Monday, 13 August 2012

Tom Kenyon

People with far more time, ability and insight than me have written countless column inches in the last few days about the wonderful Olympics that finished yesterday, so I don't intend to try to add any more thoughts. Not least because my involvement has been peripheral at best; I've watched it on TV of course, I've been in and around London whilst it's been happening, I know lots of people who've been to events (including the Murray and hockey finals), a gold medallist lives a mile or so from our house in France, and a good ex-Lloyds colleague was a Games Maker, but these are piffling things compared to being there in any form.

Well, go on then, perhaps just a couple of thoughts. First, a spectacularly banal one. I was struck by just how damn nice most of the Olympians were. There was no grunting, no obviously media-trained inanities, no avoiding the question, and no blaming officials, the weather or the price of cheese in the Congo for sub-standard performances. Just direct, simple, humble answers full of gratitude and in the case of the winners, joy. It was wonderful to witness, and I confess to having tears in my eyes and sometimes on my cheeks more times than I can recall in the last couple of weeks. In the first week of the Games I was in France, and in our little hamlet one of the TVs was always on, and we'd dash from house to house to see the latest triumph as roars erupted out of our open front doors. Cue kissing, clapping and celebratory curries. A small part of Bretagne was Grand Bretagne.

The second thought. Tom Kenyon. I was at school with Tom till we finished A levels. Tom read Physics at Oxford. He was an intellect, a radio ham, an eccentric. I've no idea where he is now or what he's doing. I do remember however than he hated football. A less obvious sportsman you couldn't wish to meet.

And yet he had a talent beyond his academic gifts. He could spin a cricket ball. He would never, and did never threaten to trouble the scorers when it came to representing his school at any sport other than cricket, and yet for 5 years he was a mainstay of the team I was proud to captain and take to the final of the county competition in 1982. We were the first comprehensive school to achieve that in Cheshire, and whilst we lost, our presence there alone was a massive triumph. And Tom was one of the factors that got us there, spinning his way through opposition batsmen. And had it not been for the fact that he and I sat next to each other in maths lessons he probably wouldn't have come to the nets where his talent was discovered. I scoffed when he first told me he was coming to those nets when we were both 13. I was wrong to of course, and it was my then PE teacher (Mike Brown; isn't it amazing how you can remember the names of influential teachers?) who observed that nearly everyone had a talent for something, which could blossom if it was nurtured and developed. That talent might not make us an Olympic champion, but it just could be a massive source of pleasure and sense of achievement.

And that's what I thought as I watched some of the Olympians in the so-called lesser sports; how did you get into that? How did you discover your talent? In some cases yes, money and privilege. But in Nicola Adams' case and countless others, I somehow doubt that. Most of us, I suspect, could find our own little niche if we wanted to, and I am talking about physical endeavours. So whilst it's brilliant that Team GB won so many medals, I really hope that one of the Games' legacies is that grassroots mass involvement sport develops, as well as the elite programmes being maintained. Those who are never going to win a medal need to be welcomed and encouraged just as much as the worldbeaters.

I'm in the no-hopers category of course, but I still love doing it. On Saturday I got up and out running for 7.15, and the canal towpath was finally dry enough for a decent run. And the weather was superb. I hadn't really done a meaningful distance for a good few weeks, so when nothing started hurting, and the weather held good, and the water supplies were still there, I just kept running, eventually running 25.5 miles in 3 hours 40. Ie just under a marathon, just over 40km. And after a cold water bath when I finished, and some quality protein in the form of homemade turkey burgers, I managed to do another 6.5 hilly miles on Sunday. Still I wasn't lame, so I've entered my first ultra-marathon, a 50km trail run in the Lake District in October. The distance isn't that much further than a regular marathon, but there's 2000 ft of climbing and some pretty tough surfaces. Time to step the training up, as far as work allows anyway.

That'll give me something to talk about over the next couple of months...

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