London 2012: what now for humanity and Simon Barnes?

Sep 10, 2012
Jonathan Harwood

Times columnist laments end of mankind's finest party after summer of hyperbole

SPARE a thought for overwrought Times columnist Simon Barnes now that the great British summer of sport is drawing to a close. Amid all the eulogies to the athletes and the Olympic and Paralympic spirit, his columns have stood out as the most effusive. Along with the successful members of Team GB, surely he, too, deserves a medal.

In the aftermath of the Paralympic closing ceremony he was even moved to paraphrase Worsdworth and declare: "Bliss was it in that summer to be alive, but to be in London was very heaven."

Then he announced that we have just experienced some of the greatest moments in mankind's history. "It was the finest celebration of humanity in a quarter of a million years of our existence," he declared. "It was the best party in the history of the human race. And mostly it took place in London."

That he enjoyed the Olympics was obvious. The words miracle and miraculous appeared five times in his appraisal of sprinter Usain Bolt, for example. After the Olympics ended he described them as the "greatest party in the history of the universe".

Asked to choose his favourite moment he refused. "It's like choosing your favourite bit of a balloon: cut it out from the rest and you haven't got a balloon any more."

But then came the Paralympics and Barnes went into hyperbolic overdrive. The columnist, who has family experience of disability, had written before the Games that he was in a "funk" about how to cover them. "They will provide a profound and disturbing experience," he said.

It didn't take him long to find his voice...

No sooner had the fireworks of the opening ceremony faded than Barnes declared to the world that it was time to "wipe the word 'brave' from our dictionaries". Why? "The London 2012 Paralympic Games opened last night and as a result the entire concept of bravery has become utterly meaningless and will remain so until the Games end on Sunday week."

When considering swimmer Ellie Simmonds he announced that her "joie de vivre gives us a new perspective on the world around us". But she was only part of the bigger picture. "We are feeling sport's power in ways we never expected," Barnes announced. "These Games are changing us. Call the process Ellie’s miracle."

After watching the super-heavyweight powerlifting, won by Iranian Siamand Rahman, he declared "this spellbinding, extraordinary Games has got us all in its thrall, taking our minds to places we never quite thought we'd dare to go".

Beyond the hyperbole there were moving tributes to the boccia players, among the most disabled at the Games, wheelchair tennis phenomenon Esther Vergeer and sitting volleyball player Martine Wright, who lost her legs in the 7/7 bombings, the day after London won the Olympics.

"We checked-in pity at the door when we started watching these Games," he stated, while celebrating the achievements of Sarah Storey. But such were her performances, he said, envy would be a more appropriate emotion.

Barnes again demurred when asked to select his moment of the Paralympics. "I feel as if I've been asked to isolate my favourite note from the B Minor Mass," he complained. But in the end he chose the boccia, eloquently summing it up by saying: "I got the impression that each player was a brought light that is almost completely shrouded in black: but with one narrow opening that allows a single fierce beam of physical competitiveness to come out."

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