I have been excited for the London 2012 games since they were announced seven years ago as the host city. Make no mistake, the reason London has the games is due to one athlete who is not competing: David Beckham. Becks, who is often scorned for his glamorous wife, commercial appeal, and his downright otherworldly good looks, was a last-minute add to the 2012 committee presenting the London pitch in Singapore in 2005 and helped fuel the vote. All of those “detractors” wowed the International Olympic Committee. He has been a tireless supporter, even as his professional career waned, and England seemed to cast him aside as an international football (soccer) player. He has never wavered in his support for revitalizing East London.
Some criticism was made of his final-leg torch appearance in the games’ opening ceremony. By all accounts, Beckham, who has done that which has been asked, played the part well. British commentators seemed to like it, so why can’t we? He is not an arrogant man, but is fully aware of his commercial power, the ability to sell products from beverages to underwear, and putting bodies in seats at football matches, there and in the U.S.
Beckham is not a perfect soul. Years ago, he less than vehemently denied an affair with the woman who was his personal assistant. He’s made a lot of money off of that smile and body, which he never hesitates to show. I recently met someone whose daughter spent a long time teaching and tutoring the Beckham children in Los Angeles. She loved all of the family for their genuinely nice, caring behavior, as did her proud father and mother.
The point here is that Becks is a hero of these games, especially to people in London, many of whom have benefited from employment during the games or construction, and the clearing of notorious slum areas in East London. He is no longer the amazing player he was, nor is he a perfect person. I can seem to embrace Beckham as a hero better than I can, say, Michael Phelps.
I’m not fond of Phelps. I don’t know him personally, so I can only go on what I read, hear (from him and others) and see. After watching him painfully speak about nothing to the equally boorish Ryan Secrest during the opening ceremony, I nearly fell out of my chair groaning. For a young man who has made tens of millions of dollars on endorsements, his lack of poise and speaking ability was embarrassing. I can still see Mark Spitz’s smiling face on my Wheaties box, or hear the smooth Bruce Jenner in a commercial, or the authenticity of Bonnie Blair or dignity of Johann Koss. Phelps may be a decorated Olympian, a brilliant swimmer, but he’s also a party machine whose sexploits are unfortunately becoming legendary.
Phelps, I understand, and appreciate, is a healthy young man. We have many handsome and beautiful young Olympians who are models of the ideals of grace and beauty. Physically, the training they endure, the hours, amount of money put forth for coaches, training, transportation, meals, traveling and the like is all summed up in a matter of seconds. That takes great courage. It’s hard to fathom, really. One could argue that if the Olympic Villages during the winter and summer games are like Sodom and Gomorrah, as one author has recently written, it may be to blow off steam after four years (or many more) of intensity. Who could deny hard-working and driven young people the right to have fun and well, be young?
It is important to celebrate the human spirit and the athletes’ amazing abilities. However, many of them, from all corners of the world, have received U.S. educations on athletic scholarships, not just Americans. They, like non-athletes, are businesspeople, who make money from endorsements, prizes, and autographs and appearance fees. Add a free education to the list for hundreds of world-class athletes, with scholarships from basketball to shooting to swimming to gymnastics and much in between. That’s not wrong; it’s just part of the package if they choose.
I think ceremony director Danny Boyle had it right in the themes of forging and building the games on the great British workers, who did their jobs and moved on. This can be said in Beijing, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Athens, Vancouver, and all of the sites. Volunteers and hard workers have made these games all work. London has taken flak for not being prepared. One must remember in 2002, in Salt Lake, crews were painting the highways in the winter, just hours before the games started, so we can’t judge the workings of a foreign government and its people too harshly, especially in a city the size of London where a fragile transportation system at best, is the heart of its existence.
There have been complaints about visitors to the games not being able to see the torch, or having “ordinary” young people (all exceptional world-class athletes) light the torch, or the 500 construction workers in the tunnel, cheering Sir Steve Redgrave on as he entered with the Olympic flame. The torch is made of 200-plus small cauldrons, united in one, like the countries at the games, like the workers, like the people of Britain, who have given up (mostly) their own country identities of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to unite as one, a not-so-small feat. We expected to be wowed by the extraordinary, and forgot none of that exists without the ordinary unsung heroes doing what they are supposed to do. We expected the extraordinary to be effortless, accessible and easy, like the Olympians make it seem, forgetting the hard work behind the scenes by thousands.
Where the medal winners and other heroes of these games go after London 2012 ends is unknown. Some will cash in on their medals and fame. And why not? Phelps, like many Olympians, has given to charity to promote his sport and bring more youngsters into it. Others may slip back into anonymity, or move on to the next competition, preparing for Rio games in 2016. The silent heroes will return to their construction companies, military bases, schools, jobs and even the unemployment line. They will go on, with British reserve, back to their routines. Like Beckham, they may hear the criticism for what the world cannot see, and bite their tongue. They just keep doing the ordinary so the extraordinary can shine.
Published: July 31, 2012