The excitement and the roar of the crowd was the first thing that Les recalled as he told me about that day in 1956 when he watched the Olympics at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I was having an all too rare day with relations in a country town in the western district of Victoria and had been expecting a day of sharing photographs and family stories. I was not expecting to hear about a day at the Olympics.
When I asked Les about the day again a few months later he recounted the same scene – the feeling of being part of the crowd, rising out of their seats and giving full voice to a champion athlete, but he could not recall the details of the competition he saw.
I was hoping to hear Les talk about the feats of Betty Cuthbert who won a gold medal for Australia in the 200m sprint that day, or some anecdotes about what other athletes did, but it was the experience of being one of 100,000 people roaring with excitement which was the highlight of his day. Dare I say it? I was disappointed that he did not tell me what I thought would have been a more interesting story.
An article in today’s The Age made me rethink my response to Les’ account. He would probably relate to the comments made by Greg Baum about the crowd last night at the London Olympics. In Baum’s eyes the crowd was just as important as the feats of Mohamad Farah and the Jamaican 4x100m relay team. Baum said that last night he saw how “a crowd becomes a player, both in the sense of “actor” and “participant”. “As at the greatest sporting events”, Baum remarked, “a trance was upon the stadium last night; no-one could bring themselves to leave, until security had to insist.” Continue reading