“What’s your most treasured Olympics memory?”
He looks at me blankly.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, any childhood nostalgia for the Games?”
“Er, no. What’s yours?”
“Duh. Seoul ’88 OBVIOUSLY”
Actually, I have a vested interest. That was the summer I got to wear Olympic gold – and it was the summer I first fell in love. Let me backtrack: Great Britain took on West Germany in the men’s field hockey final that year – and won. In that triumphant GB team was one Richard Leman, a shell-suited actual grown-up man with a really nice smile and highlighted hair who happened to be from my home town and made me feel funny. Hockey was Big News where I grew up. Richard’s legacy (he’d also won Bronze in ’84) had somehow trickled through the ranks and into the schools, and through some kind of supernatural sporting osmosis had made its way into our hockey sticks. (I would later get quite good myself – a nippy left-winger, FYI.)
That’s him on the left. *sigh*
The whole town turned out for Richard’s homecoming. He was to show off his gleaming medallion freshly brought back from Korea in the sunshiny grounds of the town hall – a beautiful Regency building. How’s that for a romantic setting? I was there with my parents and brother, just like every other kid, but I knew he was going to pick me because I definitely had some kind of psychic ability back then when it came to Being Picked, which had absolutely nothing to do with my wide eyes and long blonde hair. The next bit’s a blur, for obvious reasons. I’m giddy as I’m called up in front of the townspeople, the Mayor, my school friends, the local paper… We have quite an audience. He goes down on one knee, asks my name, and carefully places his gold medal around my neck. It’s really heavy. Then we have to pose for photographs. He puts his arm around me. “Can I have a kiss?” he asks, “No”, I say, everybody laughs, and after the flashbulbs have finished I take off the medal and hand it back.
Team GB: the shellsuit years
We stop for chips on the drive home. It’s too late for dinner. I want ketchup so I wait until we’re back before getting out the Heinz. The TV goes on and there’s a music video: Cutting Crew. (I Just) Died in your Arms. I can’t eat my chips, even with ketchup. I tell my mum I’m feeling ill and need to go to bed. I don’t tell her I’m lovesick.