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COMPETITIVE: Man likes to contest, and the choice is war or sport
IT was strangely quiet in Kuala Lumpur just recently. Half the population was missing, not missing in action, but watching the action. i.e. the 2012 Olympics Games.
Who would have wanted to miss the Games, the world's foremost sporting competition and the most venerable?
They go back to the eighth and fourth centuries BC, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They get their name from Mt Olympus, home to 12 exalted deities.
From the outset, the Games were as much about the worship of God (or Gods) as well as a celebration of the prowess of man. In particular, the first Games were dedicated to Zeus, to whom a hundred oxen were sacrificed in his honour.
From Zeus, the Games lasted another 1,000 years up to the time of Homer, helping to spread Hellenic culture through the Mediterranean and the Black Sea until, in the name of Christianity (ironically), they were suppressed by Theodosius as "pagan".
Obliterated for centuries but not demolished, their reincarnation came in the 19/20th centuries. This meant they were adapted and transformed by the economic, political and technological realities of a new age and modern digital society. They came back in a burst of glory.
In modern parlance, they were "branded" from the start. Five intertwined rings in black, yellow, green, blue and red on a white background represent the five participating continents of America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe.
There are two indispensable symbols of the Games -- the Flag as above, and the Torch which, since 1928, has been used for the Olympic Flame -- the flame that never dies.
To open the Games, a priestess lights the torch and heads a relay of torch bearers around the stadium. Boris Johnson, Lord Mayor of London when it became his turn, was to say "We lit a flame and lit up the world".
Today, it has become such a sporting extravaganza and takes years to prepare. The host country for the current Games is selected seven years before. This year, we saw the Olympics for the third time in the United Kingdom.
The opening ceremony was unforgettable. The UK was christened the "Isle of Wonder" for the occasion. The Games were officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It could not have been more timely. When the Eurozone went into its economic funk, the Brits (as ever) rallied with a season of intense romanticism beginning with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and that spectacular flotilla on the Thames.
The Games started at the aptly-named Land's End in Cornwall and 8,000 athletes carrying torches (the prime symbol of the Olympics).
The first spectacle that greeted the incoming, opening relay was that of the "Queen" parachuting from a helicopter, accompanied by James Bond. It was thus, from the get-go to be a quirky event. The artistic inspiration behind it all was supplied by Danny Boyle, who headed the organising team.
A cast of 15,000 attended both the opening and the closing ceremonies. It all began with the arrival of the first relay of torch bearers who ran round the stadium. Then came the formal parade led first by the Greek contingent, then that of the host country and bringing up the rear, the contingent representing the next host country.
The Olympic flag was hoisted, the various national anthems were played, the priestess lit the Olympic torch.
The Olympic Flag and the Olympic Flame are two historic symbols of the Games from time immemorial. But the actual Games have evolved, reflecting now the globalised interconnecting world of today.
The 2012 version could not be more multi-racial.
Jamaica, a country the size of Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam combined, still provided some of the greatest sprint sensations. This is because Jamaican men have less body size for their height, shorter torsos but longer legs. Kenyans, similarly, have short torsos and longer legs.
Indians specialise in long distance running whilst Eurasians dominate cricket.
And what of Malaysia, you may well ask?
Their sports preferences are archery, diving, cycling and most of all, badminton. The latter they have helped get included in the Olympics.
Man likes to contest. The choice is war or sport. The latter's true spirit is best conveyed by the olive branch concluding the Games from the most ancient Games till now. Extending the olive branch means reconciliation.
A truly Olympic exuberance whilst acknowledging our performance medal tally may be small but Malaysians have played a significant role in the current Olympics.
Which we will elaborate in the next article!