In this brilliant essay, John Bryant tells the story of London and the Olympic Games through three men. Lord Desborough, Lord Burghley and Lord Coe.
They were the Lords of the Olympics - the men who made the Games happen, often against impossible odds.
They were born simply William Grenfell, David Cecil and Sebastian Coe. But they were the founding fathers of Britain’s Olympic tradition – they became Lord Desborough, Lord Burghley and Lord Coe. All three of them brought the Olympics to London and each, in their own way, snatched triumph when the Games faced disaster and crisis.
They were there when nobody wanted the Games. And they were there when everyone wants the Olympics.
Lord Desborough, the perfect Edwardian sportsman - cricketer, sculler, fencer and huntsman – masterminded the Games in just two years when a near bankrupt Italy pulled out. He bequeathed the Edwardian concept of “play up, play up and play the game” which was to set the tone of international sport for seventy years.
Lord Burghley stepped in when two great wars ripped the world apart.There were no Olympics in 1940 or 1944, but again with just two years to go he demonstrated that that the Olympics were about sport and not war. Britain was almost bankrupt, rationing was rife, and bombsites littered the London landscape. But in these make do and mend Olympics, Lord Burghley and the indomitable sprit of London overcame every obstacle.
Lord Coe, one of the greatest middle-distance runners that Britain has ever produced, faced a different problem when he entered the race to bring the Olympics back to London. In a fiercely commercial word everyone wants the Games. He’s had to see off the threats of corrupt and unethical practices, the gift-giving and inflated budgets that have haunted recent bids to secure the Games.
'Lords of the Olympics' tells the story of London’s three Olympic Games through the character, the victories and defeats of the athletes themselves, and the part they have played in shaping the Olympic story.
The burden of delivery is heavy on the third of Britain’s Lords of the Olympics. Lord Coe knows that a third of the world’s population will be tuned in to see how Britain performs, not just in the medal table but in the legacy that he bequeaths to the future of the Olympic movement. He can draw inspiration and hope from Desborough and Burghley and have confidence to know that with London behind him, an Olympic Lord can do it again.
As a life-long athlete, Oxford Blue, country champion, British Universities student international, and coach to an Olympic athlete, John Bryant has an unrivalled insight into the world of athletics and the minds of runners. Since 1971, John Bryant has worked as a Fleet Street journalist where he was Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Deputy Editor of The Times and Consultant Editor of the Daily Mail. Currently he is chairman of the Press Association Trust and chairman of the London Marathon Trust. He is the biographer of Chris Brasher and lives in Kingston-on-Thames.
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