The Olympic Games of 1968 where one of my earliest sporting memories.I remember them fondly. But after those games it was never the same. Until now. Can The Paralympics offer the Rio games a flicker of hope for the future?
When I was a boy their was something magical about the Olympics. The 1968
Games in Mexico City Was one of my first big sporting memories.
Maybe it was the samba infused BBC theme tune 'Mexico' sung by Long John Baldry, sounding very Tom Jonesish. Or the shiny opening titles which if you where lucky enough you could watch for the first time in colour. The Olympics promised you a feast of sporting excellence like no other. It filled me and my friends with an air of anticipation and excitement. Two weeks of none stop sport. And it was all going to be shown 'Live'
But to be a wittiness to this sporting pageant, wasn't easy you had to invest time and sacrifice sleep. Their was no catchup TV and I don't think video recorders had been invented. The only way to watch this sporting feast was to stay up as it was shown in the early hours of the morning. No twenty four hours TV yet. School age boys like me should have been in bed, but because it was the Olympics. The rules were relaxed. As an aside the only other time I can remember being allowed to stay up late was to watch Miss World! odd or what?
Their was no internet, no super fast highways, satellite links or fibre optics. The broadcasts were raw and sounded tinny. But what could we expect when it was all happening so far away. The pictures might not have been great, but even talking over what sounded like a long distance telephone line, couldn't dull the quality of David Coleman commentating on the athletics or Harry Carpenter talking us through the rounds of boxing. Frank Bough and Dickie Davies drew the short straw and where back in London holding it all together for Grandstand and for ITV's World of Sport.
Mexico was probably the last fairytale Olympics. It wasn't dominated by the demands of the sponsors or the multi millionaire athletes. We hadn't heard of drug cheats back then, most of the GB team were just gifted amateurs, who had taken a few days off work to come and compete. Compare the innocence of the athletes of Mexico with the money fuelled superstars who will be lacing up their zillion dollar sponsored running shoes in Rio in a few days time.
That's not to say that the sixty eight games was without its controversy it was the year of the black power salutes, and the suspicions that the domination by the Russians and The East German athletes, was thanks to something other than training Their athletes where like machines, they dominated the medals tables.But back in the day sport was still for the most part innocent . So when we did win a medal it so much more sweeter.
David Hemery was our first Mexico hero winning gold in the 400 meteres hurdles. Hemery was not the ripped and toned specimen that we see parading around the track these days. He had a whopper of a nose and blonde combover, but looks weren't everything back then, and when he teared around the track we cheered him home gleefully. Then a battered and bruised Chris Finnegan surprised everyone when he picked up his boxing gold. With another couple of golds in shooting and horsey things, by today's standards Mexico would have been considered a medal winning failure. However these where different times we would still cheer on our team valiant in defeat and they would return home to applause rather than shame and an inquest into why we did so badly. It was also a time when we could also cheer on the opposition without a hint of jealousy at their success. It was still not a crime to admire the great foreign athletes who raced for their countries glory. We embraced their success. How times have changed. You have to ask where did it all go wrong?
Four years later, and the pretext of the friendly games was destroyed for ever in Munich. The games of 72 will be remembered for the first terrorist attack at a sporting event. It cast a shadow over the games ever since. It's a stain that it has never been able to shift. The Olympic ethos Of Faster Higher Stronger is now tainted. Achievement comes way behind commercialism terrorism and drug cheats.
But just when I thought all hope was lost for the Olympics , I saw a shining message of hope on TV this week it was a promotional Video on Channel 4 for the Paralympic Games. Titled 'Yes I can' it's a cavalcade of disabled athletes proving the very point, that Yes they can.
The Paralympic Games is a return to those 68 values. It's ironic that unlike their able bodied counterparts. nobody is in it for the money. Not taking drugs is not an option for some of the competitors. And if it wasn't for terrorists some of them wouldn't even be there. Their is promotional video with a very Catchy theme tune 'Yes I can' is a swingy little number filled with hope. I hope it becomes as memorable As Mexico was back in 68. Watching it, it reminds you that some people are still living the Olympic Dream. Winning gold is the reward. The Paralympics has an innocence that has been lost from the main competition. Watching athletes pushing themselves beyond their physical limits is all to apparent.
The Olympic pageant will begin In a few days, but it's sporting content has already been relegated to a back story. Hopefully once the competition proper begins we will forget the distractions and concentrate on the sport.
The big difference between Mexico and Rio will be how we view it. Technology means no more late nights We can watch our athletes win their medals in glorious High Definition. when ever we want. Hopefully it will be memorable for all the right reasons. It will be a great occasion but maybe not as great as Mexico 1968