and youth opportunities and I want to ponder a little on how the London 2012 Olympics has made a contribution to this.
Firstly, not only did the opening ceremony show both the talent and the diversity of our wonderful country (and, as a bonus, provided Saudi Arabian TV with its first lesbian kiss!) but the lighting of the flame was a particularly wonderful moment. After the debate over who was going to be given this historic honour, it turned out to be some exceptional young athletes, unknown to the general public but considered some of the most talented and inspirational of the next generation. Also symbolic was the fact that they supported each other and worked together in their lighting of the flame. Jordan Duckitt, one of those who took part, Radio 5 live: “Some of the other seven had their mums and dads there but I had no one as my parents had jetted off on holiday and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I just kept it to myself as I didn’t want it leaked out anywhere”. What an amazing secret to have to keep and what an example to young people worldwide.
There have been many examples of success for young people at this Games. 15 and 16 year-olds excelling in the pool. Katarina Johnson-Thompson showing why one day she will take over the mantle from Jess Ennis. My personal inspiration at these Games- Lawrence Okoye, who is representing GB in the discus. Only 20, he already has the British record. He can do the 100m in 11 seconds, could have had a professional rugby career, oh, and he has a deferred place at Oxford. What an incredible role model.
Watching the Games is at once a collective and a personal experience. Collective because it brings us together, as a nation but also as a world community, to celebrate some of the best of human achievement together. For the first time in history, every competing nation has female athletes. I’ve seen people cheering for countries they have no attachment to, but they recognise the passion and skill of those involved. People who have been coming last have been getting as big a cheer as those who came first. As Ennis took her victory bow she was joined by her fellow competitors who applauded her in an amazing show of camaraderie. Personal, because we will all have our own special memories from the Games, in the sports we care about most or for our favourite athletes. Being inspired by others through sport is a wonderful thing. In my school swimming team was one amazing competitor who held a world record for his age and while I unfortunately can’t profess that he inspired me to similar heights, he certainly helped breed an early respect in me for what young people can achieve.
Even in cases where an Olympic dream has died there have been brilliant moments of inspiration. Speaking about his team mates, Mark Cavendish said ‘The guys are sat there, they are spent. They have got nothing left in the tank. It’s incredible to see that. To see what they gave for the cause’. There is a terrific message there about sacrificing yourself for others and giving your best in the face of a near-impossible task. That is another lesson of the Olympics. Every medal has required an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice in a world where margins are tiny and four years of work can be distilled into four minutes. Even a Bolt or a Phelps has to train and train hard. As the saying goes ‘Hard work will beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard’.
Of course alongside all the athletes the games volunteers, many of them young, have been doing a fantastic job of welcoming people to our country and keeping us all happy. They are unsung heroes as so many volunteers are, and I salute them. They show that behind every victorious endeavour are others who don’t step into the limelight. For every athlete there is a coach, a support team and more, right down to the referees, the people who built the venues (nicely acknowledged in the Opening Ceremony) and the volunteers, who will hopefully remember this moment for the rest of their lives.
So, the Games have given us reasons to dream, to look forward, to inspire and to champion, not to belittle, patronise or discourage. They have reminded us how much young people can achieve when they are given an equal footing and they are encouraged to shine as brightly as they can.