The Best Day of Their Life.

On the summit of Denali after climbing The Slovak. One of the best moments of my life. Nick Bullock.

Recently, while listening to the news on radio 4, a report piqued my interest. The broadcaster was playing an interview she had introduced by saying ‘Not everyone was happy about the Olympic Games.’

“The Olympics is a waste of money.” One man said.

I focused on this comment more than the others because on the run up to the opening ceremony of the 2012 games I shared a similar thought. Britain, in my opinion, has become land of those with and land of those without and the gap between the two appears as big as Yosemite Valley. As usual the politicians are telling those without, to tighten belts; be frugal.

When the Olympics started I found it quite ironic the National Health Service played a big part of the opening ceremony – I couldn’t help wonder if the money that had been spent on the Olympics was invested into the health service, what a difference it could make to relieve some of the deficit and help the people who need treatment.

The Olympic stand is a tremendous building, it’s bright and shiny and spectacular, but it must have been like a taunt, erected so near a rundown council estate where people live in poverty. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of living in one of the flats, struggling to feed my family and looking from the window to watch millions of pounds being lavished on this building.

As a mountaineer I have been fortunate to go on expeditions to the greater ranges every year for nearly twenty years. I have received money from several grant bodies including the BMC. The cash available from the BMC came from The Sports Council, but when Britain won the bid for the Olympics, The Sports Council withdrew funding from the BMC to fund the Olympics. I felt a little hard done to, why was my choice of activity less worthy?

I’m a fan of cycling, especially the Tour de France, so after Bradley Wiggings won The Tour and Mark Cavendish, David Millar and Chris Froome won stages in The Tour, I was interested to see how they fared in the Olympics.

Wiggins stormed the time trial winning gold. I was so chuffed for him, a more down to earth, devoted guy I don’t think you can find. I then turned to watching cycling in the velodrome. British cyclists dominated. It was obvious with lottery funding, support and coaching and a massive amount of dedication, great things could and did happen. Watching the British cycling success made me feel humble knowing how much time and effort the people involved had given and when they were interviewed it was heart-warming to see their joy and pride and relief.

I turned to athletics – sitting in front of the box on what became known as Super Saturday I didn’t know what was about to unfold and as the evening progressed I became more and more involved. I watched Jess Ennis win the heptathlon. What an achievement for such a ‘normal’ working class woman who has given and dedicated so much for her sport. A massive smile and tears told everything. I connected, I knew what it was like to risk and sacrifice and suffer. I watched Greg Rutherford, a gangly red-head who I had never heard of. He stirred the crowd by swinging his arms and clapping before winning the long-jump. I discovered Rutherford had had his troubles – lack of motivation through serious injury had held him back – but here he was a fighter who had decided, ‘I am good enough, I will do this – this is what I want.’ His determination, coming back from injury is admirable – proof, that if you want something bad enough it can happen.

Inspiration for the ‘normal’

The highlight of the evening though was watching Mo Farah, an unassuming Black Muslim guy who had grown up in Somalia until he was eight when he left to live in Britain. (Wish I was a fly on the wall of the Daily Mail offices when this unfolded, “Erm, we have a problem.”) I sat on the sofa bouncing and screaming as Mo, (I felt I could now call him by his first name as I had known him all of ten minutes) sprinted the final corner of the track – he was in the lead, sweating, fighting-off the opposition, eyes as big as Pond Lilly leaves, dwarfing his gaunt face – breathing, sweating, fighting… Crossing the line first, he must have heard my scream even though I sat on a sofa in North Wales, he had won the 10 000 metre race. What guts and effort from all of the competitors, but Farah’s quiet and almost serene demeanour had made him my favourite. He was a fighter, one of life’s survivors.  

Yesterday was the final day of the Olympics and over the past seventeen days my opinion and emotion about the event has been up and down as much as Tom Daley in the diving competition. What a great achievement for any person, no matter what nationality, to dedicate so much time and effort into becoming skilled and fit enough to be selected for the Olympics – what a feeling this must be for the individual. I can only relate it to standing on Denali’s summit after climbing a route I had dreamed for so long, The Slovak Direct – it made the running, circuits and years of training worth the effort. Several times while watching the TV I heard, “This is the best moment of my life.” And as someone who has trained hard for my chosen activity, watching and seeing these people, knowing how much they had given is humbling. Who can complain about that? Well Rupert Sawyer can here

Sawyer actually makes some interesting points that I agree, although his acerbic style makes me feel ill. I suspect he has lived a life without feeling passionate about anything. He says that British athletes do not give value for money. I would disagree.

