And not because Great Britain scored the highest medal count, because they didnít. ##M:MORE## And not because Great Britain defeated the defending Olympic champion German team in womenís field hockey, because they didnít. And not just because the opening ceremonies were, for China at least, ìtheir finest hour.î
Donít get me wrong: Churchill would have loved that. But I think the thing that the great English statesman would have loved about the first few days of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing is the theme that seemed to emerge: ìNever give in.î
Sir Winston, you will recall, expressed that thought powerfully in a speech given at the Harrow School in 1941. By this time World War IIís Battle of Britain was over, and Great Britain had survived the horrors of incessant bombing from Nazi war planes. The war still waged on, however, and English Prime Minister Churchillís bulldog looks and terrier tenacity seemed to infuse Great Britain and the rest of the Allied war effort with dogged determination and steely resolve. Eventually victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat, and Sir Winstonís leadership and statesmanship was part of the reason why.
Known for his wit (ìI like pigs,î he is reported to have said. ìDogs look up to us. cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.î) and his oratorical flare, his speech at the Harrow School was greatly anticipated. But rather than being glib and entertaining, Sir Winston was sober, direct and profound as he spoke to the students.
ìNever give in,î he said. ìNever, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.î
Those were powerful words, made all the more powerful by how deeply they were felt by a man who personified the concept of ìnever give in ñ never, never, never, never.î
Which is why I think Sir Winston would have loved these Olympic Games. How could he not love some of the storylines weíve seen played out before us on TV these past few weeks?
Take the menís 4x100m freestyle relay swimming final, for example. Going into the last leg of the relay the United States team was behind a strong France squad, and at the final turn that lead had been lengthened. The situation appeared hopeless for the Americans even 20 yards from the finish. But something happened during the last few strokes of the race ñ something almost inexplicable ñ that turned sure defeat into a breathtaking, last-possible-moment victory.
ìI never gave up,î said Jason Lezak, who swam the anchor leg for the Americans. ìIt never occurred to me to let up.î
Churchill would have loved that attitude (if not the fact that the team from Great Britain finished eighth in the race). Just as he would have loved the attitude of the U.S. menís gymnastics team. Nobody gave them much of a chance to win a medal at these games, not with two of their best gymnasts out with injuries. And the field looked so strong, with China, Japan, Russia and Germany all fielding incredibly strong teams. With their two best gymnasts they might have had a chance. But without them ñ no way.
But remember what Churchill said about not yielding to the ìapparently overwhelming might of the enemy?î
These guys got that. They refused to yield. Instead, they gave the performances of their young lives, and they walked away with a bronze medal.
I was watching as the television camera panned the exultant faces of the young Americans as they finally realized that the cherished medal was theirs. And in the background I heard one of them ñ Iím not sure who ñ vocalize the lesson theyíd learned, a lesson for all of us, for the ages: ìNever give up,î he said, joyfully. ìNever give up.î
Somewhere Iím sure Sir Winston smiled, and then added: ìNever, never, never, never.î