Sleepy Somerset was, if you remember, the starting point to the unforgettable summer. With leafy orchards, a tiny Glastonbury Festival, and a tor-less Glastonbury Tor, taking centre stage in the opening ceremony. Athletes of all nations planted their colours around it’s mysterious new tiers and Lord Sebastian Coe stood at its foot to send a message of peace and sporting excellence to the world. But was the image of Maypole dancing and parading sheep the one we would have chosen to show, or would a real Somer(set) Olympics be different?
In the days leading up to the games, transport was a big talking point. Would Olympic lanes bring London to a standstill, could the public transport system cope? Luckily, it seems that it was just pre games nerves, but hold the games in Somerset and we would have had a problem. Anyone who’s seen Castle Cary Station after Glastonbury Festival knows that this county wasn’t designed for large numbers of people. Images of Londoners being sent back to the capital at 30mph in a Steam train, spring to mind. It would certainly be an alternative to the Chinese Bullet trains; and besides, there’s no hope of regular buses so the only other alternative would be to take a leaf out of the Queen’s book. What with Yeovil’s vast array of aircraft, it appears that sky diving from a helicopter is the only logical way to evade the queues.
Given the pressure on the London Olympics to get it ready on time, the venue is an important factor in hosting the games. But how on earth could we possibly create an entire village, with catering, accommodation and entertainment for a matter of days, that was spectacular enough to bring people from all over the world and charge a rather large amount of money? Hmm… perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as we thought. I don’t think Mr. Eavis would mind; the Olympians seemed desperate to take their bed sheets home with them: Love the Somer Olympics, Leave no trace. Okay so it’s not quite so catchy. But I reckon the posturing at the start of the 100 meters would be more interesting if they stuck Bolt and Blake in wellies.
There is only one hitch in my so far infallible plan. The Olympics involves quite a lot of sport. And they probably wouldn’t let us play cricket. In fact, short of giving us a real home advantage, like a 10 second head start in the 100 meters, the only way we could be world beaters is if we created some of our own events. Cider drinking doesn’t really fit with the Olympic ethos, but what about competition for the best rendition of the Wurzels’ greatest hits, (points deducted for tunefulness of course). Or a prize for the most enthusiastic dancers on a carnival float with absolutely no lights, as their generator has packed up. Or maybe a “Who has the best church/abbey/tor competition?” so people can stop worrying that the world doesn’t know what Glastonbury Tor actually looks like. And there has to be some kind of local skills tournament, where quarriers, farmers and willow weavers fight it out (not literally), to see who really is the best.
But did we really do so badly in the London games? Looking at the Mendip area alone, we make up 0.18% of the population and we entered 0.18% of Team GB’s athletes. Basically we entered one athlete, a swimmer called Stacey Tadd, who came 18th in the 200m breaststroke, not far off a PB. We can’t ask for more than that.
The motto on Somerset’s Coat of Arms is “sumorsaete ealle” meaning “all of Somerset’s people”, which, as a motto, takes a bit of reading between the lines. It comes from a piece of really old text about how Somerset came out to cheer one King Alfred after he beat his foes. London wanted to inspire a generation and for a few weeks it captured our imaginations, planting the seed in the minds of budding young sports people and surpassing everyone expectations. The world seems to agree that we did a pretty good job and all of Somerset’s people were there for the world to see. The world may not know what the hill with half a church on it in Glastonbury looks like, but if it’s any consolation they definitely know its name.