Barracuda

blogbarracudaI loved the Christos Tsiolkis novel about the young swimmer who trains to be a champion only for his dreams to be shattered when he reaches for the top.  I was eager to see the Australian television version and had the opportunity to watch it when the BBC made it available.

Now, watching any film or television version of a book you love can be problematic.  When it is handed over to a team of writers, directors and actors it can be fantastic or quiet drastic.  In this case, I was bowled over by the production which brought out the drama of a young man who has greatness in his sights only to see it all slip away.  The production was of four parts, with the first showing his first steps into the elite private school that welcomes him only because of his swimming ability.  The final part was the most affecting.  Here Danny Kelly has turned his back on swimming and tries to find meaning in a life robbed of its central purpose.

The series works well.  Some of the grittier elements of the book have gone, including a spell in prison, but the portrayal of the main character by Elias Anton is spot on, emphasising the thin line between determination and self- absorption and playing Danny as a conflicted youth who is both excited and disgusted by what he sees at the elite school.  Frank Toma, the Hungarian coach who takes Danny under his wing, is given a greater role in the television version and it works.  In the book we have to wait for a coda to see how much coach and swimmer meant to each other.  Here, it is played out for us but done with such affection that it never becomes sentimental.  Matt Nable was brilliant as the coach with high standards.

Television wins with the visuals of the pool and the excitement of swimming events.  The book gives us what the television doesn’t: a first person glimpse inside the head of Danny Kelly, promising swimmer who could have had it all.

I’m glad I read the book first, I’m glad I saw the television series.  Both are in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Chariots of Fire

I love the films that take true events which are little known and turn them into stories which illustrate a larger theme.  ‘Chariots of Fire’ is one such film.  I saw it while a student in Oxford and, partly because of that time and place, it has fixed itself in my memory.

The tale of two runners who come from very different backgrounds to compete for Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics is a compelling one, especially as it is the story of two outsiders who enter the heart of the British establishment.  Eric Liddell is the Scottish son of missionaries who believes running is one way he can show his love of God.  Harold Abrahams is an outsider because of his Jewish religion.

Both men are selected for the team, alongside members of the aristocracy and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge.  The team is the cream of the establishment’s sporting class and the film shows the difference between those born to rule and those who earn their place through effort and talent.

When Liddell and Abrahams run in the same race, Liddell wins causing much anguish to Abrahams.  He takes on a coach, a move that offends some as beneath the dignity of a sporting gentleman.  The true drama takes place in Paris, though, when the Olympics are staged.  When Liddell learns that his race is to be held on a Sunday, he withdraws on faith grounds. Despite strong pressure from the Olympic committee and the Prince of Wales, he refuses to race and it looks as if he will forego the opportunity to win a medal.  The day is saved, though, by Lord Lindsay who offers to stand aside so that Liddell can race on a Thursday in what would have been his heat.

It is well documented that both Liddell and Abrahams won gold medals but the manner of their winning makes a great film.  Ian Charleston played Eric Liddell and Ben Cross played Harold Abrahams in a film written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson.

‘Chariots of Fire’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Moments to Remember in 2016

This has not been my favourite year!  Politically, I have been very depressed by what has happened and by who has triumphed.  However, there were bright spots and the Olympics were a large part of what made me proud to be British in 2016.

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Jack Laugher and Chris Mears won Gold at the Rio Olympics. Their event was the synchronised 3m diving.  This was Britain’s first diving Gold so was an amazing achievement.  I watched it all with a growing sense of excitement when it seemed that the pair would actually win despite the best efforts of the Chinese and the Americans.

When they won, of course, they were delighted and their hug showed the level of excitement. What a shame then that Britain’s Daily Mail, the house journal of the small-minded, could not help but make a point about the fact that this was two men hugging! Good for Mears and Laugher who showed that you can hug your friend and colleague even if you are a man!

 

 

2016 Olympics

I am a late convert to the wonder of the Olympic Games.  I ignored them completely until London 2012 when I joined in the national euphoria and started to see that underneath the hype there were stories of true heroism and there were people who demonstrated sporting values worth valuing.

The background to all of this a Britain where football rules.  The over-indulged and over-paid soccer players are treated as celebrities and are over exposed in a national media that behaves as if no other sport exists.  Yet, every four years, in contrast to these pampered soccer professionals, who epitomise entitlement, we have the spirit of sportsmanship on display in our Team GB Olympic team.  I noticed from the interviews they gave to the media after the medal ceremonies how many of the victors came across as genuine and aware of their privileged position in the team and at the Olympics.

