“He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation – he may have even saved his sport,” gushed Steve Cram following Usain Bolt’s successful defence of his 100m World crown at the weekend. An even more impressive performance by Bolt in today’s 200m final will have elicited more cries of jubilation and sighs of relief from those who viewed the possibility of the hated Justin Gatlin dethroning Bolt with dread. For his part, Gatlin’s apparent refusal to display contrition for previous doping offences and uncooperative attitude with the media meant that the Fourth Estate wasn’t inclined to offer any help with his rehabilitation. What they were motivated to do was to hail Bolt as athletics’ saviour, a role he is well entitled to feel uncomfortable about adopting. But Gatlin turned out not to be the most convincing cold-blooded villain. A 100m World title was his for the taking until the presence of Bolt caused him to lose his concentration and his nerve. If one was being especially cynical, it could be noted that 9.80 was a reasonably quick time given the horror show of the last 15 metres, as Gatlin lost his form and then flailed his arms desperately, a technique that has not yet been observed to bring the finish line closer.Read More »
News of the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s recent passing carried with it a particular melancholy. It wasn’t simply another case of a voice of my youth being silenced. Some of the details of O’Sullevan’s life marked him out as an irreplaceable figure, and that partly derived simply from his longevity. He was one of the last living connections to certain particular places in time. That he was the son of a resident magistrate in Ireland elicits thoughts of the stories of Somerville and Ross. The japes in those books typically involved horses, too. His giant commentary binoculars were recovered from a German U-Boat. And, given he was a keen and successful punter, one is charmed by his pre-season tours of French stables where he got the inside track on many a later triumphant raider in English races, research made far less burdensome by the fluent French he learned at his Swiss boarding school.Read More »
The 70th anniversary of the first use in warfare of mankind’s most terrible weapon is a reminder not only of how far winners will sometimes go to rewrite history, but how an instance of mass murder can be recast as an act that served the greater good. As well as being a time for reflection and commemoration, it behoves all of us with humanitarian instincts and respect for historical memory to counter the spurious justifications for the use of nuclear weapons at the end of the Second World War. Of all history’s atrocities, the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the ones that have been most successfully accompanied by egregious apologetics, grotesque sanitising, and deplorable distortion of the historical record. One of the most dubious claims, partly founded in racist dehumanisation, is that the bombs were justified because they saved lives.Read More »
Former Labour Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel A Very British Coup, about a socialist British Prime Minister who is undermined and brought down by a hostile British establishment in league with Washington, opens in the venerable Athenaeum Club on election night as former steelworker Harry Perkins becomes PM. The reaction of the members is one of horror as they digest the elevation of somebody who isn’t “one of us”, as the blessed Margaret might have put it. A friend of mine is a member of the Athenaeum, and I will have to ask him sometime how authentic the scene is, though I am inclined to suspect that if such a moment came to pass it would be treated with a bit more equanimity than the fictional response.
The third Test of the 2015 Ashes is currently taking place and Edgbaston, the venue this week, has been staging matches in this series since 1902. It is the scene of some famous moments in the history of this sporting contest. In that first Test, Australia were bowled out for 36 in their first innings in reply to England’s 376. In 1981, Ian Botham memorably took 5 for 1 during a spell with the ball as the Australians were thwarted chasing another low target following their legendary collapse in Headingley. And in 2005, England secured the most dramatic of victories when they won the second Test match by 2 runs, the second smallest margin of victory in Test history.