Monday, 11 August 2008

The Shocked and Stunned

Well you could have knocked me down with a feather.

Just when I thought that it might have been a bit harsh to set up a “squirmometer’’, confirmation has come that is so very much needed.

Maybe it has something to do with all that water going into their heads but the swimmers are providing streams of unconsciousness.

After the 41 year old American Dara Torres provided us with: “Age is only a number,” and “the water doesn’t know how old you are when you hit it”, the British swimmer Rebecca Adlington came up with a swift combination of phrases one of which I believed had been consigned to the list of no-nos.

When I saw that the 19 year old was from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, my mind went back to my time on the Nottingham Evening Post in the mid 1980s.

Her very presence at the Olympics would have been a big story. The fact that she’s won gold will be bugled, I’m sure, across the front of the paper.

And rightly so for - to rework the stock phrase of Mick Channon, an English former footballer who was for a while a TV pundit - the girl done well.

But it’s on that score that she came up well short.

Asked how she felt about being the first British woman since 1960 to win gold in the pool, Adlington said: “It’s absolutely amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m over the moon.”

The last phrase would have been familiar to Channon and his ilk from the 1970s.

It was a flourish that we used to hear virtually every Saturday night on BBC TV’s Match of the Day. And it made the progression from the mouths of footballers into the vernacular to suggest transcendant elation.

Conversely the set expression to epitomise rank injustice or abject misery became “sick as a parrot”.

Some inventive players tried to introduce some flair into the post-match analysis game with “mad as a dog” and some even tried “chuffed” to describe the joy of victory.

But while that sort of eloquence was welcome, they never made the journey into the public mind.

A couple of years ago, the Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard – dubbed one of the more articulate of his generation because he passed some exams at school - used the word “gutted” after a narrow loss.

I thought I detected a wry smile on his mouth but maybe that was the bitter taste of defeat.

Perhaps Lampard, who is deemed to be media savvy, was using it with a tad of post-modern irony.

Don’t think that’s the case for young Adlington. Her press conference responses suggested that she isn’t used to the attention.

But not even interviews with the Nottingham Evening Post will have prepared her for what she is going to start experiencing from now.

She’s a gold medallist in her first Olmpic games at the age of 19.

The only thing now is that the pressure will probably mount up on her to defend her title on home soil in Britain in four years time.

It’s all set up for a brilliant story on that angle. But my abiding memory will be of her and compatriot Jo Jackson - who got a bronze - just smiling and hugging each other for a good minute in the pool like two kids.

It was natural and sincere.

They’d got a result.