Britain’s remarkable time

Newspaper, television and radio seemed to have combined in a conspiracy to be positive in the reporting of Great Britain’s Olympic teams and individuals, writes Ted Corbett.

Like most English sports fans I have been in front of a TV set wherever I have been in Olympic fortnight as one gold medal after another has tumbled on to the chests of our finest athletes. I confess to wet eyes on more than one occasion and my guess is that I was not the only one overwhelmed by the way British athletes fed off one another’s success.

It has been a remarkable time. At the beginning I read forecasts that we would win more medals than we had in Beijing with a sceptical grin. “I think we are in for a massive disappointment,” I told my partner and she agreed; but I could not help being impressed that she had the TV on record whenever the Olympics were taking place. After only a couple of days we were 25th in the league table of medal winners and it seemed that my greatest pessimisms were justified.

Then, heaven alone knows how the inspiration came to life, we were flooded by gold, silver and bronze. Only the United States and China were ahead of us. But then they would have wouldn’t they? They have massive populations — 310 million in America and many more than one billion in China — compared with Britain’s 60 million.

So just how has this transformation come about?

I think we must put a lot of the success down to the Queen. It has been her Diamond Jubilee this summer and that has brought about an outbreak of patriotism beyond anything I can remember since that beautiful day in 1981 when Prince Charles married Princess Di.

The Queen’s 60th anniversary was held in anything but beautiful weather. It rained hard for the main events; so much so that her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, caught a chill and had to be rushed to hospital afterwards. He is 90 and that illness caused a lot of concern but it also added to the feeling that this country and its rulers could overcome any trouble.

In addition it has been a remarkable period for the sports folk and in particular for those of us who report such events.

Newspaper, television and radio seemed to have combined in a conspiracy to be positive in the reporting of all our teams and individuals.

That was clear when we were knocked out in the European soccer competition. Gone was the usual list of complaints. In fact the new manager was offered sympathy because he has taken charge for just a couple of weeks when he and his players had to fly off to Poland for the competition and England were clearly not quite as good as their opponents. Now, you do not often read that when our sportsmen and women fail.

Perhaps we pundits have become more sympathetic; perhaps we have also been touched by the spirit of patriotism.

After 60 years in the trade of writing about sport I find that difficult to believe but it appears to be true. England’s cricketers sailed through their series against the West Indies but when it came to the three Tests against South Africa — jammed into three weeks and certainly worth five Tests since it was for the leadership of the cricket world — England were given the benefit of the doubt and allowed a massive defeat at the Oval without too many harsh comments.

Since then they have rallied — and I like to think they took inspiration from the men and women athletes, the sailors, the cyclists and the swimmers.

Kevin Pietersen, in particular, has confessed as much but KP is such a hero to himself that he almost certainly feels he should have had a gold medal for his innings at Leeds.

I cannot remember a better innings than his 149 by an England player in the 25 years I spent following their fortunes at home and abroad and I saw all their great players.

His dispute over his wish to earn a large number of rupees in the IPL and the conflict with the England and Wales Cricket Board continues. There are allegations that he is causing strife in the dressing room. All such problems were put to one side as 20 million or so of us watched the glut of gold that fell from heaven on that first Olympic Saturday evening.

If there was a dry eye among the 20 million, I will be surprised and although we know that many of our finest performers — like the cyclist Sir Chris Hoy who now has six gold medals and is our greatest Olympian — will never race again. At the time of writing Britain has 22 gold medals and there may be more in the pipeline. Wonderful!

For old and young, for those who will be inspired to go on to win medals and those who will be tomorrow’s spectators, readers and listeners it has been a remarkable time.

Certainly one in which the normally stoic, stiff upper lip men and women of an island nation which took pride in the way it contained its emotions could say. Our athletes set my tears rolling and I am as happy about that as I am of their golden achievements.