The way I see it is many of us are born and grow up to live a certain life – follow an expected path. Unfortunately this path for the less fortunate, less privileged, is something similar to Neo, the character played by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, who is kept alive in a glass jar to give the intelligent machines a source of bioelectrical energy, or in real terms, those of us who are brought up (it could be called brainwashed) to believe we were born to do manual work to keep society afloat which in turn supports the privileged – before we are drained of power or in real terms, die. If by watching and being inspired by Ennis, Farah, Wiggins, Ainslie or Hoy, some kids, or even adults realise they can break that glass jar and pull out that controlling cable plugged into their brain and live a life less ordinary, well, in my opinion every penny paid to athletes is worth it and if Rupert Sawyer can’t see this maybe it’s because he didn’t grow up to be a battery.    

The ‘normal’ folk of Britain deserve something to make them feel good about living in double dip Britain, but let’s hope, like eating chocolate, we don’t have a sugar low as real life, post Olympic euphoria kicks in.

I now don’t mind losing funding for my expeditions from the Sports Council, mountaineers in Britain have grants such as The MEF, The BMC, The Mark Clifford, The Nick Estcourt Award, The Chris Walker Memorial Trust, The Shipton/Tilman Award, The Alpine Club Grant, and the Welsh Sports Council – we are very fortunate. (links to these grant bodies are in the friends link on this blog) I suppose my only wish is we remember that there is a country outside the Olympics which is in dire need of similar support and maybe if some of the banks, supermarkets, oil industry and businesses who make billions and billions of pounds profit each year could only see a way to share some of their wealth and put it into events like the Olympics, then money from tax could be used for things where it will help everyone – the sports people, the people on the NHS waiting lists, the unemployed, the people in poverty, the homeless, the abused, the untrained and the mentally ill. Then with this extra support maybe more people could become gold medallists in their own right and getting that job, having that operation, sleeping in that bed, eating that meal will be the best day of their life. 


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10 Responses to The Best Day of Their Life.

  1. Bryce Rigler says:

    Hi Nick,

    What a fantastic read! And a very alternative insight into what we are lacking in support for the ‘under-achieved’ and the less fortunate. Indeed I am in agreement that the lavish amount of cash spent on the olympics has been a bit too much and could have been used to support sports such as climbing, skiing and mountaineering. Sports where in their own right deserve to be in the limelight for the effort and commitment that is involved from the individuals that choose to persue their dreams and life long ambitions.

    I hope that this blog does reach the eyes of the companies across the world that sit there, whilst second by second their profits are ever increasing and the cash pot is overflowing and maybe, just maybe like you said, they could possibly shed out a little of their not so hard-earned cash into events such as the olympics and para-olympics so that the government can focus on the the activities that are over looked and help to make someones life just that little bit more worth-while.

  2. Mark Reeves says:

    Nice piece Nick.

    If you study British Olympians, there are substantially higher numbers from the upper classes/public schooled. The likes of working class heros like Ennis not representative of the population at large. I think one of the broad sheets did a piece on it. I have just finished reading the first chapters of Outlyers by Malcom Gladwell. If you’ve not read it I think you’d like it, as it covers what makes someone excell and its not all down to chance or merit.

    On a philosphic note one medalist said this when he recieved a medal.
    “Today you Win, Tomorrow you lose, but life continues”.

    It would be great to see some more money for climbing at all levels.

  3. Rob Thornton says:

    Good article man! 🙂

  4. Ken Cox says:

    Living in British Columbia I went through similar feelings during the lead up to the 2010 games in Vancouver. It’s an easy argument for anyone to make that the Olympics are a huge waste of money that could be much better spent. At the heart of it all though is the athletes. They are what make it work and in the end (at least in my mind) worthwhile.

    Thanks for a really great article. I enjoyed it immensely.

