We are great at recognising heroes in this country. While the sceptics and bitter pessimists may try to deny that, when the United Kingdom finds a hero, they are truly savoured. Be it the lavishing of praise, the plethora of massive sponsorship deals or even the worship of our sports personalities, sport reigns supreme in our nation whether one cares to admit it or not.
This new found sense of optimism all began in 2005, when the partisan French were denied their chance to host the Olympic Games of 2012; a beacon of hope has shown its pretty face across the British Isles. Long gone are the days of British failure and heartache, long gone are the days of eternal waiting for success, and long gone are the days of putting one another down. No, we as a nation have grown and now the sky seems to be the limit.
The Summer Olympics of 2012 were by far the greatest few weeks I have ever known as a Brit. Despite a stuttering start, the nation and our athletes rallied to provide the most patriotic, shambolic and symbolic outpouring of emotions we have ever seen. From the moment Glover and Stanning flexed their muscles to power to rowing victory and all the way to Mo Farah’s intricate victory over 10,000 metres, the nation formed a concoction of noise and euphoric support.
London 2012 appears to have only been the beginning. In what may prove to be the greatest tipping point of our sporting times, we have gone from strength-to-strength and really imposed ourselves on the world stage. Whether it be Andy Murray romping to several Grand Slam victories, consecutive Tour De France winners and even the domination of our girls in the European Velodrome, once again, GB is beginning to lead the way.
Perhaps this is summed up best in what has been arguably our most successful Winter Olympics yet. For a nation that is often so cold, we seem to have never fully embraced the velvet powder of snow, instead seeing it as more of a nuisance, rather than as an opportunity to compete. What the Nordics, the Russians and the Canadians worship, we bastardise to the point of minority. It hasn’t always been this way. At the very first Winter Olympics, we sent the most athletes – an earth shattering 44 – but, our target of a mere five medals in Sochi tells its own story, and sums up the stigma often associated with winter sports as being ‘Indie’ or ‘out there’, not part of the mainstream, just watching through clasped hands in the corner.
And yet, it wasn’t so long ago that mainstream sports such as cycling and rowing sat in the dark, dark corner of absurdity. Before these sports saw a massive upturn in their fortunes, who among us, apart from the ‘indie elite’, could have named or even recognised Mark Cavendish, Katharine Grainger or even Bradley Wiggins? Not many. These stars ploughed their way from place to place, not seeking fame and not seeking glory, only seeking to be the best they can be. Instead, fame found them. Fame and adoration was born out of their wonderful success.
The best example I can give is the previously little know Laura Trott. ‘Trotty’ as she is named was nowhere near the conscious of the collective UK, in fact, other than Sir Chris and Vicky Pendleton, I very much doubt any of our track stars were. But for months success had been brewing. Time after time, race after race, day after day, Trott and her team soared to unimaginable heights. And at the Olympic Games in London, a true star was born. Now, as she continues to become the most successful indoor cyclist of all time at such a young age, one wonders what we were wasting our time watching all these years; average footballers ploughing their way against an endless tide of European talent?
With the Games, we abolished much of the stigma and brought numerous sports and countless athletes to the forefront our minds, lifting them up to such dizzying heights as we continue to hold those who systematically let us down, time and time again.
But there is still work to be done, and the stunning success in Sochi will surely be looked back upon as the starting point with which we took our outcasts as serious contenders. Some may argue that it is about time; I would certainly not disagree. Going into the Games, we had World champions and European champions, some of which barely received a mention. But now, Eve Muirhead and co are lavished across endless pages of press and are finally receiving the adoration from which they have been so long exempt.
Gripped to our screens and now fully enveloped in the world of the abstract, the nation now recognises these stars as what they are. Great Olympians, Great Ambassadors and Great Britons. The flag bearers of a nation and the holders of hope and adulation.
The bullish leadership of Muirhead is something truly wonderful to behold, the unity and togetherness she inspires in her team is an example to us all. Their victory in the bronze medal match, after the heartache of the semi final defeat, was as proud as it was tense. But this is merely the tip of the Olympic iceberg.
Dave Murdoch’s continued heroics are up there with the likes of Churchill, Jenny Jones’ terrific, individual effort in the snowboarding is a story to warm so many hearts, and Lizzy Yarnold’s utter domination on her way to gold is a sign that we are a truly great nation.
However, we must remember our stars and continue to shower them in the love they deserve; we cannot just forget about them and look on it as a successful few weeks. No, this must be a continued legacy à la the Olympic Games in London, Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory and even Chris Froome’s cycling success. We continually adore these stars and bestow award after award upon them. We must do the same with our Winter Olympians.
I have no doubt that we will, and I have no doubt that a tremendous legacy will be born out of this. All we need is a small percentage of those watching to be inspired and to pick up a ski pole, or even head on down to their local rink, and we will challenge at every sport for many years to come. We just need to continue to adore and award our heroes, and they will continue to deliver.