In 1896, 241 of the world’s top athletes from across 14 nations gathered for the first time as an international collective to put their athleticism on display, vying to be acknowledged as the world’s best.
Hosted in Athens, Greece, this display of peak human prowess became the world’s first Olympic Games.
We fast forward 126 years and I was recently privileged enough to witness not one, but two monumental events of equally notable grandeur, again showcasing the best of human physical ability.
Well, almost. It was Sports Day at my daughters’ school.
My youngest was first. And being in the Reception year of primary school, let’s say the events were slightly more light and fluffy than what you might see in the Olympics.
Think less Linford Christie’s manly balls swinging around his Lycra shorts, powering through to the finish line, and more kids kicking footballs wide of an open goal.
But that didn’t matter. My daughter was thrilled to see us there. She was actually one of the kids whose ball kick could reach the goal (which was a bonus) and she runs and jumps pretty well too. The scoring was fairly loose and most of the kids were waving at their parents mid-event anyway. So, when they received their certificates to say they’d taken part and tried their best, my youngest was pretty happy with that and we were too.
But then, a couple of weeks later, came the turn of my eldest daughter. The Year Sixes. The top of the tree. The head honchos of the playground with SATs under their belts and considered old enough to learn about the dirty deed their parents did to make a baby in Sex Education lessons.
Soon to be leaving for senior school and being relegated to being the smallest pupils and encountering teachers whose teaching styles might be a little less nurturing than they’re used to, these are the last few weeks for the Year Sixes to swagger around like Billy Big Balls. And at this age, with a Sports Day upon them, the kids properly understand how events like these are used for some good old fashioned horn-locking and a final nod to primary school supremacy.
These moments stay with us. My wife can still remember the boy at school whose handwriting was better than hers. And when she wakes in the night in a cold sweat, reaching for a pen with a quivering hand, I talk her down, give her a cuddle and tell it’s ok.
For me, it’s running the 100 metres and always coming in 4th courtesy of 1st through 3rd place always being occupied by those man-children who were bigger than the teachers and already growing full beards before the rest of us had discovered our first pube.
Winning really does matter to some of these kids. And granted, certificates still get sent home congratulating them for taking part. But some kids just really like to win.
And my daughter is one of them.
When they arrived at the sprint she seemed pretty relaxed. Casual. Gangnam Style was pumping out from the sound system to which she was pulling shapes, and when the race started she was actually looking the wrong way. (I said she likes to win, but her focus really needs a little work).
But as soon as she got going, it wasn’t hard to see her desire.
Turns out she’s got afterburners too. And long legs. And somehow, with each stride, she closed the gap and pulled herself to the front of the pack.
Everything was looking good. She edged into the lead.
But then something caught her out. The younger years didn’t have to run as far as the Year Sixes and had cones set out for them three quarters of the way down the track to mark their finish line. My daughter passed them and slowed down thinking she’d crossed the line. Those who weren’t breaking out to Gangum Style before the race started, actually listening to the teacher knew this and continued on.
She quickly realised and accelerated again. And with a final burst, stretched out across the line clinching joint first place.
I was made up! Even after a slow start and confusion as to where the finish line was, she was great to watch. And it was a great end to her final primary school Sports Day.
I have to say, even standing on the sidelines, the competitive side of me was loving how well she did.
I guess I can cope with her sharing first place and not winning outright… honestly. And I’m sure she’d love to tell you her experience too.
But that’ll be right after she goes to bed without any supper and finishes the 200 press ups I’ve instructed her to do.