Sometimes you lose sight of this. Sometimes you see elite sportsmen and you see skill, handwork, drill, brilliance, drama, and achievement but it weighs heavy and means too much, and so becomes full of tension and anxiety. You see little of the pure joy that would have caused them, as a child, to practise endlessly for the sheer hell of it, because they enjoyed it so much. We need to be reminded that sport is also about joy.
I have been watching snowboarding at the Winter Olympics. I know nothing about it, will never attempt it, and will probably only watch it every four years – but I found it compelling. The thing I particularly liked was joy of the riders. When they finished a run many of smiled and waved or bounced up and down with excitement. It might well have something to do with adrenaline but nevertheless there was clear enjoyment. Not only that but there seemed a genuine appreciation of the tricks of the other competitors. When someone got bumped down the medal podium by a later competitor the congratulations seemed warm an genuine, not a grudging handshake, and in the women’s events there were lots of hugs.
So in an Olympics that I had doubts about (for all sorts of reasons related to Putin, money and Russian social attitudes) I ended up being captivated. I have been reminded of the meaning of sport.