I love the Olympics. I know parts of it are dodgy and there’s all kinds of nastiness going on in Brazil that we’re not seeing but I love it. I’ve always loved it. I remember watching loads of athletics especially when I was a child, an early hero for me was Kathy Cooke, and I danced with joy in 1988 when the men’s hockey team won gold. For us Brits, it’s only in the last 20 years or so that we’ve really been achieving, a lot of what I watched with my dad was disappointing for us. I always remember watching Jonathan Edwards getting his gold and wishing Dad was still alive to watch it, bearing in mind how many times we saw him come 13th together.
Anyway, E has been interested in sport when we’ve had it on TV, and obviously we took her to the rugby world cup last year which she really enjoyed. But this is the first time she’s properly seen the Olympics, and been able to react to the female athletes.
I hadn’t really thought about this in advance. The first weekend I had the women’s rugby sevens on so E sat beside me and asked who we should be cheering on. It was our game against Canada at the time, and E took it all very seriously, exclaiming when the Canadians had the ball and calling, “Run! Run for your life!” when we got the ball.
I showed her some of the gymnastics next. Who wouldn’t be impressed by Simone Biles? E couldn’t work out if she was more impressed with the flips or the sparkly leotards. She loved the swimming but it was the heptathlon that really caught her imagination.
We sat and watched the high jump and E was fascinated. She watched the efforts of them all, she warmed to Jessica Ennis-Hill, she watched the record breaking pbs from Thiam and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and she saw them all clap and cheer on each other. From then on, her imaginary play involved athletes. She has a band of imaginary friends, mainly Disney characters, but from the weekend Jess and Katarina have joined them. They came to dinner on Saturday night, and they played hide and seek with us on Sunday.
We’ve watched highlights each morning over breakfast and it’s been so refreshing and positive to be able to easily show her women doing amazing things, achieving cracking physical feats and winning medals. She asks which one is ours, she cheers whenever anyone crosses the line, she is intrigued, and she’s been asking how to do these things. I told her she has to practice and she took this very seriously. “I can practice when I’mngrown.”
I don’t know what she’ll be like when the games finish but hopefully we’ll be able to find some women’s sports, especially athletics, on TV to keep her interest. We don’t have satellite TV, so no extra sports channels, though I doubt they show much female sport. In the meantime, I’ve been compiling her a collage of pictures from the newspapers which show all the women – Jessica E-H, KJT, Bryony Page, the cycling team, the rowing eight, and now I’ll add Amy Tinkler and more Laura Trott. Then we can hang it on the wall.
It’s so easy to knock some of this stuff, but we’ve seen all kinds of pictures in the last few days of children who met an Olympian and grew up to win their own medals. But assuming E doesn’t go and bring home a gold medal, the fact that these games have sparked her imagination, that it’s been so easy to show her women doing fabulous things, and that these are not things she sees every day, is important. Real role models, for girls and boys, seem thin on the ground these days and the nastiness of our media and social media make admiring people hard to do.
Thank you Team GB, and Rio, for inspiring my girl. Bring on Tokyo.