Oxford and the Olympics

[This was published in Oxford Today, the university’s alumni magazine, ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. The most dated things about it are the reference to a certain Mayor of London by the name of Boris, and Oxford Today itself, which has since been replaced by Quad magazine.]

Mexico, 1968. The world watches as athletes of 108 nations file in. Past or future Oxford students step forward for Britain, including David Hemery (St Catherine’s) who will win gold in the men’s 400m hurdles; and also for Sierra Leone, New Zealand, the United States, and Norway (King Harald no less, Balliol). The flame from the Olympian grove is plunged into the cauldron high on the ramparts and, on cue, 10,000 pigeons are released. These are dizzying heights for all present.

Literally so for the pigeons. It is 2240m above sea-level and, as Jock Mullard of Keble remembers, ‘Many had difficulty flying and returned rapidly to earth; we spent many happy minutes capturing pigeons.’ Epic and slightly shambolic, the scene recalls both the classicism and the amateurism in which the Olympics were revived in the 19th century. These themes, worth savouring as Britain prepares to host the ever bigger and brasher Olympics, are intertwined in the story of how Oxford and Oxonians have been involved in the modern Games…

Read more …

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