AMID all the excitement about Britain’s best medal haul at an away Games, another sporting milestone should not be overlooked. On Monday I won a game of squash.
Not all sport is elite sport. Some sport falls more into the category of two middle-aged men getting red in the face as they tear around a squash court for 40 minutes. And one of them losing. Usually this one.
My success is only a spot of sweat on a pair of old sports shoes in comparison with all the Olympic glory being notched up by Britain.
This morning the attention is on the golden cycling couple of Laura Trott and Jason Kenny: she has become the most successful female British Olympian and he won a sixth gold in a dramatic keirin final (that’s the one where the man on the shopping bike sets the pace in the velodrome, before peeling quietly away and leaving the cyclists to their race).
My relationship with the Olympics begins in a grumpy way at the prospect of there being nothing but sport on the television. It doesn’t help when the coverage is of sports where the athletes have their turn, then the next one has a go, such as diving. Nothing against those boys and girls in their trunks and their remarkable abilities; it’s just that the gladiatorial games work better for me, a proper race or a match in tennis or badminton.
And as someone who bashes about a shuttlecock with friends once a week, I do love the badminton doubles. All that leaping four feet in the air before a smash; all those swift returns of impossible shots; all that wrist-flicking athleticism and those gravity defying lunges – yes, that’s badminton but not as we know it.
I don’t play tennis but always enjoy watching a match. I saw the start of the Andy Murray final against Juan Martin del Potro, but didn’t hang around long enough to see him win his second gold medal. It was gone 11pm already, one set all, and Murray was having his crisis moment. From the highlights, it seems both players were monumentally knackered by the end. But don’t even mention golf; how did that end up in the Olympics?
The sporting politics are all part of the Games, too of course, with the different countries standing off against each other. Back in 1996, Britain had its worst summer Olympics, with a single gold medal won by rowers Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. After that the Lottery funding tap was switched on thanks to the overlooked efforts of credulous fools everywhere. Two quid every week in this house and nothing to show for it apart from a free go one week.
Now properly funded, Britain is up there in second place, behind the Americans and above the Chinese, with the Chinese media expressing their disbelief as such a turnaround, while bemoaning their own disappointing medal tally.
The Olympics is a sometimes queasy mixture of high ambition and low politics, astonishing skill and dedication, and obscene amounts of cash, often spent by countries without the proper means to do so. The spectacle is undeniable, the thrills when they come are great, but somewhere behind it all there is a sense of political chicanery and deals being done.
But none of this should detract from the achievements of the athletes. Britain is certainly having a great Games and we could all do with being cheered up.
Sometimes the stories from the Olympics can surprise in uplifting ways. No incident better summons up the spirt of the Olympics that that of the two women athletes who stopped to help each other up after falling together midway through their race.
With four laps to go in the 5000m in Rio, New Zealand distance runner Nikki Hamblin and US runner Abbey D’Agostino collided. The American injured her right leg as a result of the fall. She got up, fell to the ground again, crouching on all fours, her face distorted with pain. Hamblin stopped running, turned to D’Agostino and reached for her with open arms. All thoughts of winning gone.
The two women finished the race last and embraced closely before the American was led off in a wheelchair for treatment.
So the Olympics can have stories of nobility and humanity too. Sometimes the winners are those who lost. And that’s what I will be telling myself tonight in the week’s second game of squash. Because I almost never win on a Wednesday.