Olympics could be ideal

If you blinked, you missed it. Faster than a 100-meter sprinter on his way to a gold medal, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed through Athens last week. Almost four years after the city hosted one of the most memorable Games in modern history, the IOC officials were not back to reminisce about those August days and nights that are seared in the memory. They were here to announce the short list of candidate cities looking to hold the 2016 Olympics. However, the IOC’s visit inevitably stirred thoughts about the wider significance of the Games, coming so close to the anniversary of such a seminal moment in the history of the Olympics and of Greece. The three-day meeting itself was all about high-powered brokering of deals, international and local politics and considerable amounts of investment. But it was noticeable that the concept of hosting the Olympics is beginning to change and the bids are becoming less extravagant. Whereas recent Games, including the ones coming up this summer, have mainly been about impressing visitors with grandiose facilities and smooth operations, the emphasis, which was evident in the London 2012 bid, now seems to be shifting to blending the Olympics into the existing fabric of the city. Rather than getting out the best china and silver when friends come for dinner, the preferred choice is to treat them as if they are just another member of the family. Officials involved in the Tokyo and Chicago bids – two of the four that made it onto the shortlist – explained to this newspaper how they plan to integrate the Games into the daily lives of their cities. Rather than building an Olympic Village on the outskirts, they plan to plonk it right in the center. Rather than build venues that will look great on TV but will then sit gathering dust once the party has left town, Tokyo and Chicago intend to use what they already have and make some modest additions. The target now is urban regeneration rather than transformation. Snipping away some of the frills also means that there is hope that we can redress the balance between the Olympics being an opportunity to showcase the attributes of the host city and a chance for the world to witness some sporting excellence and experience rare moments of genuine emotion. Amid the politics and talk of the millions that need to be spent, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Olympics are still about sport and the way that the Games move and inspire people. The Barcelona Olympics in 1992, for instance, would have been much poorer without the impact of British 400-meter runner Derek Redmond, who pulled up with a hamstring injury and hobbled over the finish line to a standing ovation after his father ran down from the stands to help him. Equally, it is difficult to picture the Athens Games without the incessant applause for Pyrros Dimas as he waited to be awarded the bronze medal in his final appearance. Equally, the tears of soccer legend Pele as he carried the Olympic Torch through the streets of Rio de Janeiro in 2004. Think of Atlanta 1996 Games and you cannot help but conjure up the image of Muhammad Ali’s trembling hand light the Olympic Flame. How about Australian 400-meter runner Cathy Freeman winning the gold medal in front of her home crowd in Sydney eight years ago? These are moments that no amount of money can buy and which the Olympics are still capable of providing. If, as it seems, the plans put forward by potential host cities are becoming low-key without losing their innovation, then we could be on the way to resurrecting the Olympic spirit, which has been buried beneath a pile of blueprints and sponsorship contracts. The Games are still relevant and continue to have an important part to play in bringing out the best in people as well as leaving a legacy for their hosts. Jesse Owens, the American who ridiculed Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, said of the Games: «Olympics – a lifetime of training for just 10 seconds.» It can safely be said that the effect of this global event is much more lasting than 10 seconds. If you’re not convinced, just shut your eyes and imagine what Athens would be like today if the Olympics had not been held here four years ago. The thought is enough to make you run much further than just 100 meters.