The Importance of the Sporting Summer

Often, we measure how good a year is by the achievements of our athletes. We look to our sporting heroes to deliver and, quite often, justify being sat in front of the television on our days off. In Britain, we’re in the middle of an Ashes summer. The cricketing rivals England and Australia battling each other over five, five day tests. It’s a commitment. It’s worth it though, as a Brit, to see the Aussies getting hammered. Would it feel so good the other way round? No, of course it wouldn’t.

In Britain, we’re going through something of a sporting renaissance. The London 2012 Olympics were a hugely successful, life affirming event. Something many of us will never see again. Not only did the country stop for two weeks, everything seemed to click. We won medal after medal, there was story upon story and, for those of us enjoying it in pubs, all of a sudden we were sat next to experts in Women’s Duet Synchronised Swimming, Team Dressage and the Men’s Double Trap. It genuinely brought people together. It made a country, heavy under the weight of austerity, proud again.

The effect is still being felt in Britain this summer as Andy Murray has become the first person in 77 years to win the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Title, Justin Rose has won the golf US Open, the British and Irish Lions won the Test Series in the same stadium they won the World Cup a decade ago and Chris Froome has become the second, consecutive winner of the Tour de France. It

Before all of this, however, came the flying Modfather, Bradley Wiggins as he held on to the Yellow Jersey from Stage 7 of the 2012 Tour de France till the conclusion in Paris. He led the way into the 2012 Olympics on his Pinarello Dogma 2 and we haven’t really looked back since. From the opening ceremony night to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, the country was awash with achievement. It made us feel good.

Was this a uniquely British feeling last, or indeed this, summer? No, of course not. Look at Phil Mickelson winning the British Open. Yet another masterclass by Floyd Mayweather, Jr. against Robert Guerrero. Marion Bartoli dominating the Wimbledon Women’s Final. Weidman knocking out the apparently unbeatable Anderson Silva. The sporting summer is dominated by the sports men and women who dedicate themselves not only to achieve but also to do so for their country, fans and families.

It not a matter of being patriotic but about caring enough about sport and the positive aspects it brings. We look forward to our summer because there will be, for most, a break of some sort where we can sit back and take stock. Where we feel a genuine sense of shock when Federer and Nadal get knocked out early, when we watch in terrified awe as Andy Murray lets championship point after championship point slip away before the final winning serve. We can take our time and get involved emotionally.

The football (soccer) seasons begin in most European countries soon, the same with the NFL. These are out ‘bread and butter’ sports. We can watch them live, read about it in the papers and then talk to friends and colleagues. They are always with us, as are transfers and drafts in the close season. They keep us going in the autumnal months as we head into winter. We support our team, our very small part of a much larger sport, and we become almost tribal. Again, we need this, but we need the annual summer of sport to bring us together.

One of the strongest examples of this was the 2005 Ashes series in Britain. Two teams inextricably linked. An Australian team who hadn’t lost an Ashes series in eighteen years against a resurgent English squad. The whole series was an incredible back and forth battle which England eventually won 2-1. It was on the final day of the second Test though which made the most impact and, arguably, became the image of the series. England could not bowl out the last three batsmen easily, all of whom were bowlers (Warne, Lee and Kasprowicz). It was tense, it was a battle and it was, in the most ‘tribal’ of cricket rivalries, a divisive end as Kasprowicz was incorrectly ruled out and England won by two runs, the narrowest Ashes result in history. As the other England players jumped for joy and cheered, Bret Lee, the last man standing of the Australian side, knelt down solemnly and then, something strange happened. Freddie Flintoff, that most patriotic of Englishmen, turned his back on the celebrations and knelt down next to his opponent and consoled him. That summer of 2005 is remembered for many things, but one of them is definitely a moment of sportsmanship between two bitter rivals. It gave a smile to all sports fans who saw it because you can’t achieve the moment of greatest triumph without battling your biggest foe. This moment showed that Flintoff understood that concept. He understood that summer that sporting foes are actually sporting companions.

Last year, during the 2012 Olympics, we saw many great things. Usain Bolt winning three gold medals on the track, Super Saturday which saw three Brits (Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farrah and Greg Rutherford) win gold medals in the same hour in the Olympic Stadium, Kenya’s David Rudisha taking gold and the 800m world record, Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian in history and women’s boxing being contested for the first time. It really did, in the true spirit of the Olympics, bring the world together for a summer.

Something interesting happened after the closing ceremony though. The Paralympics became the event it always should have been. 2.7 million tickets bought, millions more watching around the world, it became a huge event which displayed why the summer of sport is so necessary. Every sportsperson needs to triumph over adversity and the paralympians of 2012 showed the world that you can triumph over anything. Perhaps the loudest chants in the stadium that summer were for Jonnie Peacock just before the T44 100m Final. It was incredible to see.

It doesn’t matter what country you are from, you can appreciate a sporting summer like no other. You don’t need to have any patriotic links with either Anderson Silva or Chris Weidman, the shock of the latter’s triumph, regardless of later contradictory, sycophantic comments by Silva, was huge. No-one saw it coming. The Spider was knocked out and the crowd was in shock. It was a brilliant moment. The same can be said of Phil Mickelson’s recent win at Muirfield. Britian’s Lee Westwood led the field on the final day. Personally, I wanted him to win, of course I did. All I could do though was sit back and applaud Mickelson as he tore up the links course with the round of his life. It is as much a story of the summer as Justin Rose’s earlier win in America.

Andy Murray’s recent Wimbledon win, after 77 years of waiting for a Men’s Singles Champion, was hugely emotional. Here is a young man who, as a child was in a classroom in Dunblaine as Thomas Hamilton entered the school and killed sixteen children and one adult. It was an awful moment in recent British history. Murray, put those memories away, he very rarely discusses the tragedy, and dedicated himself to tennis. He watched as Federer and Nadal jockeyed for position at the top and could only watch helplessly as Djokovic sauntered past them both to number one in the rankings. Murray lost Grand Slam Final after Grand Slam Final. He was accused of being a choker, of being anti-English. He ignored it all and fought against the world number one on Sunday July 7th and beat him in straight sets. Here, for all the peaks and troughs in his life, was the defining moment of Andy Murray’s life. For all those who jeered about his anti-English comments (all completely incorrect and blown up by the media) they stopped and applauded the unassuming Scot. The Scot who wanted to play and win gold for Great Britain at the Olympics. The Scot that realised that being a part of something like that was about the team, the emotion, the winning. He held aloft the Wimbledon trophy and the country cheered as one.

That’s the thing, as sports fans, we just want good sport. We want to be invested in the story, in the desire, in the emotion. Yes, obviously it helps if it is our country doing the winning, that cannot be denied but, on those long summer days, we want entertainment by professionals at the top of their game. We want to be repaid in the time, money and emotion we invest into the sport. Soon, another summer will be over and the desire for our team comes back into play. We need the summer of sport every year because we have time to dedicate to those heroes who can inspire us. Who overcome sporting obstacles in the same way we have to overcome obstacles in our own lives. We look to sportspeople to tell the stories that dictate our history and when the sun is shining down on all of us, it’s hard not to smile as one man kneels next to his fallen competitor and puts a consoling arm around him.

 

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Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.