Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sports

Gary Shelton: Jolly old England stays upbeat as Olympics near

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LONDON

These are the threats? The smiling, slightly sunburned faces of the British?

This is America's latest rival?

I arrived in London on Wednesday morning, so weary I felt as if I had walked to get here. I hadn't slept in 22 hours, and I wouldn't sleep for many more, and for some reason, my media housing was so far away from the media center, I think it might be in Prague.

And then the volunteers started smiling. And smiling. And smiling.

Why, they want to help me figure out logistics, and they want me to have a good time while I am here, and they will physically escort me to where writers get their press passes. They are all happy all the time, jolly old England all over again, and aren't the Olympics simply lovely? Also, would I care for a Cadbury?

So you wonder: What are these guys up to?

Except, you know, manufacturing the ugliest Olympic mascots since Atlanta's bosses thought up Izzy.

Look, I've been to England often enough to know that it is almost as easy to find the neighborhood grump here as it is in, say, the United States. The first Olympics I covered, I was so moved by an Irish boxer winning the gold medal that I purchased a hat with the Irish flag on it. (Ireland is my mother's birthplace.) Fifteen minutes later, a drunken Englishman threatened to knock it off my head.

(I later relayed this story to family members who live in England, and the general consensus was that, hey, the guy had a point.)

At any rate, England is so full of joy to see everyone that the country is positively fizzy. A volunteer just announced to the room that if writers were working late, pizza and beer could be delivered to the work stations. He announced it with gusto that bordered on breaking into song.

So what is going on here. Are the British this excited to see the Olympics? Are they just being sneaky about the traffic problems to come? Do they want to distract you from the security shortcomings in recent days?

Or maybe it's this: Maybe this time, the English intend to keep some of their gold for themselves.

Who knew?

It happens. Almost every Olympics, the host country wins more medals than it had previously. China went from 63 medals in 2004 to 100 in 2008. Australia went from 41 medals in '96 to 58 in 2000. Greece went from 13 in 2000 to 16 four years later.

Still, this is Great Britain. With the exception of Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson back in the 1980s, the summer Olympics have rarely been golden for the British. Remember the way the runners moved in slow motion through the sand in Chariots of Fire? Pretty much, that's been England's story. The British make great rock 'n' roll, and they know a lot about comedy, and they can write a play or two.

Gold medalists? Four years ago, the Sun rated the top 10 British Olympians ever. A rower was No. 1. Another rower was No. 2. The rest of the stuff? Their best archer was Robin Hood, and their best fencer was King Arthur, and their best shooter was James Bond. Their Olympic drought is right up there with the one about not winning Wimbledon.

It would be nice to see the Brits do well. After all, they are just so darned happy these days.

Of course, the rest of the world is going to be interesting, too. Already, we have had another Iranian judoka withdraw rather than risk having to compete against an Israeli. A female Greek triple jumper has been kicked off her team because of racist tweets.

Given that, give me a rower every time. Or a cyclist.

Or a Cadbury.

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