Sunday, 29 July 2012

The true Olympic spirit; or Britons find their underdog

Over on the excellent BBC Olympics website, the most watched video is entitled: 'Plucky rower wins hearts of home fans'. If you click on it, you see a rower out on his own. For one second, I thought that perhaps he was winning by a distance, which is why one can see no other boats. In fact, he was losing by a mile. The crowd, who this morning were whooping and cheering for the British men's and women's pairs, who won their heats, were now roaring for a brave loser, from a distant country with which few of them will have had any connection.

Hamadou Djibo Issaka, from Niger, apparently only took up rowing three months ago. He looked so tired that it would not have been a surprise if he had stopped short of the finishing line, but the happy British crowd, who love nothing more in the world than an underdog, had found their new hero, and almost lifted him over the line with their yells of support.

It's lovely to see the champions excel. It's especially lovely if one of them is from your home country. But this little moment was a delightful example of chauvinism literally stopping at the water's edge. Britons adore an underdog, but what they love even more is a trier, and this fellow was trying his heart out, against all the odds. When all the medals are counted, and the world records smashed, and the triumphant pack up their golds and go home, I bet you any money that one of the people who shall be most remembered from these games is the rower from Niger, for whom that most British of adjectives, plucky, could have been invented.

You can watch him here:

I can't guarantee much in life, but I guarantee that it will bring a tear to your eye.

Photograph by Darren Whiteside for Reuters.

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