The Olympic Memory


The Rio Olympics are due to start this weekend. In many countries, the focus will be on that team’s prospects of winning medals, and the potential to become their most successful representatives ever. That’s certainly some of the media coverage in Israel. But there is another significant point of interest here, and it’s an important (and emotional) one. We will never forget.

The Olympics and the money

According to the ever entertaining Guido Fawkes, the original budget was 2.4 billion, but the actual cost of the London Olympics was a staggering £12 billion.

And Guido delivers the sobering comparison that £6.1 billion was the amount spent on equipment for the UK’s Armed Forces in Afghanistan in each year leading up to the Games. In other words, whatever shortages the brave boys in Afghanistan suffered, could have easily been afforded with a different set of priorities.

If you had lost a loved one on the battlefield, perhaps due to a second rate flak jacket, or a poorly armored car (long overdue a promised upgrade), how might you feel about the Olympics? Israeli spending on sports should probably be seen through that prism.

Guido also claims each UK taxpayer contributed 200 pounds to the event. If that’s right, some will consider it good value, and others a right waste of money. Now, there’s a definite feel good afterglow. Will it quickly fade, or will it burn through to Rio? I hope it’s the latter; at the price I would expect a long lasting effect!

(Guido gives no sources for his numbers, but he’s not known for rushing into print (so to speak) without the facts to back him up. So, I suspect his numbers are legitimate.)

A tall story about Olympic success

Tucked away on the excellent IT site The Register, there’s an interesting article which may go some way towards explaining why Britain has done so well at the London Olympics: How talent-spotting boffins help Team GB bag Olympic gold.

The reasons do not include home advantage, but involve the ever more intrusive presence of science. The focus (for now) is proactively finding people who have the potential – physical, mental and genetic – to be Olympic medal winners, rather than waiting and hoping suitable talented athletes will turn up at the right time in the right sports. How effective has the approach been so far?

Helen Glover, who last week won Britain’s first gold medal at London 2012 along with rowing partner Heather Stanning, only started rowing four years ago in 2008. London was her first Olympics competition.

Glover was a teacher drafted into Team GB using a 2007 programme started by gold-medal rower Sir Steve Redgrave for UK Sport called Sporting Giants.

And as further food for thought:

It seems the days of the talented amateur training alone are disappearing, along with the idea that it’s enough for teams to produce just one or two hits followed by fallow periods.

One reason for this is the need for results in an increasingly tough competitive world.

Bolt’s cruise to victory in the 100 metres on Sunday is proof of just how tight the margins are and of the need for more precise and systematic selection and grooming of athletes. Bolt won on 9.63 seconds compared to 9.69 four years ago in Beijing. But his competitors were also faster than before: four of those racing against Bolt were faster than the runner who came second against Bolt in Beijing.

Now that’s a narrow margin.

Meanwhile, here in Israel, there’s an enquiry underway into the blowout we suffered at the Olympics: not a single medal. I cannot find any mention of Israel having a similar, scientific, approach to athletics success which does not bode well for the future. However, maybe everything’s explained in Hebrew somewhere, and there are such preparations in place, and the Rio Olympics will be a more successful one for Israeli sportsmen.

Meantime, we will just have to hope the incredible exploits of soccer minnows Kiryat Shmona continues.