I’ve always been a Spectator reader, so I’m delighted to be writing a diary about the Olympics from Tokyo. My first experience of an Olympic Games was probably the most political of them all — Moscow 1980. I wasn’t sure that I would be competing until a few weeks before the opening ceremony. The build-up was fraught with geopolitical tensions — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US-led boycott of the Games. Thatcher’s government fell in line with Uncle Sam — a little too eagerly — only to then lose its fight with the British Olympic Association. So we ended up going. I lost the first of my finals that year over 800m, which inspired some fairly critical reportage. I did, however, take comfort on my return when opening the latest edition of The Spectator. The diary section said I had vindicated myself by being spotted with a rolled-up copy as I stepped off the plane.
Much has been written about these pandemic-ridden Games, especially the plight of the athletes forced to endure ultra-Covid-secure restrictions. Actually, it is for me reminiscent of Moscow in 1980. I didn’t leave the village unless I was competing. I would sit in a small recreational area created by the British Olympic Association for the team. Wherever we went we had the constant company of a guard called Boris. Boris always sat quietly in a corner reading a book covered in brown paper. When I plucked up the courage to ask him what he was reading, he discreetly lifted enough of the brown paper to reveal it was Graham Greene’s The Human Factor. Our great British distance runner, Sir Brendan Foster, went one question further. ‘Boris,’ he enquired, ‘where is the nearest night club?’ ‘Helsinki’, he replied without lifting his eyes from the page.
Mental health has been centre stage throughout these Olympics.