The games also gave some deserving sports their moment in the spotlight.  For me, cycling, gymnastics and table tennis were put on show in a way they rarely are between Olympics. So now that it is all over, here are two stars worth celebrating, one a medal winner (several times as it happens) and another not.

Max Whitlock:  I first noticed our British gymnast four years ago when he was part of the team that won bronze in the team event.  In Rio he was the true star gymnast winning bronze in the individual overall event but gold in both the individual floor and pommel horse events.

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Liam Pitchford:  Although the British team was knocked out by the Chinese in the quarter finals of the Table Tennis competition, I was so impressed by the determination and skill when GB played the French that I had to search the BBC schedules to find the matches against China.  I hadn’t heard of him before Rio but I know him now and I shall be following his career from now on!  As it happens, I hadn’t heard about Max Whitlock before the last Olympics.

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Lifting

My research into the Olympics brought me to this poem by Australian based Chinese poet Ouyang Yu.

Lifting

For years
I have been dreaming
of turning
writing into a sport
in the Olympic Games
that is called, tentatively
Wordlifting
in which I’d give
my simplest performance
by lifting
the lightest and the liveliest
word: Love
till it flies
lifting me, weightless
into a sky
of loving
eyes

Ouyang Yu

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One Day in September

Having seen the film some years ago, I wanted to read the book by Simon Reeve.  The book is based on research and interviews conducted for the film.  It tells the story of the 24 hours that brought tragedy to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September group kidnapped and then killed 11 Israeli athletes.

The book tells of the horror of the situation as the siege of the Olympic village was played out on television and relatives could see the events unfolding.  The young wife of the fencing coach Andre Spitzer is interviewed at length and it is her story that moved me the most.

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The sequence of events and the incompetence of the German authorities is staggering to read.  While Israel reeled from the attack the rest of the world seemed to want to move on as soon as possible afterwards.  Germany, in particular, wanted the whole thing to be forgotten and a large part of the book is about the cover up by West German and Bavarian authorities.  Of more concern was the reluctance of the International Olympic Committee to cancel or even postpone the games.  In the event the competition was paused for about 32 hours and a memorial service was held.  Then, it was business as normal.

There is a name that keeps coming up and rarely in a positive way and that is Avery Brundage.  An American, he was a key player in the 1936 Berlin Olympics when he was determined to turn a blind eye to the Nazi regime to ensure the Olympics too place. By 1972 he had risen to the Presidency of the IOC and his response to the obscene events at Munich was one of irritation that his games had been affected.  In particular, his speech at the memorial service was most unfortunate.  Throughout the history of the Olympics, figures such as Brundage pop up to defend the indefensible so that their sporting events can take place.  Within hours of the killing of Israeli athletes the 1972 Olympics resumed.

‘One Day in September’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

One Day in September

The 1972 Olympics were the first held in Germany since the 1936 Berlin Olympics which, many people thought, were misused by Hitler to promote Nazi ideals.  There was a lot at stake for a country that was trying to overcome its past.  It was at these games, though, that the Palestinian terror group, Black September, took Israeli athletes hostage.

This film from 1999 by director Kevin Macdonald has interviews from those involved or affected by the events of 5th September 1972.  These include the widow of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer and the surviving terrorist Jamal Al- Gashey.  Eight members of the Black September terrorist group attempted to draw attention to the Palestinian plight by breaking in to the Olympic village, surprisingly easy to do, and taking the Israeli athletes hostage.  Two were killed trying to prevent the terrorists gaining access to their apartments.  Within 24 hours, all the hostages were dead along with five of the terrorists.

The West German authorities attempted a rescue attempt.  The film makes clear that it was a badly thought out and poorly executed plan.  It pulls no punches in placing the blame for the disaster firmly at the feet of the Germans.  It is no wonder that the film was not well received in Germany.  The footage shows that Israel offered to mount a rescue operation using their specially trained troops.  They were, after all, skilled at this type of operation.  The Israeli government was also determined not to give in to terrorists and relied on the German authorities to keep their athletes safe.  Germany, meanwhile, was concerned about its image on the world stage and thought any show of military strength in terms of security at the games would remind people of an unfortunate past.

Most shocking of all, while Israeli athletes were held hostage, the games recommenced.

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‘One Day in September’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?