Olympian

Posted on August 10, 2012

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The motto of the London 2012 Olympic games is ‘inspire a generation’ Over the past fortnight these games have captivated the home nation, and there is little doubt that those three words will be fulfilled. Every medal, near miss, cheer, and tear, planting a wonderful seed within the minds of young people across the country, inspiring them for their future.

Watching on, I have felt a deep sense of recognition with the word inspire. The games triggering a memory of a distant summer, some thirty years ago. One where I found my own inspiration. Nineteen-eighty being the year of not only the Moscow Olympics, but also our very own street Olympiad.

Now, you may not have heard of these games, so let me explain. Inspired by the heroics in the real Olympics of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, and Daley Thompson, a group of kids from our estate got together to hold our own impromptu games, and although only seven years old, I wanted to win it all.

Our track was the hard tarmac of our roads. First up the sprint, raced between two lampposts on a down hill course. Being amongst the youngest I did not really have much chance in this event. However, no one had yet told me how age makes a difference in life, and so off I haired, disappointed to come last in my very first event.

The games kept coming thick and fast, little time to dwell on your disappointments, as repeatedly I came at the back of the field, until before I knew it I was entering the boxing ring. I say ring, the arena just a paved front garden which happened to be flat. What’s more, having only one pair of boxing gloves between the streets, each competitor wore just one each.

I won my first bout, but before long bigger challenges lay in wait. The quarter-final up next, and there I faced one of the older boys, twice my size, thirteen years old, and one of the kids who your parents did not really want you playing with. In under a second my latest Olympic dreams lay in tatters. One vicious punch sending in its wake my front tooth flying across the road.

Far worse than any pain was the crushing disappointment of losing so quickly. That, and the second fear. What would my parents say? I did not cry though, which was a surprise as I was rather a tearful child. I did not cry because this was the Olympics.

That night, as I lay in bed testing out my new wound with my tongue, I remember hoping to finally find Olympic glory in the next day’s cycle race. This my last chance. A mad cap race around the block, two dozen kids cycling in one charge to the line.

You should have seen those bikes on that start line. Every classic of the nineteen-seventies was there. True, some kids had racers, but most possessed the true street heavyweights. The early BMXs, Grifters, and the undisputed king of the road, The Chopper. Being older, my brother commandeered our Chopper, and so I had to settled for what could only be called a ‘vintage bicycle’

This bicycle was found by my granddad in a shed. It was two sizes too big for me, had no gears, and before that day had last seen active service sometime in the nineteen fifties. The size of the bike forcing me to peddle standing up, as the competitors departed in one big bunch up the first street, Silecroft road, its incline keeping the group together and everyones chances still intact.

Then the road became flatter, the first tight bend of Blaydon Road stretching the race out a little, before the real action began. For the long back straight of Beaconsfield Road was downhill, and now the leaders made their moves. Kids spilling out in all directions, across the pavements and into  the road, as we battled for space and pedaled for glory.

I remember passing my brother half way down the hill, for the famed choppers were built for style not speed, and approaching the bottom corner found myself tucked in behind the leading group, sadly too far adrift to challenge for the honours. The leaders, all bigger kids, already turning into the last corner, its downwards slope pushing the inside rider out wider into the road, the other kids edging out further towards the opposite kerb as the battled to stay upright before the final push to the line.

I strove to make one last effort to catch them. My peddles turning so fast now that my feet slipped all over the place, unable to keep up with each revolution.  The taste of blood rising in my mouth, my lungs desperately gasping for each breath. All to no avail.

And then I was in the front. Miraculously, gloriously, I was pedaling up the short stretch of Devon Road towards the  ragged chalk line marking out the finish. Behind me, strewn across the road lay half a dozen kids. Buckled wheels spinning in the air, blood beginning to streaming from grazed knees and cut elbows.

Impossibly, I was about the win the Olympic Cycling race. The lead rider had leant out too far, too soon, turning into that final corner. In his wake he had sent the other riders toppling over like a pack of velocipedic dominoes across the road. Never has victory tasted sweater. Never.

Today, all these years later, I barely remember the names of those kids in that race, but one memory will always stay with me. For one day, in the sunshine of a long lost decade, I was a hero. I had kept on fighting to the end, and I was the champion.

And right there is the true legacy of the Olympics. Found in blood, sweat, and glory, and most importantly of all, in the dreams of kids. Dreams started today, that become reality in the future.

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