  5. Nick Bullock says:

    Since writing this piece Ed Douglas told me that Rupert Swayer is a made up name and the piece is a spoof. Oh well, I never was the brightest and yes I do feel like a chump, but all said and done the reason the spoof works so well is because it is very realistic and there are people out there saying this stuff. It gave me a nice little springboard to rant (Always good that!) and also big relief that someone named Rupert doesn’t write this type of thing for the Guardian! 🙂

  6. Clive Taylor says:

    Nick, does it take that much money and effort to get the poor down trodden kids out of McD’s and into a pair of trainers? I agree that the whole show was a huge success and I admit, I thought it was going to be a bit shit really. Reality kicks in, kids are still getting fat, poor parenting, lack of discipline and school sports fields being sold off, the biggest sponsors were…….. Batteries pay the taxes to pay for all this inspiration , batteries have commitments / responsibilities (Life style choices) and generally live law abiding and fulfilling lives. Batteries contribute to handouts dolled out to the select, fortunate few who avoid all of the above, through selfish necessity to work towards their own goals, contributing very little to the society in which they live. People need heroes and inspiration I agree, and perhaps that is their value ,worth paying for, but lets not forget you love your chosen sport, toil is less of a burden if you enjoy it, a vocation not a job.A dream lifestyle. If we all pulled our plugs who is left to pay for it all? I have said to you that I envy your life style choice, and I respect you as an outstanding bloke and climber, (Hero????). But you do keep banging on about normal life styles. How many poor under privileged will represent us in the horse trials or rowing or tennis or water polo or fencing in Rio?? I would imagine most athletes have already booked their place, so that’s an awful lot of disappointed / disaffected youth. Perhaps encouraging them to be manual workers, plumbers, brickies etc should be valued more.
    When I read your articles I do find them generally condescending in their tone. Please don’t be too offended, I value our time climbing and I consider you an old friend. You read the Guardian ………… Hippy:) x

    • Nick Bullock says:

      Hi Clive,

      Cheers, got me thinking which is why I write much of what I do, to see what comes back.

      As for condescending, hmm, yep I suppose what I go on about could come across like that but all I’m trying to do is inspire a few folk to go out and live their dream, no matter what that dream is – maybe their dream is to become a bricklayer or a plumber or maybe its having a happy family life and working the nine to five and if it is great – but in my experience and I know in yours, with many of the people we both worked alongside in the Prison Service, there were loads who are not very happy with their lot and dream for something else, something which they think they will never get. Maybe reading about a person who left school at 16 with three o-levels and no real aspirations and dreams, a person who had little confidence, but who is now living a very rewarding existence without needing many of the trappings of western society will help them?

      You are right of course, it does not take much effort to get the kids out of McDonalds and into trainers but those same kids need to be allowed to think that way, they need confidence which the poor often dont have, they need to have role models and have teachers who support and give hope, they also need people around them, including their parents, who may also need support to give them a stable home and help when things go wrong. Unfortunately not everyone is as lucky to have had that and maybe they need more help than say you or me to become motivated, is that wrong?

      Of course working folk support this country and paid for the Olympics, I don’t think I’ve ever said any different and after re-reading what I wrote I’m a little confused by your mixed message, I’ve never said anything bad about the working classes, I’m one of them, a battery. All I’m trying to do is show there might be some other way from the one they are possibly living. I’m trying, but possibly not very well, to say in this country, where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, maybe the fat cats should help out a bit more, how many millions of pounds can one person spend before they die?

      Of course people have to work to keep the country ticking over – I do actually work believe it or not and pretty hard and I live without security and a perminent home, so who’s being a tad condescending now – but maybe that work for the masses can be something more challenging, more rewarding than what people are led to believe they have been doled. I do strongly believe that working class people are trained from birth – some may call it brainwashed – to be grateful to have what they have been given and if by reading a piece of writing they are inspired to rise above what is dished out, well I’ll take the blame when the country collapses, which it won’t, and when someone calls me condescending i’ll take it on the chin.

      Cheers mate, Nick. PS, always have been a hippy, just too intimidated a lot of the time to speak my true feelings when surrounded by a large percentage of right wingers!

  7. John Yates says:

    When did the Sports Council withdraw funding from the BMC and where was it stated that this was because of the Olympics – this item is on the BMC website>>

  8. John Yates says:

    A quick look at the BMC Financial Accounts 2011 shows that you are right – the BMC did lose a small amount of funding, 40k at its peak, dedicated for international expeditions, as the government focused its attention on the Olympics. Even so, your article implies that the goverment, via the sports council, stopped all funding to the BMC – when grants to the organisation were in excess of £200,000 (how much of this is from UK public purse is not clear in the accounts).

    • Nick Bullock says:

      I disagree John, the whole thrust of the writing is about expedition funding and later on in the piece I actually say that. I also disagree that £40,000 is not a lot, its a huge amount that would really help people going on expeditions.

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