The Olympics and me
My memories, however, go like this:
“Didn’t you see that, Cherry?”
“The ball! Look!”
“What ball? You mean this involves a ball? Where? Oh, there! Ouch!”
I was no good at sports, I’m afraid to say. The only rule I ever grasped (at least I think I grasped it) was highly specific to Goal Keeper in netball. The incumbent couldn’t move across a line that wasn’t very far from the goal post. It meant that whoever occupied that position didn’t have to get too involved in what was going on in most of the rest of the court.
It followed that the only sports-related physical vigour I ever manifested happened in the scrum for the bibs – if I came out with anything other than ‘GK’ I knew that I was in for a very depressing hour or so.
I wasn’t alone. A fair number of my classmates developed a convenient inability to read the timetable properly and kept walking all the way to the wrong playing fields at the right time; and the right playing fields at the wrong time. I was also one of a united band of anti-hockey subversives who took so long putting on their boots that we were always too late for the preliminary team-choosing nightmare and ended up as reserves on the sidelines for, we dearly hoped, the whole of the match.
I’m not going to mention PE lessons in the gym. It’s just too painful…
But then, when I was 15, my mother bought me a bicycle and a young, compassionate child from next door kindly taught me to ride it (I do hope he went into teaching - what he didn’t know about cycling since casting off his stabilisers wasn’t worth learning).
I then became one of the handful of pupils who cycled to my secondary school (one of the others was my sister). It was nothing like the boring drag of walking the 2.5 miles there and back every day and I was powering myself - yes, myself! - along at a much greater speed than I had ever done before. I felt, at last, that I wasn’t such an inert, non-sporty and horribly substandard lump.
Maybe it was the endorphins, maybe it was the absence of any obviously superior competitors or of team-mates whose one wish was that I abscond to the other side. But whatever it was, I loved it.
So, when I watch Olympians doing their amazing stuff, I don’t feel as remote as I might do had I never experienced the sense of physical achievement that cycling - bog-standard, utility cycling, that is - offers.
Lizzie Armitstead of course, is better at cycling than I am by vast orders of magnitude, but I’m entirely comfortable with that. Even the type of cycling that suits me best makes me feel fit and happy and, dare I say it, sort of ‘sporty’ in a contented and utterly non-medallic kind of way.