A sweaty mess of ancient limbs collapses through the door. Grunting Teen, now equipped with basic CPR techniques, courtesy of his summer job, kicks the lifeless body. ‘Muuum, what are you doing?’ he complains, ‘You’ve made me drop my custard cream in my coke. Gross.’
‘I blame the Olympics myself,’ replies the Nearly-Beloved stepping over the corpse. ‘Your mother thinks she’s Mo Farrah’s replacement. Only, it turns out… she isn’t.’
Ignoring them both, I struggle to an upright position and wait for normal breathing to resume. Unlike elite athletes, there’s no team on hand to offer me water, an ice pack or a reviving sports massage. My training programme is sadly deficient and panic-inspired, cobbled together after the discovery of an important email in my spam. The covid-delayed 2020 Sheffield Half Marathon is finally going ahead. Hooray! Until I realise, just how little time I have left to prepare…
Still, anything is possible. If you’re UK swimmer, Matt Richards, then gold medals can be won by working out in an over-sized paddling pool with a bungee rope. So, who am I to complain? Our Olympians had to change their schedules so that they could peak a year later than anticipated. I’ll just have to peak a bit sooner.
On the positive side, unless a new wave of viral misery hits us, there should be some spectators. And how encouraging it is to be cheered on by an excited crowd. None of that at the Opening Ceremony of the 32nd Olympiad in Tokyo. Instead, a stark reminder of the world pandemic, as the masked competitors parade, distanced but still proud, around an empty stadium.
Yet the spirit of the Games lives on – sportsmanship, personal sacrifice and an unyielding will to reach your goals. You may lose your Taekwondo match when fortunes are reversed in the last few seconds. But you still have to bow to your victor and praise them to the press, despite your breaking heart. You may have to follow the strictest of diets and the most punishing of exercise regimes to compete with the world’s best. But it’s worth it when you’re on the podium singing the national anthem through your tears. And even if your tyre punctures, you’ll cycle on regardless to grab that medal. So, surely, I can forego the Hobnobs for a few weeks and power through my pain?
After all, it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. I mean, so what if I have to hobble the last few miles home? Maybe I can be a poster girl for the Zimmer frame athlete? ‘If you can still run up the hill, you’re not over it!’ could be my rallying cry. Because sport is also about inspiring others.
If the majority of members of Team GB this Olympics are women rather than men, then maybe that will encourage more young girls to continue with a sport into adulthood? Watching a female Afghani cyclist competing for the Olympic Refugee team might incite admiration rather than condemnation from her former compatriots. And the message that sometimes it’s better to withdraw from the competition rather than risk your mental and physical health is refreshing to hear. Winning at all costs is no longer what the world needs.
But we do need to keep an open mind. After all, who would’ve believed that skate boarding could be so gripping! Certainly not me in those tedious hours at the local park, watching a younger, less grunting, much clumsier son attempting kickflips. And dancing horses…The Nearly-Beloved has a lot to say about them! But strangely I find the dressage competition quite compelling. As for Grunting Teen, he even switches off the PlayStation to cheer on Sheffield’s own, Shauna Coxsey. ‘I’ve seen her practising at the Climbing Works, innit?’ he says, as if she is his best mate.
And in these games, just as in this pandemic, there are winners and losers. A false start when a camera boat tries to mow you down in the water may not be what you want. But you have to dry yourself off and be ready to take the plunge again. Your steering skills might go out of control. But you still have to get over the line. So, let’s hope that, like our Olympic heroes, Tom Daley and Matty Lee, Covid cases will take a spectacular dive. Because, if that happens, then maybe borders will open up for us. And all those who’ve been separated from their loved ones overseas will finally get to see them again. That’s definitely a gold medal worth having.