This time last year, the word on many people’s lips was “legacy”. London 2012 had a series of objectives, and one was to “inspire a generation”. As an events professional – and amateur sports-lover – the concept intrigues me. Many people jump to the conclusion that what LOCOG wanted was to use London as a springboard for Rio: that people could get off their sofa having watched the Jamaican relay team storm to victory, and be wearing a Team GB jersey four years later. I very much doubt that was LOCOG’s intention, and here’s why.
I have one memory of the summer of 1996: watching agog as Mary King and Star Appeal completed the cross country phase of the Olympic Eventing competition in Atlanta. My love (there’s the L word you assumed I was talking about) affair with horses had been burning brightly for six years already, but this is the first occasion I remember sitting up and thinking little else but, “wow”.
Mary and Team GB didn’t win the gold that year, but they won my heart. Eventing became my favourite equestrian sport, and I went to my weekly riding lessons imagining that my steed was not Cherry the riding school pony, but Ready Teddy, Broadcast News or Primmore’s Pride (anyone who knows about eventing – or has now googled these animals – will know that my slightly tragic thought pattern continued well into my teens, and I can’t promise that it doesn’t still happen occasionally…).
Atlanta 1996 was just that: 17 years ago. I’ve sat just as hooked on eventing for every year since – Olympic and non-Olympic. I’ve shouted “keep kicking!” at the TV many times; I’ve been frustrated at a blatant rule break which saw Team GB (temporarily) awarded two medals of incorrect colour; I’ve been to the brink of tears upon hearing that they had been crowned World Champions and I’ve tasted disappointment at other near misses.
The stadia in Atlanta closed a long time ago. Some medals may now bear dust. The legacy of the 1996 Games burns on in my heart. London’s legacy is flickering. Steps have been taken, dreams will have been had. Ponies and bicycles and boats and trainers and rackets will all have been transformed in young minds to create gold medal-winning performances. I hope that the flames are fed, encouraged.
Legacy isn’t the equivalent of a 10 second sprint race. It’s the agonising, painstaking hours of a marathon.