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Crying Games sound death-knell for stiff upper lip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:03pm

The Great British stiff upper lip is no more. It has been eroding for the last 15 years - a crumbling effect that started with the first signs of emotions in public among the great, the good and rest of us at the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997.

The corrosion became serious just a few weeks later following the death of Princess Diana and the unprecedented - and very public - 'outpouring of national grief' that followed. But the ability to maintain restraint and keep a firm grip on oneself finally disintegrated on August 4, 2012 at the London Olympics.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Crying Games, a time when Great Britain's winning athletes allowed their emotions to rule the waves and nearly drown Britannia in a torrent of jubilation, despair and sporting tears. Unstoppable Team GB are bagging golds like wining contestants in a supermarket spree - and they'd do well to raid the tissue and napkin aisle for they are sure to win gold for blubbing.

Inside the Olympic Stadium, at the Velodrome and at the rowing, the tears flowed down the tiers of the stands on Sobbing Saturday. It was the same wet scene behind the net curtains and doors from Penzance to John o' Groats. In front of the flat HD screens of Britain, TV dinners had an extra compliment of salt ladled upon them, courtesy of teardrops.

Across the land, many a fully grown adult was finding themselves struggling to watch events through blurred, teary vision as they cheered on our new heroes. Young children were looking at their mums, dads and grandparents in a new and worrying light. Mates in pubs hid their eyes from each other behind a pint glasses as their tear ducts started misbehaving. The fairer sex made frequent trips to the powder room to reapply mascara.

We, the mighty crying, took our cues from the emphatic winners and losers who wept after their four, long hard years of endeavour. The two golds in quick succession at rowing and cycling earlier in the day soaked handkerchiefs and things never dried up from there. And it was not just the elation of having won another medal to propel us to third behind China and the US that made us weep with pride.

Britain's Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, who lost their Olympic lightweight men's double skulls title to the Danish, also rendered us helpless, and they reduced the usually ice-cool BBC sports presenter John Inverdale to tears.

The clearly devastated rowers, who won silver, were shattered and visibly upset. They were offered a helping hand to get in front of the TV cameras by the BBC sports presenter and pundit Steve Redgrave, the veteran Olympic great, just minutes after their dramatic race.

'It's been a pretty emotional season. We've had ups and downs, but fair play to Denmark. We did our best. Even though it's silver, it still hurts because we came for gold,' said Purchase through a wall of tears, ever the personification of a good loser and sportsmanship. His emotional interview set the country and the presenter off.

'Emotions, emotions. Goodness me, especially when you know these people and you know them pretty well. It's quite ... [Sniff] ... It's quite hard being here as well,' Inverdale said to the tissue-dabbing masses as he struggled to compose himself. The near jabbering wreck caught the national mood perfectly.

It was tears of joy for women's double scull team Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland, whose win rendered them both speechless. Instead, they tearfully hugged in an affectionate and infectious display of camaraderie.

The gold medal winning men rowers, Pete Reed, Andy Triggs Hodge, Tom James and Alex Gregory were also welling up and there was concern if they blubbed into the Eton Dorney rowing lake the Olympics would be put on an amber flood alert.

The tears flowed because even the British, who live in a land famed for its creative use of words, were unable to express themselves in any other way. 'I can't describe what this atmosphere is like. It's beyond words, it's epic, it's magic, it's emotional. The crowd is phenomenal. I'm so excited to be here and so proud,' said James.

Olympic champion cyclists Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell set a new world record and the emotional trio had tears in their eyes as they spoke of 'being like sisters'. Trott could not hold back when she said becoming an Olympic winner 'had always been her dream'. Many psychologists claim we susceptible humans are more prone to tears at night, and they might be correct. As the sunset streaked across the East End sky, so did the evening's round of tears streak down cheeks as the gold medal tally hit four, then five - then six.

Golden girl Jessica Ennis promptly burst into tears after she was confirmed the winner of the 800m and overall heptathlon competition. Wrapped in a Union Jack, the pin-up poster girl sobbed as the choked-up 80,000 crowd roared their approval.

Weep, cheer, weep again, became the evening's manic schedule as long jump winner Greg Ruthford won Britain's 13th gold medal with his 8.31m leap.

Then along came mighty Mo Farah to cap off one amazing, red-eyed, saline-tasting day and night. He romped home to claim the 10,000m gold - and on crossing the line he promptly fell on his knees and waited for the tears to come. And come they surely did, right across Great Britain.

Sports and cultural commentators, lost in a sea of patriotism, athletic greatness and crumpled tissues, took the sight of rags to gold medal riches Farah - draped in a Union Jack and soaking up the adulation of the ecstatic home crowd and hugging his young family - as a snapshot of modern, confident, muddling-on-through, sport-mad, Olympic-conquering, Britain.

Farewell, oh British stiff upper lip, long may it quiver.

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