WHAT WITH empty seats at the stadium, green water in the diving pool and a puzzling shortage of money forcing major cuts to the Paralympics, for Brazil the Rio Olympics have been a triumph of disorganisation.
Yet, for the athletes themselves, the triumph has been of an entirely different order. The organisational errors were many, but they count for nothing compared with the competitive spirit which always surges to the fore at any Olympics and which triumphs by capturing the hearts of a global audience.
Indeed, it is in the great and glorious moments that Rio has excelled, whether it was Usain Bolt running into the record books with his ninth gold medal or Michael Phelps ending his Olympic career with 23 swimming golds. But it is the part that Britain has played in these memorable moments that has been most astonishing of all.
Over the past 20 years, since plumbing the ignominious depths of the Atlanta Games to return with a solitary gold, Britain has turned itself into a ruthless medal-winning machine to the point where its position in the medal table now rivals such traditional Olympic giants as China, Britain’s chief competitor throughout the Games for second place in the medal table.
Indeed, for Britons, the cascade of golden moments has seemingly been never-ending, from the double gold of Mo Farah to Max Whitlock becoming Britain’s first gold medallist in gymnastics. Then there are the Yorkshire triathlon triumphs of Alistair and Jonny Brownlee and the achievement of Nicola Adams in becoming the first British boxer since 1924 to win successive golds.
In fact, the way in which Britain’s Olympic charge has been led by Yorkshire (this region would be 17th in the table) has been truly remarkable, not only in the successes of the Yorkshire contenders themselves, but also in the number of other athletes trained or based here.
For all this success, much of the credit must go to that unsung Olympian, Sir John Major, who set up the National Lottery with the key aim of benefiting sport, a gift that continues to give and give.
For those who claimed that London 2012 would forever be the apex of British Olympic success, Rio has been an eye-opener. Can it continue? Only Tokyo will tell…
The long battle over Alzheimer’s
THE BATTLE to defeat Alzheimer’s disease has been a long and unrewarding one. Indeed, as more and more people in Britain live to far greater ages than was once common, the scourge of Alzheimer’s has grown proportionally.
Around 850,000 people in this country now have some form of dementia, the vast majority of these suffering from Alzheimer’s, and the cost to the nation is a steep one, more than £26bn per year. But the cost to the sufferer and their family and friends is far greater, as memory loss, confusion and mood changes slowly increase, gradually stealing away an individual’s very identity.
One persistent problem in the search for a cure has been the fact that it is difficult to identify a person as suffering from Alzheimer’s until these symptoms are clearly manifest, meaning that therapies cannot be tested before irreparable brain damage has already occurred.
Yet now, thanks to a pioneering trial headed by Oxford University scientists, it is hoped that it will become possible to diagnose patients with early Alzheimer’s and therefore treat the disease much sooner.
A cure, of course, remains a long way away. But even if the disease’s progress could be slowed, that in itself would represent a significant victory against this terrible affliction.
Real-life drama: A champion of the disabled
THE VERY fact that the disabled are now recognised as the equals of anyone in society, no longer marginalised or ignored, can be attributed, at least in part, to the championing of this cause by Brian Rix following his transition from farceur to campaigner.
Although familiar to an older generation as an actor-manager who put on many long-running productions at London’s Whitehall Theatre and appeared regularly on TV, Cottingham-born Lord Rix distinguished himself even more in later life through his tireless work as secretary-general and chairman of Mencap.
It was after being told that his daughter, Shelley, who had Down’s syndrome, should be put in a home and forgotten about, that Lord Rix became such a powerful voice for the disabled and it is only now, at the age of 92, that that voice has finally been silenced.