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Olympics2012United Kingdom brings amateur sport to life

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 04:41 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Britain legend Roger Bannister, centre, cracked athletics most puzzling code almost 60 years ago when he broke the magical four-minute mile. (Getty Images) Britain legend Roger Bannister, centre, cracked athletics most puzzling code almost 60 years ago when he broke the magical four-minute mile. (Getty Images)

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There's something about the United Kingdom that says sport. It's just a feeling you get when you visit the place where the Corinthian spirit and the notion of the amateur came to prominence.
There's something about the United Kingdom that says sport.

It's just a feeling you get when you visit the place where the Corinthian spirit and the notion of the amateur came to prominence.

The whole nation oozes Olympics and its apparent now everywhere you go.

First stop Oxford, about an hour by bus from the nation's capital and the epicentre of the Games. It is the most renowned seat of learning in the world... the quintessential university town. It is also the place where Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier in running the mile on May 6, 1954.

Bannister cracked athletics most puzzling code almost 60 years ago at the Iffley Road track in an idyllic part of the city. Not much has changed and there are signs everywhere of how proud the country remains of Bannister's groundbreaking achievement.

To run on the new synthetic surface is to be reminded of the magical moment Bannister created when he flew over the cinder track in 3:59:4 and collapsed in ecstasy at the wire.

Then there is the Port Meadow, a cow pasture stretching out along the Thames.  
In winter the river swells and freezes over and the Oxford Blues are known to hold hockey practices on the open air ice.

Founded in 1885, the Blues are the second oldest hockey club in the world next to that belonging to McGill University in Montreal. Alumni include former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Rt. Hon. Lester B. Pearson and former Governor General, the Rt. Hon. Roland Michener.

Canadian trailblazers

To know that Canadian trailblazers played hockey in this hallowed setting is a little surreal. But it speaks to a reverence which remains for the student-athlete and the well-rounded disciples of sport as Pearson and Michener both were.

The Olympic city is...in a word... awesome.

The venues are nothing less than spectacular and London is already festooned with colour and excitement. The crowds in the Olympic Park are swelling and the images of the modern day gladiators of sport loom large everywhere you look.

The favourites are naturally the members of Team Great Britain or "Team GB" as they have come to be known. Front and centre is Jessica Ennis, the youthful star of Heptathlon and Chris Hoy, the cyclist who could set an all-time record for success at the Games on this hallowed home soil.

The Canadian swim team has arrived from its training camp in Italy and they experienced a warm welcome from local partisans as they made Stansted Airport their last stop before settling into the village and getting down to work.

"It's just pure excitement and I think everyone is super enthusiastic to be here," said first-time Olympian Martha McCabe of Toronto who won a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships in the 200-metre breaststroke.

"But I'm here to do a job and I'm ready to do just that."

It's a mood that is reflective of all of the Olympians as they begin to arrive.

Moment of amazement

Favourites and underdogs, rookies and veterans, they all enjoy that moment of amazement and then they prepare to meet the rigorous expectations of performance.

"I think as an athlete you hope to be in the public eye, you hope to be at the forefront of your sport," admitted Ryan Cochrane, the only Canadian to win an Olympic swimming medal four years ago in Beijing. He took the bronze in the 1500m freestyle in what was then a bit of a surprise. Now he's touted to have podium potential in the 1500 again, as well as the 400m freestyle.

"When you get in this position it can be a little overwhelming and hard to deal with sometimes, but I've been excited about that and I think that's what's going to really motivate me this time."

It is a different kind of Canadian swim team that has arrived to London 2012. You get the sense they're not just hoping to end a medal drought but rather expecting to score multiple victories.

"We kind of have like a swagger and we feel like we can compete with the U.S. and the Aussies and we're not afraid of them," enthused a wide-eyed Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont. Wilkinson was a workhorse and raced 11 times at her first Olympics in Beijing but she'll concentrate on the 100m backstroke and the relay in London.

"I think this is a feeling that I really haven't seen in my six years on the national team and it's awesome."

It's true, everything about it is stirring... the history...the hype and the hope the athletes have packed in their bags.

We encountered the Canadians first but it doesn't matter where the Olympians come from across the four corners of the world.

There is something about their arrival in the land of awesome that is absolutely infectious.

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