Here’s how to handle withdrawal symptoms as the Olympics draw to a close
At the end of the film The Truman Show, Jim Carrey delivers his catchphrase – “And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night” – the programme cuts off and Truman’s fans are seen wiping their tears away, reaching for the remote control and looking for something else to watch. Within moments, they have found a new entertainment fix.
This is the great fear as the Games of the XXX Olympiad draw to a close. Not including the opening and closing ceremony and road events like marathons and race walks, more than one million people have passed through the Olympic Stadium in recent days to watch athletics. But how many will continue to follow the sport in future.
Are they ready to follow in Mo Farah’s footsteps by lacing up their spikes to race in grassroots cross-country leagues this autumn? Will they travel to watch Greg Rutherford or Jessica Ennis compete indoors next winter? Is the Paralympics going to be watched and covered so avidly later this month? The GB team will need their support again at the European Team Championships in Gateshead next summer, but will they lend their support?
Surely, London 2012 could not have been more inspirational. From Usain Bolt’s triple crown, to David Rudisha’s ground-breaking 800m record, to the double delight of Farah, heptathlon heroics of Ennis and long jump joy from Rutherford, the athletics action has been thrilling.
Bracing itself, the sport is as ready as it can be to soak up the new interest. UKA has liaised with LOCOG so that the fans who paid a small fortune to watch Olympic athletics might be tempted to spend a little less watching future meetings more regularly. England Athletics and other home country federations, meanwhile, have worked hard in recent years to get ready for this post-Olympic period.
If you have Olympic fever and its subsequent withdrawal symptoms, the antidote is obvious. Join an athletics club and get stuck into some winter training.
Or, if you’re more of an armchair athlete, then update your subscription to Britain’s only athletics magazine, make sure you have the right TV channels, and settle down to enjoy a sport that literally never sleeps. Most sports have an off-season, but athletics takes place every weekend of the year and not for a few weeks every summer as some people seem to believe.
Ominously, the Premier League starts again soon. But perhaps Britain is finally realising that its greatest sportsmen and women are the Olympians and not footballers.
Don’t take my word for it. Hunter Davies, the well-known football writer, said it himself in the football-obsessed tabloid The Sun during the Games. He wrote: “I feel so sorry for our professional footballers – icons of our times, or so they believe – as they get ready for a new, exciting season. I don’t think since 1888, when the first football league started, have our pro players been so utterly embarrassed, humiliated and shown up. How can they ever hold up their arrogant heads again, compared with our Olympics lads and lasses?”
He added: “Now, thanks to the Olympics, our eyes have been opened. All those lovely, humble, ungreedy, unselfish, sweet young men and women have shown us how sportsmen can and should behave. For four years, most of them have been up at five in the morning slogging away in the dark and cold, often on their own, for no money, little encouragement, with no fame, no fans, no groupies, no security screen around them. And yet, they have ended up not just nicer, more admirable humans — but also more successful.”
For followers of the premier Olympic sport, the Games started on Friday August 3 and finish with the men’s marathon. After such a dazzling few days, there is the danger we are going to suffer the hangover from hell. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When major championships drew to an end in the past, one of my old colleagues at AW used to quote the old Arab saying: “The dog barks and the caravan moves on.” The point being that same old faces – athletes, coaches, agents, journalists and die-hard fans – inevitably form the core audience at the next meeting … and the next … and next.
After the London Olympics, though, hopefully the athletics caravan will have more new faces. The London 2012 hangover is about to hit us hard, but there needn’t be any withdrawal symptoms if you keep up your interest in the No.1 Olympic sport.
» Jason Henderson is covering his fourth Olympics for AW and tweets at @Jason_AW