You have five seconds — all right, ten — to tell me which was the only country to have staged both summer and winter Olympics in the same year. Was it, a)… hell, never mind multiple choice, this isn’t Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and you can’t call a friend. Just tell me. But a confession first: when I was asked the same question, I didn’t have a clue. Well? Sorry, your time’s up. It was Germany in 1936.
I’ve never seen any footage of the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. But I’ve seen plenty of the Berlin Olympics, including that of England’s football team doing the Heil Hitler salute at the box where the führer himself was beaming ear to ear. I also remember that grin becoming ever so strained each time Jessie Owens punched medal-sized holes in the Arian myth. But then the Germans won the Games handily, and the smile became warm again.
Above all, I remember Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, the first ever documentary film about Olympics. Another first was the now familiar Torch Run introduced by the Nazis who loved their torches. There was something sylvine about them, something evoking Erlkönig, hobgoblins and Wagner. Riefenstahl filmed the torches with gusto and a great deal of lamentably misused technical mastery, only matched by her earlier film about the Nuremberg rallies.
Interestingly, both the Nazis and the Soviets were at the time the greatest pioneers of cinematic tricks, and there were several Soviet directors who could give Leni a run for her money (Kuleshov, Vetrov, Dovzhenko et al). Both regimes recognised the propaganda value of cinema, which Lenin explained in so many words. And that’s what I remember most about Olympia: not the innovative tracking shots, but the propaganda.
When the Olympic torch fell out of the Nazis’ hand, it was picked up by the Soviets and their stooges. Gold medals now served to convey ideological rather than racial superiority — every time Soviet hermaphrodites, such as the Press sisters, ascended to the podium, they were seen not as a side show but as a triumph of a murderous political system. Every time female East German swimmers gave interviews in basso profundo, their voices and their bodies monstrously distorted by massive doses of steroids, a blow was struck for concentration camps.
From then on the Olympic ‘ideals’ got a divorce from not only the Greece of that Marathon chap, but also from the France of Pierre Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement. It married propaganda instead, till death do us part. In that context, and it’s the only one extant, it saddens me that London has won the race to stage this year’s Games. Winning a victory ought to imply a gain. Instead, we’ll suffer tremendous losses.
We’ll lose what little is left of our integrity: picking up the relay baton from the Nazis and the Soviets is a dubious honour. The Olympic ‘project’ is irrevocably tainted, and its use as propaganda for whatever the Dave-Nick coalition stands for (will someone please tell me what it is?) doesn’t add much lustre, even if their regime hasn’t yet graduated to camps. At least Boris Johnson looked slightly embarrassed when trying to sound gloriously triumphant at the award of the Games to London; nothing embarrasses Dave and Nick. The Nazis and the Soviets were trying to gain international credibility; we’ll lose the last vestiges of ours.
And we’ll use a great deal of money too, at a time when there’s no money to be lost. How much money? No one knows. Yes, of course there are budgets, but those are more honoured in the breach than the observance. Every month brings glad tidings of Olympic budgets going over the estimates, but hey, no cost is too great for Dave-Nick to be seen as world statesmen. The suffocating, billion-losing effect on London’s (and Britain’s) infrastructure is so hard to predict that no one even tries. Suffice it to say that Montreal is still paying for the 1976 Games, and Canada has a healthier economy than we do.
Still, even though budgets are no more than a statement of intent, one of them is particularly impressive. Security alone is estimated to cost in excess of £1 billion. Estimated, get it? So double it in your mind. And it’s not just a few extra coppers on the beat. According to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed to protect the Olympics from too much international enthusiasm.
Since by then our armed forces will have dwindled away to nothing, I wonder who’ll fire those rockets should the need arise. Presumably it’ll be social workers, the only public servants this side of HMG/EUSSR who have secure job prospects. I do hope they’ll be trained to tell the difference between a jumbo jet descending on Heathrow and one about to crash into Wembley stadium. Just in case, remind me not to fly during the Games.
Throwing money out of the window has become a major Olympic event. However, it’ll be different from the likes of javelin, discus or hammer throw in that there won’t be any winners. There will, however, be losers: you and me. I hope you’ll join me in planning your summer holidays to fall between 27 July and 19 August. Just a symbolic gesture of course, but a satisfying one.