I grew up with two family stories about the Olympics.
The first and most familiar was one recounted often by my father. He was a steward at the 1948 games in London, the ones now rechristened The Austerity Olympics by the press though I never heard my father refer to them like that.
Just as the runner bearing the torch was about to enter the stadium the flame blew out. The 1948 flame in the Olympic beacon didn’t therefore come from some Greek ceremony in Delphi as they’d like to have you believe but from a torch relit by a cigarette lighter belonging to an Italian lavatory attendant.
My father was fond of a good story and had been known to “improve them”. Also like many natural raconteur he wasn’t above borrowing stories off other people so even as a child I knew that possibly not all the facts in this story were entirely accurate. I heard it countless times, like most raconteur my father believed that good stories bear repeating, and the details never varied. I do wonder why my father didn’t use his own cigarette lighter, he was pretty flash in those days and I bet he had a fancy gold model. Maybe it wouldn’t work in the wind and a more lowly Zippo was needed to do the trick. It’s one of those cases where it’s probably more fun not to know the exact truth.
I also grew up knowing we had an Olympic athlete in the family. My great-uncle Ralph, whom I can just remember as he died when I was three, won a silver medal for diving. My grandparents had three full size Olympic posters for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in their house, one publicising the games:
and two others, which as a child I liked much better of a diver, which I presumed was Uncle Ralph, and a muscular gymnast on the rings. To my lasting regret all the posters were left on the wall after my grandmother died and the house was sold.
Yesterday in an idle moment I decided to look Uncle Ralph up. I couldn’t find any mention of him on the 1912 Olympics website, googled his name and eventually came up with Frank Errington who competed in the 1906 London Olympics and reached the semi finals. There’s no doubt that was Uncle Ralph, he was actually called Francis Ralph but was always called Ralph because his father was Francis, Frank for short. So why did he compete under a name he wasn’t familiarly known by? And why was my grandparent’s house plastered with posters of the Stockholm Olympics when it was London that Ralph competed in? And how did fifth place in the semi finals get transmuted into a silver medal? I’ll never know, everyone who might have had an answer is long dead.
It’s still quite something to have had a relative who competed in an Olympics, no matter how far they got, but it does make me wonder that if our descendants ever tell any stories about me or the OH just how much of it will be true.