Why are the Olympics important: 2

One of our V&A questions recently was “why are the Olympics important?”  Here, Prof Steve Haake gives his personal take on the importance of the Olympics.

Seven years ago, in 2005, one of my colleagues (Dr John Hart) and I were lucky enough to be invited to Singapore for the UK’s bid for the Olympics.  It was one of the most amazing but heartbreaking experiences of my life and one which left me in no doubt about why we need the London Olympics.

Ken Livingstone hugs Denise Lewis after finding out the result of UK’s Olympic bid on 6th July 2005.

I was invited out to Singapore by the British High Commissioner Sir Alan Collins to help set up the 2005 UK-Singapore Science and Engineering exhibition.  This got me close up to the bidding action (although I wasn’t part of the official team) with access to the pre-bid Garden Party on July 5th at the British High Commission.  I don’t meet that many celebs so to have a conversation with David Beckham interrupted by Tony Blair while Princess Anne strolls past looking for her drink was a bit surreal.

Beckham and Blair during their Olympic bid double-act in Singapore in 2005.

On the evening of the bid, I was at the British Club in Singapore.  Imagine all those things that are British – green fields, red telephone boxes, chips, marmite, a stiff upper lip, awkardness – then boil it for half a century until it reduces to the size of a small club and that’s what it’s like.  We stood nervously in front of a large screen watching the voting and I still remember Juan Samaranch struggling to open the envelope.  He started off on a long nerve-jangling sentence as if it was an X-factor final:

“The International Olympic Committee…has the honour…of…announcing that the games of the 30th Olympiad…in 2012…are awarded to the city of…….Lon…”

It was days before I heard the end of that sentence.  We screamed and our feet left the floor; we lost our awkwardness and hugged complete strangers, and headed for the bar.  At 4am, we struggled rather drunkenly back to our rooms to pack hurriedly and head for the airport to catch the non-stop back to London.  As we started our approach to Heathrow, even our thudding hangovers couldn’t dull our elation.

A bumpy landing at Heathrow

And then the pilot said something chilling: “You won’t be able to go into central London because of the bombs.”  So many implications in that one sentence.  A bomb? Not one bomb but bombs. So many questions.

We landed at Heathrow, and there was chaos.  All that people could tell us was that there had been three bombs on the London Underground and one on a double-decker bus.  Security was tense, luggage was searched and anything suspicious peremptorily discarded.  As high as we’d been only hours before, we were now on the floor.  Olympics? What Olympics? What a waste of time.

Fifty-two people died that morning.  I remember seeing pictures of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, and his face said it all.  It was as if winning the Olympic bid had been designed to make it just that much worse.

And yet, I remember coming around to the realisation that the Olympics was now even more important than before.  Sport might appear to be trivial, and the Olympics the biggest triviality of all, but it is those things that make life worthwhile.

I decided that somehow I would be at the London 2012 Olympics on merit.  For the past 7 years we’ve worked with UK Sport and many of our Olympic teams helping them with technologies to give them that little bit extra to get them on the podium.  I entered the lottery for tickets like everyone else and, until May, that was that.

But then out of the blue a secondment appeared: in two weeks I’ll be working at the Olympics with the joy and pain of Singapore a poignant memory.

Steve Haake

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About stevehaake

Steve is Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University. He has a degree in Physics from the University of Leeds and a PhD from Aston University on the mechanics of golf balls on golf greens. He has over 200 publications, including his first book "Advantage Play: Technologies that changed Sporting History" due out in October 2018.