During a period of national economic turbulence and pessimism the people of Britain have cried out for a saviour in lifting their spirits and it seems sport has the ability to do just that.
There has often been the perception of the modern day sports star as rich and arrogant – detached from everyday society. Though a plausible theory in many instances, it is important to recognise those that have gone above and beyond their fields of expertise and really galvanised the nation and even the world to provide the public with a real sense of joy, unity and national pride. The overwhelming feeling of people coming together through sport is what makes it such a popular and entertaining product – though for the unquestionable highs the sports world can bring, it can also bring incomparable lows.
That feeling of unity between the everyday man and top athlete are what the past year has undoubtedly offered. The 2012 Olympic games in London have been significant in raising the spirits of the British nation – and the event definitely demonstrated that the nation is capable of putting into practice the traits that the Olympic slogan held – friendship, honour, peace, fairplay and glory, all culminating to generate the ‘Olympic Spirit’ in order to “Bring the games to the people”.
A number of national heroes have been created due to the great success of the games, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Victoria Pendleton to name but a few, but the beauty of the games shone through by the way the nation not only celebrated its own – but also embraced the success and cultures of international stars such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, 15 year old Ruta Meilutyte and for a period Oscar Pistorius. The combined Olympic celebrations of nations over all continents made it seem that ‘the world was having a party’. It was not only the celebrating of these athletes achievements that stood out to the nation though – but the understanding that the years of hard work, commitment and dedication these people put into their field, is something that any average Joe could do to make something of themselves, mainly indicated by the many heart-wrenching yet uplifting stories from the Paralympic games.
There is no questioning the passion and the immense amount of pride that can be taken from the way the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games advertised both the nation and the vast amounts of sports participated within it, but the turn of the new year has also brought a focus on some sports stars in a negative light – incredible heights turning into unthinkable lows for previous ‘hero’s’ such as Oscar Pistorius and Lance Armstrong.
After witnessing how positive sporting events and achievements can be for building the hopes and aspirations of a nation, it is those very people who built such emotions who seem to hold the power of knocking these feelings out of the window. Obvious examples of this would be Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius. Their stories are two of the highest profile underdog success stories in the modern sporting era – Lance Armstrong having overcome the odds after beating testicular cancer to go on and win the Tour De France on a record seven occasions. While Pistorius became a celebrated Paralympian as well as becoming the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympic Games. At the height of his success however Pistorius was involved in a shooting, and he is currently on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – again shocking the world – whereas Lance Armstrong was famously stripped of all of his titles when accused and eventually admitting doping allegations throughout his career.
These controversial events were world-wide news and the progress of both stories continue to be followed as people wait to see how Armstrong recovers, as well as the outcome of Oscar Pistorius’ trial. The shocking nature of the events are not simply what has happened with both ‘stars’ – but exactly who it has happened with; the unsurpassed highs that these people had felt when they were on top are something that reaches out to the fans – leading to a sense of pure shock when the negative events occur.
These notorious events of rise and fall show the true power of sport within culture across the world – not only can it be incredibly uplifting when the unimaginable happens but the lows within sport can also cause for lows within people. The power of the spirit of the games and a person’s whole ‘hero’ reputation can be instantly erased, often causing for that hope and belief across a whole nation to be once again extinguished.
It is this swing in personal and combined emotions that sport can give to an individual that truly make it beautiful, a person’s passion towards competitive sports and the people within it show how important it is to individuals and community, whether it be positive or negative you can be assured that there will always be butterflies in the stomach for a high percentage of people when sport is involved.
Image © Alex Chow