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Posts Tagged ‘Chariots of Fire’

The Olympics lift the spirits of a nation, but they can also crush the spirit of an individual.  There comes a point in everyone’s life, I suspect, when they must accept that they will never mount the podium and have a piece of metal handed to them by some Francophone bureaucrat from the IOC.  That is dismaying in itself.  But you have the additional indignity of watching an array of prodigious cherubs winning gold all around them to really compound your sense of loss.  There is nothing quite like seeing a Chinese teenager winning gold in the 4 x 100 Artistic Clean-and Jerk Greco-Roman Bantamweight Road Race Medley to make you feel like your best years are behind you.  Because compared to that Chinese child, they certainly are.

Despite my quadrennial loss of self-esteem, I decided to embrace the Olympic spirit.  And so I remedied another cultural oversight on my part, which is to watch a film I’d never seen, namely Chariots of Fire.  Or, in the spirit of the IOC, Les Chariots de Feu. As a seasoned runner myself, my not having seen it is a shocking oversight.  Even my Present Husband was aghast, and you’d think there’d be precious left for him to be aghast about after all these years.  Just shows you that being married to a cultural neophyte brings endless novelty to a relationship.

Chariots of Fire really is a trip back to a simpler era characterised largely by tweed and religious fervour. You could use words like exhort and splendid and no-one would snort derisively.  And the sporting standards of the day bear no resemblance to our modern industry.  Motivational aids? Gilbert and Sullivan coupled with brisk anti-Semitism.  Your backroom team?  And old Italian guy.  High tech equipment?  A bit of chalk to draw a starting line. A trowel to dig the holes at the starting line where you feet go (a silver trowel, of course). A pocket watch.  The team transport?  A train followed by a rickety ferry.  A crisis of conscience about running on the Sabbath?  A team-mate, content with his silver, gives up his place in his heat on a Thursday just to see you run.  Performance enhancing drugs? Tobacco.

Happy days.

Nonetheless, the spirit of Chariots of Fire has changed very little.  Athletes today face many similar challenges – maintaining a gruelling training schedule, combining that training with work and so on.  (Well, Eric Liddell seemed to be holding down a job.  Certainly persuading his disapproving sister to take on the mission in China in his stead was a full-time occupation in itself.)  And something else that is true of sport to this day would be the clash of commitments and values that it can  set off.  Of course, few athletes today are bothered by the prospect of running on the Sabbath.  A runner today is more likely to struggle with his endorsement of Nike forbidding him from racing in an event sponsored by Adidas.

Chariots of Fire is an inspiring film.  Makes me want to get out running myself.  Except I too am experiencing a clash of commitments and values.  Between wanting to go out and run and wanting to stay here and drink a lovely bottle of sauvignon blanc.  The remarkable Lord Lindsey, athlete and bon viveur of Chariots of Fire, could reconcile the two.  Sadly for international athletics, I cannot.  And that, as much as anything else, is why the Chinese teenagers get the medals and I do not.

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