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August 08 2012

Olympics in art: Jackie Kay writes her own armchair triathlon

Scottish poet Jackie Kay draws inspiration from Team GB's highs and lows in the triathlon, javelin and cycling to create three short poems that capture the spirit of the Games

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Jackie Kay writes:

I was inspired by the triathlon today and the Brownlee brothers to try and write a triathlon myself. So I've written three short poems on three different sporting events today: the javelin, the triathlon itself and two events in the velodrome. I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish school girl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that too when I wrote the poem. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!

Point of View

i Goldie and the Three No Throws

I remember the fancy footwork of the discus or javelin,
That feeling as a spear left your body, as if it'd come from within
To be thrown into the future: the armchair of a middle-aged woman, watching the Olympics, twenty-four seven, shouting instructions!
(The only thing worse than an armchair politician is an armchair athlete, who no longer gets athlete's feet; or has to nurse her Achilles heel.)
Now, the woman from the Czech Republic, takes the chalk circle
An ancient Amazonian, her spear spikes the flaky air.
Then, out comes Goldie and the great bear of the crowd's roar.
But Goldie loses the qualification and her despair
Is as ancient as it is modern: hindsight is a golden thing
Goldie Sayers' words are wise – and the crowd adores.
Belief puts itself on the line; hope is not far behind.
My tears for her bravery, the biggest surprise.


ii The Brownlee Brothers

When the race begins, the swimmers together
Seem shaped like a great bird in the river,
The green-capped feathers all of a quiver.
The big bird cracks open; and from the bird's-eye view
Single swimmers emerge, brothers first – phew!
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee – sibling stars,
Shedding their wet suits first (the fourth element
Some say, of this transition) and mount the bikes fast.
The road to ambition is a road to perdition.
All transitions come with great risks.
The river, red tarmac and the Serpentine Road
Where one brother will get crowned with a gold
And the other brother a bronze, but hey
It is not the swimming, cycling, running
That is the biggest feat; it's the 15-second penalty
Possibility of defeat – that's the real deal.
Sport's biggest test is a character test
And sport reveals true pluck and nature
As the bird in the river unfurled the swimmers.

iii Farewell Victoria Pendleton

It was a day of drama in the Velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the Omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.

Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the Velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – you armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on throne.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




Jackie Kay creates her own armchair triathlon – video

Scottish poet Jackie Kay reads out three short poems she wrote after being inspired by Team GB's recent performances in the javelin, triathlon and cycling. She follows the highs and lows of Goldie Sayers, the Brownlee brothers and Victoria Pendleton





August 02 2012

Day one in the Olympic velodrome: a symphony of noise, colour and speed

World records fall but a disqualification mars Team GB's day as £93m super-fast cycling stadium opens for business

The saddle-shaped Olympic velodrome simmered into life just after 4pm on Thursday.

Polite applause echoed around the wood-clad oval when the first Olympic record fell to the Netherlands women's sprint pair.

But the real baptism for the venue, designed with the help of Sir Chris Hoy – who won his fifth gold medal – came shortly after.

A tinnitus-inducing clamour greeted the arrival of the jet black bikes of the Team GB riders Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish.

Just 32.526 seconds later and the high pitched screams turned into a throaty roar as Varnish dipped for the line, punched the air and a partisan crowd in the 6,000-capacity stadium saluted a new world record.

The £93m velodrome was in business, and as if to remove any doubt that all the world's best riders would be happy here and Team GB would not enjoy much home advantage, China's pair smashed the world record again just a minute later.

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were among the fans who took their seats in the clammy 28C heat which is kept constant to achieve top speeds.

The aim of track designer Ron Webb to build the fastest track in the world was being achieved. And by the time the men's team took to the track it was starting to feel like a potential British stronghold.

The announcer did not hesitate to play The Boys are Back in Town as soon as Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny beat Germany in their team sprint heat.

Later, as the Team GB pursuit team hurtled around the 250m oval to a thumping heartbeat soundtrack at an average speed of 62kmh (38mph), the cheer followed them like an audible Mexican wave until they broke the world record and the place erupted.

The noise produced was only eclipsed when Hoy led the GB sprint team home in the last race of the day to snatch gold from the French and smash a world record of their own.

The venue has a friendly sociable air, with hundreds of fans milling about on the mezzanine alongside the riders' families – chatting and drinking beer while the tyres hum on the steeply banked track below.

Before each race a montage of British celebrities appeared on the big screens hushing the crowd, ending with Dame Helen Mirren saying: "Button it."

In architectural terms, the velodrome has already been acclaimed by many as the design highlight of the Olympic Park, winning awards and plaudits for its simplicity and elegance.

"We worked very hard to make this building as elegant and efficient as a bicycle," said its architect Michael Taylor.

On Thursday, the cycling fans who were lucky to get seats in one of the Olympic Park's smallest venues gave it their seal of approval.

"It is one of the best velodromes in the world," said Michael Pagels, a 53-year old from near Munich who was supporting the German team. "The atmosphere is wonderful because the British fans are very knowledgeable about cycling."

With the athletes, technicians and coaches visible to the crowd at all times on the in-track labyrinth of warmup areas, spectators were able to keep tabs on Team GB riders' every move and could watch Dave Brailsford, the shrewd team chief, fulminating at the decision to disqualify Pendleton and Varnish.

"Up there the noise was really loud," said David Henderson, 30, a researcher from London who was attending his first Olympic event.

"When they were discussing the disqualification we saw the coach walk across head in hands, throwing a water bottle around. It was good to see for us."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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