Watching the Winter Olympics in 2010 when they were held in Vancouver/Whistler opened my eyes to how different the Olympics are when they are hosted by your home country. All of sudden, random, esoteric things matter much more to you than you ever thought possible. You find yourself thinking such things as: Why the hell are we not better at biathlon? and We need to improve our development programs for ski jumping - no reason for us not to be medalling there...
So now, one olympic cycle removed from my own experience, it's interesting to see how the Brits are handling their turn in the sporting spotlight.
Canada and Great Britain share several things in common when looked at through an Olympic lens. Neither country is regarded as an Olympic powerhouse the way the US, or Australia or China are. Both countries have some fractious aspects to their Federalist athletic teams (Franco/Anglo for Canada, English/Welsh/Scot/NIrish for GB). And both countries struggle at times with how to display patriotic fervour without descending into something undignified (ie, too American-looking).
When your home country is hosting the Olympics, one of the first things you do, is start stressing about when you are going to win your first gold medal. As the only country to have hosted the olympics and not won a gold medal (we actually turned the trick twice - once in the summer ('76) and once in the winter ('88)), that was a legitimate source of stress for us until Alexandre Bilodeau came through on the second day of the proceedings at Whistler. For Team GB, their wait stretched out until the fifth day of competition when their rowing team finally got the party started.
As a fan, once you have that proverbial monkey off your back, you start to get greedy, scanning the schedule for other events that could give you an opportunity to wave your flag, and sing your anthem. And among those events, you start to rank them. Perhaps sub-consciously at first, but eventually, you find that there is one gold medal that you want more than the others. One that you might even be willing to trade every other medal for if it meant you could guarantee winning it.
For me, and for most Canadians, that medal was the Men's Ice Hockey Gold, which we won, in the most epic possible manner, after giving just about everyone in the damn country a coronary.
Today, watching the Men's Tennis Final, I have to believe that Andy Murray's Gold Medal must have been the equivalent for a lot of people in the UK. And to do it on Center Court, at Wimbledon, against Roger Federer, 28 days after losing to him in the Wimbledon Final, was so ridiculously Hollywood, that I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. Even the BBC announcers seemed taken aback - As the third set looked to be lining up for a Murray victory, the commentator team forgot they were journalists, and started doing things that fans do:
Commentator Quote: "I mean, this is just... Well, maybe it's best not to say anything..."
Translation: I don't want to jinx him. You know, because I'm obviously influencing the match from here, and now that I think about it, Andy hasn't lost a game since the last time I touched my left ear, so I have to remember not to touch my right ear until he loses one...
Commentator Quote: "He could make it easier by just winning the next two points here. To be serving for the Gold Medal in the next game - Well, you just know there would be some jitters"
Translation: For the love of God, Andy, just win it now. I can't handle watching this, and if Roger breaks you in the next game and starts to get some momentum going, and if it starts raining and they have to close the roof, and Roger's record with the roof closed - urk! <has heart attack> /dies
That was pretty hilarious to watch / listen to.
I'm happy to see Team GB putting together a solid Olympics performance on home turf. And while I'm sure there will be plenty of medals for them to choose from, Murray's will be a tough one to top.