Tokyo 2020: There's nothing quite like the Olympics | Jack Marshall's column
A brain-teaser: what sits in the exclusive middle bit of a Venn diagram whose circles are marked ‘naked Greek blokes’ and ‘state-sponsored doping’?
That’s right, it’s time for the Olympics.
The Olympics are great. They’re innately ancient, harking back to a time of olives, sun, and marble busts of young men with eat-your-crusts curly hair. A weight comes with that sheer history, from the grandeur bestowed by centuries.
But they’re also ridiculously high-spec; a carnival of adonises fuelled, sculpted, and trained down to the minutest detail by the cutting-edge blade of modern sports science. A 21st century VIP party for the best of the best.
The vibe is exquisite.
You know that period between Christmas and New Year’s when the days all merge into a bacchanalia of cheese and Celebrations when calories don’t count? There’s a tinge of that to the Olympics, too.
It’s day six of the Games. The initial opening ceremony buzz has slipped smoothly into a lovely pattern of watching skeet shooting and slalom canoeing at 11.45am. The medal table looks weird and wonderful. You decide to take up field hockey.
A hirsute Kazakh weightlifter breaks a record and cries with pride. You find yourself smiling as the national anthem rings out.
An obscenely young American swimmer with a name like MacKenzie wins a medal. The camera pans to her ruddy-faced polo-shirted father.
The Fijian rugby sevens team pray together, a crazy shot from the table tennis goes viral, and an Argentine diver gains 20,000 Instagram followers for being ridiculously good-looking.
Baltic and Scandinavian countries are weirdly good at handball and water polo for some reason. The equestrian stuff is still proper naff.
The Russians are the baddies, every medal met with a curled lip of suspicion. The Chinese are frighteningly good, the Americans sickly but sweet. The Australians just look healthy. There’s a German competing in every single event somehow.
It’s all so vibrant, so magnificently and tragically final. It’s intoxicating. Then the Brits start to emerge. The cyclists’ vast thighs; the swimmers broad as door frames. You burst with pride. The country is transfixed by its muscle-bound gymnasts, in awe of its towering rowers
Just for a moment, everything is utterly brilliant.
The Euros are over, roll on the Olympics. The king is dead, long live the king.