Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Best of the Olympics - On the Tube!

As I write, the glow of the Olympic experience in the United Kingdom is receding in the lull between the Games and the Paralympics, which start next week. Now, if you were to ask people about their ‘games highlights’ you would get many different answers. I would bet money (which I don’t normally do) that most of those answers would be recalling great victories and achievements in the various arenas and stadia.

However, I would like to tell you about two people who, when asked for their highlight, each came up with an incident which happened well away from the Olympic Park. Both took place on a tube train.

Surprised? Well you will be even more surprised if I tell you that the two people were Seb Coe and Peter Wilson. One, obviously, is the leader of the organising committee of the Games. Peter Wilson won a gold medal in trap shooting (that is clay pigeon shooting). Let me tell you what they said.


Seb Coe's Story.
Seb was being interviewed on the radio during the morning of the middle Sunday, and was asked for his best moment so far. I have not read any report of this since, and it is certainly worth re-telling. He said that there were many great moments that he had witnessed, but the one that had made the most impression on him had taken place early one morning as he was on the tube travelling to the Olympic Park. He saw, in a nearby seat, one of the volunteer workers, so went over to him and thanked him for the work that he was doing.

‘No,’ said the volunteer, ‘I should thank you.’ For the next ten seconds they insisted on thanking one another, then Seb asked him where he was based, which turned out to be the boxing hall.

‘And what are you doing?’

‘I am a paramedic.’

‘Oh, what do you normally do?’

‘I am a consultant in A & E in one of the London hospitals.’

Then, as Seb told the radio interviewer, he said, ‘Well, I am glad to know that the boxers are in safe hands’ and he thanked him again.

‘No.’ came the reply, ‘thank you for giving me the opportunity, for it means closure for me.’

‘Closure? What do you mean?’

Then the volunteer told him that he had been an anaesthetist in another London hospital on the day of the 7/7 bombings in July 2005 (the day after London was awarded the Games). When he heard about the call for volunteers he felt that he wanted to enrol, but didn’t know if he would be able to do it, as the memories of that terrible day were still strong. ‘Even when I had the forms I hesitated, and even after filling them in I still was slow to put them in the post. However, I am glad I did, for this week I feel that I have been able to have closure. On that day of 7/7 I saw the effects of the worst that humanity can do. This week I have experienced the very best of people, and my faith in human nature has been restored. That is why I am thanking you.’

‘And I am sure that you can understand,’ Seb finished, ‘why that has been my highlight of the last week.’


Peter Wilson's Story.

Peter Wilson was on another radio programme a couple of days later and was asked a similar question. Obviously his highlight, indeed the highlight of his life so far, was his victory in the shooting. (It wasn’t only his, for Piers Morgan tweeted on the afternoon that Peter won a very close contest indeed, “You know that the Games have come alive when you can be excited by the clay pigeon shooting, on radio”) but other than that he had a memory almost as strong.

‘I was on the tube a couple of days later and opposite me there was a mother with two young boys. They were full of the games, talking about it non-stop. So, I tapped one of them on the shoulder - getting a very stern look from the mother - and said, “Have you ever seen one of these?” while taking my gold medal out of my pocket. The look of shock and wonder that lit up each of the boys’ faces is something that I will not forget for a very long time. It made the world to them, and it did the same for me.’


Two random chance meetings. One a lovely story that made the day for a couple of young brothers. One an immensely powerfully poignant conversation - how one man had been so affected on the horrific ‘first day’ of the London Games yet could now be at peace having become a part of it, and a part of that wonderful group of volunteers who made the experience so memorable for the hundreds of thousands of visitors.

These two stories bring home to me just how much of life depends upon the kindness of people. The games would have operated just as well if the volunteers had never said a word to the crowds, had never smiled, had never gone out of their way to help. The world records would still have been broken, the medals won. It would have been another memorable Olympics. However, the extra dimension of the carnival that was Olympic Park, the constant friendliness that hit you as you first passed through the perimeter gates and carried you through the day (when do you ever just chat to anyone who sits on the same park bench?) and stayed with you after you have left, was not merely an unexpected bonus, but it made the whole event into one of the best times to be alive. That is what kindness, care, attention, and love can do and, as both of these stories show, it takes little time to pass on the kindness that can make a great difference in someone’s life. 

September 12th.
Well, at least you know from Seb's closing speech at the Paralympics that I didn't make it up!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Frank,

    I have seen your book and would like to be in contact with you.

    I am contacting you from a TV talk show called the Chrissy B Show. We are a London based TV talk show, which airs live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9.30pm - 10.30pm on Sky 203.

    Please check out past episode at

    We basically cover topics that are of women's interest, real life inspirational stories, positivity and subjects that raise awareness.

    I am currently putting a show together on 'Top 5 Regrets of the Dying' inspired by this article in the Guardian.

    The show will be in two parts:
    1) Top regrets of the dying and what will they do differently if they have
    a chance
    2) How to live life without regrets.

    I would like to invite you on the 2nd Part to speak about living life without regards and at the same time help promote the positive work you do.

    This show will be filmed live on Mon, 1st Oct 2012

    Please do let me know if this is something of your interest.

    I will wait to hear back from you via email and if there are any questions, please let me know.


    Chrissy B Show