Letters From London

Letters From London: Smells Like Team Spirit

Smells Like Team Spirit

As the medals pile up, Britain discovers its Olympic passion.

By Ellie Gibson • August 6, 2012

Many of us on the Gameological crew like the Olympics. Eurogamers Ellie Gibson, on the other hand, does not care for them (or so she claims). Naturally, then, we’ve invited her to be the site’s sole correspondent for the London 2012 Olympics. She does live there, after all. During the two weeks of competition, Ellie will be providing periodic updates to her running diary of the Games, in a feature we’re calling Letters From London.

Sunday, August 5—Women’s 10,000 meters; women’s heptathlon

It all happened so fast. Two weeks ago, no one in Britain seemed to give a toss that the greatest sporting event in the world was about to kick off right here. It looked as though we might escape Olympic fever altogether. Since then, the country has gone from feeling a bit under the weather to definitely coming down with something to writhing around in a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets, ranting deliriously about Bradley Wiggins’ magic sideburns.

Just look at the BBC News homepage. This is normally a dignified kind of place, presenting the news in sombre and straightforward manner. Today it’s all, “Andy Murray wins Wimbledon final!” “Smith takes pommel horse silver!” “What went wrong for British swimming?” The rise in Britain’s temperature is directly proportional to the amount of punctuation used by the BBC.

The amount of enthusiasm for the games first hit me yesterday, when I attended a barbecue at which no one was complaining about anything to do with the Olympics. In fact, people were going so far as to say things like, “I thought the opening ceremony was quite good, actually,” and, “Yeah, we watched the tennis, it was all right.” On top of all that, one of the guests, a grown man, was wearing a Team GB T-shirt in a non-ironic fashion.

The fever has even spread to my own household. I find myself glued to the television, screaming at people I’ve never heard of and who can’t hear me to do better at a sport I don’t understand. One hand is raised in the air, gesticulating wildly, while the other taps away on the laptop, continually pressing F5 to refresh the medals table.

The best event I watched over the weekend was the women’s 10,000 meters. I loved the fact that nothing really happened at all for about 9,347 meters. Then Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba powered past all the other women and zoomed off down the track, as if she’d just activated the Mario Kart star power-up and pulled off four power slides in a row.

“She’s the Jessica Ennis of Ethiopia, even though they don’t have celebrities like we do in this country,” said the commentator. I was still trying to work out on how many levels this was offensive when another commentator said, “Dibaba got married in 2008 to Sileshi Sihine, who was the silver medallist in the 10,000 meters. Thirty thousand people went to the national stadium in Addis Ababa to watch them be driven round it in an open-top car.”

To be honest, I had heard of neither Tirunesh Dibaba nor British heptathlete Jessica Ennis this time last week, but they are my new heroines. I particularly admire Ennis for her commitment to the heptathlon—for having decided not just to become the best in the world at one sport, but SEVEN.

I have been trying to understand why anyone would want to make life so unnecessarily difficult for themselves. I can’t. Trying to win a gold medal requires a huge amount of commitment, mental focus, and physical exertion. The only thing I’ve ever put any real effort into is having a baby. But when I was in labor, I just focused on that—I didn’t simultaneously try to knit a scarf, make a sandwich, put mascara on, do a handstand, etc.

Thinking about it, perhaps going for Olympic gold and giving birth aren’t that different. In both cases, the reward for success is tremendous, and taking drugs is considered cheating. Plus, there’s no way I’m going through that again for at least another four years.

(Front-page photo and cheering fans photo: The U.K. Department For Culture, Media, And Sport.)

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949 Responses to “Smells Like Team Spirit”

  1. Girard says:

    I think I now need to write an article for a respected journal of social theory about how all male Olympians are simply sublimating their unfulfilled and unfulfillable desire to experience first-hand the miracle of childbirth, by excelling at its closest sex-neutral analogue, the Olympic Games.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    Is Jessica Ennis the best at all seven? My understanding of the heptathlon was that they can’t compete directly with the people who focus strictly on running or jumping or putting shot (I guess you’d call it). I’d conceived of it as the “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” event in the Olympics. Like, most people decide they’ll be the fastest runner, or highest jumper, or best shot-putter (seriously, what the hell do you call them?), but a heptathlete has decided they’d rather be moderately good at all seven specific track and field events, but better than everyone else who is also moderately good at each of those track and field events. You can’t say, “I’m the greatest runner in the world.” You can say, “I’m the greatest heptathlete in the world–a separate category created for people who couldn’t make up their mind when it came to choose an event.” It’s like declaring a triple-major at college–Yes, you can do it, but you’ll have to put in the same work as people who are just focusing on each individual major, so no one’s expecting that you’ll graduate magna cum laude.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I am pretty sure that the scoring system works in such a way that someone who came in second in every single discipline would probably be a fierce contender for the overall title, whereas someone who cleans off the running events but can’t jump for crap would lose their edge quite quickly.
      In that it’s similar to most racing events, where constant high placing is more valuable than the odd victory amongst mediocre results.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Right–that’s exactly what I’m saying. The best heptathlete couldn’t go head to head against the best 100m hurdler, the best high jumper, the best shot-putter, the best 200m sprinter, the best long jumper, the best javelin thrower or the best 800m runner and expect to win. But those people would get crushed 6/7 times in a heptathlon.

    • Colliewest says:

      Still no women’s decathlon. Is it Track & Field’s final frontier?

  3. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    It pains me to say it, but they broke you Ellie. I thought we shared a special connection in our mutual disdain for this olympics thing, but now it’s like I don’t even know you. Please don’t call me anymore….it’s over.

    Also, Andy Murray winning something notable? THE APOCALYPSE IS COMING PEOPLE.

  4. Captain Internet says:

    This is the BBC commentary team watching Mo Farah and Galen Rupp take gold and silver in the 10000 meters:


    The BBC.

  5. roberto franzoy says:

    I come to this page for games, only games i dont care for humans or human interaction so imagine what i think about sports.
     And im getting tired of this shit, love the articles but please i don’t care what famous people think about games or musicians or any other real life turd you care to interview.Please just focus on GAMES the only entertainment i enjoy and the only reason i care to go to work, just so i can keep playing them under a roof