Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Faces in the crowd show Britain's true class

IN one of those nothing-much-happening-in-the-pool moments the camera zooms in on a pretty girl in the crowd. As they do. But hang on. Isn’t that the same pretty girl we saw earlier at the hockey?
And at the rowing. And the equestrian event. And doing the Mexican (as opposed to the royal) wave at the tennis.
And look, there she is again, being hugged by hubby after a British triumph on the cycle track. And with Beth Tweddle at the gymnastics. And, of course, in the stadium for Mo Farah’s golden moment. Oh, and look, there she is out on a boat for the sailing in Weymouth Bay.
She must have been incredibly lucky in the Olympic tickets lottery.
Either that or she’s spent an awful lot of time queueing up for returns – and her perfect hair and perfect clothes don’t look as if she’s spent the night camped out on the pavement in the rain.
It is, of course, Kate Windsor (nee Middleton) whose undeniably photogenic visage keeps lighting up our screens. Sometimes in the company of hubby and/or bro-in-law, sometimes other members of the extended family.
And, of course, she lucked out big-time in the lottery, not of tickets but of life.
As did all the Windsor clan, for whom the Olympics have been one big family party. Right down to the Princess Royal hanging a silver gong round the neck of her own daughter. Who at least put some effort and training into earning her right to be there.
The Olympics have been a remarkable celebration of British success in the sporting arena.
The excitement round my sofa at the brilliant Ennis-Rutherford-Farah one-two-three on Saturday night was as great as in living-rooms up and down the land. And as for Brad Wiggins and Vicky Pendleton, they can pop round my place for dinner any time.
But the Games have also been a striking demonstration to the world that Britain’s antiquated class system is still as deeply ingrained as ever.
Did Kate and Wills have to queue up for soggy fish ’n chips in a polystyrene box?
Did Anne have to hide a bottle of the “wrong” cola under her coat at the shooting range?
Did Edward sit at the show-jumping wishing he’d got tickets for the gymnastics instead?
And as for David Cameron, hasn’t he got more important things to be getting on with than schmoozing at the handball, the rowing, the judo, the shooting, the cycling, the swimming, the athletics, the boxing and heaven knows what other games?
Then again, he’s probably better off out of the way there rather than trying to run the country.
And, let’s face it, he does have something to celebrate. His old school is doing rather well at the Games. As well as in banking, business, the media and… er… politics.
Sporting potential is not a qualifying factor for entrance to Eton. Yet the school (1,300 of the country’s most privileged pupils) sent three old-boys to the Games – hurdler Lawrence Clarke, rower Constantine Louloudis and eventer William Fox-Pitt.
The raw material is no better, but independent schools vastly out-perform the state system in producing top-quality athletes.
In public, at least, Cameron has decried that. But his actions in government have hardly served to address the public/private imbalance in education, or anything else.
Lord Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, is himself a former public-school and Oxbridge Olympian, having coxed the men’s eight to silver in Moscow in 1980. And he at least has the decency to be embarrassed at what he calls “one of the worst statistics in British sport”.
“It is wholly unacceptable,” he says, “that over 50 per cent of our medallists in Beijing came from the private sector. It tells you that 50 per cent of the medals came from seven per cent of the population.”
It is, of course, particularly stark in rowing and in equestrianism, where owning your own horse is a pre-requisite and where every member of the British team was privately educated.
And why I was particularly thrilled by the exploits of Wiggins (comprehensive in Kilburn), Farah (comprehensive in Hounslow), Jess Ennis (comprehensive in Sheffield) and Greg Rutherford (comprehensive in Milton Keynes). And of Pendleton, whose comprehensive in Letchworth I attended myself back in the days when it was a state grammar.
If Wiggins is indeed knighted – as would seem fitting after his Tour and time-trial triumphs – it will be an attempt by the establishment to co-opt him into its ranks.
His first reaction to the idea – that it wouldn’t sound right and “I’ll always be Brad” – was characteristically honest. And there is something sweetly anarchic about the suggested title of “Sir Wiggo”.
It would seem to fit the most down-to-earth, and one of the most likeable, of all our Games heroes.
You can take the boy out of the inner city. But you can’t take the inner city out of the boy.

Medalling with the language

ONE of the best things America has given us is its creative use (some, though not me, might say “mis-use”) of our language.
A feature of that is the tendency to use nouns as verbs - “ain’t a word that cain’t be verbed”.
We’ve got used to the verb “to medal” in connection with the Olympics. Now we have also acquired its synonym “to podium”.
US sports commentary has long used the bizarre construction “the winning-est coach”.
So can we now refer to Brad Wiggins as Britain’s “podiumming-est” Olympian?

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