Games time – Olympic legacy and family memories

How does one of the world’s biggest events help us to connect? Becky offers her thoughts...

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Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors

Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. With further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint – the company continues to serve local people in challenging times. For many people, the loss of someone they love leaves lifelong memories. As the Olympic Games belatedly takes place in Tokyo, Becky shares how the event has become part of her family’s collective experience, and allows them to remember those they miss…

The Olympic Games has been an important thread running through my life. The first one I remember is Atlanta 1996, when I was 9 years old. My Dad has always had an interest in the Games, so it’s an experience that we’ve shared. Particularly in the days of terrestrial-only television, and prior to the explosion of the internet, it was a significant opportunity to view sports which fell outside of the handful of ‘mainstream’ ones which garner annual, monthly and weekly attention.

As a young adult, I went on to study Events Management at university, and although mention of the Olympics generated eye rolls from some academics (for a variety of reasons, but chiefly that they were sick of reading essays on it – again, you can’t really blame students though; in order to meet the demands of academic marking criteria, a certain amount of research must have been conducted on events, and with the Olympics being one of few mega events, it is easy to write about), my learning broadened. I discovered more about the cultural and political implications of hosting a Games, as well as the importance of volunteers, and how supply chains work.

I lived in London during 2012, but one of my enduring memories is how excited my friend Toni was that the Games were coming to ‘her’ town. She lived in Bethnal Green, one of the areas which was regenerated in preparation. Many locals were uncertain about having the Olympics as neighbours, but Toni was overwhelmingly enthusiastic from the start. By the time the Games arrived, she had been diagnosed with cancer – I’m pleased that she was able to experience the shift in atmosphere in London as I did; it was such a positive time, and my friend’s death due to her illness a few years later highlighted to me what a privilege life and these special experiences within it are.

Last year, even the mighty Olympic Games fell foul of the coronavirus pandemic – proof that viruses are indiscriminate, and every single aspect of our lives has been impacted by the global health crisis. As Tokyo’s long-awaited Games finally begins, I’ve been reflecting on how the Games influence us, and similarities they share with other life cycle events.

I know mine isn’t the only family, or friendship group, which is brought together by multi-sport events, and there are multiple reasons for this. It’s one of few occasions when so many nations are involved in the same event, and whilst the very nature of sport is that it’s competitive, this can also bring new understanding of other cultures and lifestyles. Olympic history is undoubtedly complex in this way – there are so many stories of political tensions coming to the fore during a Games, from Jesse Owens in Berlin, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s ‘Black Power’ salute during the Mexico City event, to the attack on the Israeli team at the Munich games – but there have been positive social movements too.

For me, the most notable of these is the Refugee Olympic Team which competed in Rio during 2016. The story which has truly stuck with me is that of Yusra Mardini, a swimmer who fled her native Syria in 2015. Yusra and her family first made their way through Lebanon and Turkey, before arranging to be smuggled to Greece via boat. As for so many people, the boat was over-filled, and the engine failed during their journey. At this point, Yusra – who was only 17, and had represented Syria at the World Aquatics Championships in 2012 – and three others who could swim got into the water and treaded water for over three hours.

I watched Yusra’s story on the news in awe, and when the footage cut to her training in the build up to Rio, I instantly recognised the venue and further appreciated her journey. Yusra ultimately settled in Berlin, and trained at the Olympiastadion, which was built for the 1936 Games. I’d visited the stadium when on holiday in 2014, and although it’s tainted by the political background it holds, this venue is a phenomenal example of Olympic legacy. That a refugee was training and thriving in this place felt like a piece of karmic retribution to me.

Olympic legacy is something which has become increasingly important in the awarding of a host city. It’s part of the justification of such taxpayer-funded events, and a particular focus due to the number of venues which were built for the sole purpose of Games-time and then left to ruin. Legacy goes beyond the use of buildings, though this is a key part of it. Another important element is using the profile of a Games to inspire the general population, particularly children, and encourage them to participate in sport. For sponsors and other commercial partners, it’s an opportunity to generate positivity around their brand, and gain new customers – and this is true of such arrangements in terms of smaller events as well as mega events!

My family and I often use sporting events as a chance to share memories of times we’ve spent together, and people who are no longer with us. Although Team GB’s performance was notoriously poor in Atlanta, I fondly remember us hosting our own Games in our garden – we’d only lived in our current house for a year at the time, and my sport-mad uncle came to visit and joined in.

Both of my Grandfathers were sports fanatics, and even when we find ourselves watching a sport that he may not have chosen to view, my family and I often discuss what my maternal Grandad’s commentary may have been (he was a prototypical British sports fan – primed for disappointment, and therefore disparaging of any British/English athletes when they underperformed, and convinced that the opposition were just ‘hopeless’ if his own side happened to do well).

I appreciate these opportunities to share good memories – it’s something I’ve cherished since my Grandad has died, and helps me to maintain a positive connection to the times we shared. It’s also a way of recognising that life goes on – some of the athletes competing now would’ve been young children when my Grandad died in 2012. Tennis was a sport he particularly enjoyed, so it’s bittersweet for me that Andy Murray won his first Wimbledon title the year after my Grandad died – that situation in particular made us all reminisce, and contemplate how he may have reacted. I don’t like to assume how Deceased persons would respond to a novel situation, but in that instance, I do think he would’ve been proud and happy rather than writing rival Novak Djokivic off as having given the title away.

This pandemic Games will hopefully be a unique occurrence, and it is going to be strange for the athletes and audience alike. Many of them will be described as superhuman, but they are in fact the same as the rest of us – they’ve worked hard, prepared for many years, and sacrificed much in their personal lives in order to represent their countries at one of the greatest shows on Earth. I’ll be enjoying their stories becoming part of my own.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

July 28, 2021

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