Olympic Competition Ends With the Modern Pentathlon, or Sports Day Writ Large

Published on The Huffington Post.

As it turned out, it was very appropriate that the last sporting action of London 2012 should be the Modern Pentathlon. It showed the Olympics for what they ultimately are: an international sports day stretched over a fortnight.

I don’t mean to belittle the very dedicated pentathletes, and to be fair, I didn’t compete in sword fights, horse riding or laser gun shooting at my primary school. But the Modern Pentathlon is the perfect expression of the Olympic movement at its purest. As with most of the venues at these Games, Greenwich Park afforded an embarrassment of panoramic riches, with Canary Wharf, Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory all helping to frame the action. And the sporting action itself was all the more entertaining for its improbability. The newly-designed finale to the Pentathlon, the shooting and running ‘combined event’, might resemble something from Gladiators, but it has the advantage that the first over the finish line at the end of the race wins.
In the end, it was the second over the line, Britain’s Sam Murray, who really got the crowd going. After they had finished, many of the athletes turned their attention towards their supporters in the crowd. An Irish athlete headed right up into the stands to see family and friends; an Egyptian competitor proudly held a (her?) baby aloft; Sam Murray did an impromptu jig for the cameras. In truth it wasn’t all so far removed from what you might see at the end of a sack race.
After the medals had been handed out, the walk back to the station took us past a teeming live screen site at a nearby park, with a real carnival atmosphere in the late afternoon sun. It was almost like the Games had come full circle: the scene was just slightly reminiscent of ‘Green and Pleasant Land’, the first set piece of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. This country is no longer all green, and by no means always pleasant, but the past fortnight has served as a proof that just sometimes it can still be both. And the best way to make that happen, we’ve been reminded, is with sport.

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