You don’t have to be an Olympian to feel the joy of meeting a sporting challenge
Posted on 20 August 2012 | 9:08am
It is technical uselessness, rather than modesty, that prevents me from putting on here the photo I tweeted yesterday from the summit of Mont Ventoux. Now I cannot claim to have got up this legendary Provençal mountain quickly. Indeed, my times over the past few years represent something of a study in ageing. But I was overtaken by 5 cyclists, and overtook 4, all of us doing it amid a heat wave, so all in all, not bad, and though I did the ascent in a personal worst, I did the descent in a new record.
However, there is another reason I was particularly pleased to reach the top yesterday, and that is that the last time I tried, I failed. Some of my twitter followers and Facebook friends may recall that I skipped a couple of days of The Olympics ‘to take on a sporting challenge of my own.’ It was to climb Ventoux by moonlight. Yes, it takes all sorts, but when there is a full moon, it is possible – though not very sensible – to get to the top without so much as a back light, and that is what I planned to do with a small group of fellow clearly troubled people!
A cough bad enough for me to see a local doctor beforehand was not the ideal preparation, but he prescribed me an inhaler I had never seen before, said it was stronger than the one I was using, and would help. And as my fellow moonlighters were much faster than I am, we agreed I would get a head’s start. So Fiona and I had dinner in Malaucene, at the foot of the mountain, and when the clock reached 10pm, off I set.
Here the story gets all romantic, and one begins to wonder whether people can know each other so well that they become almost like one person. Because half an hour later, a few kilometres up, I was hanging over the side of my bike, coughing and wheezing, and feeling lactic acid like I had never felt before, and what should appear around the corner, but a car, driven by Fiona, who had had a ‘sixth sense’ that all was not well.
Now I do not like starting things and not finishing them, but this was an asthma attack as bad as any I have had since childhood, so for me, the moonlight challenge was over. We went to the local hospital, but it was, rather like a lot of UK A and E departments, rather full of Friday night revellers, so instead I called an asthma nurse I know in London. She was intrigued by the medication the French doctor had given me, so I rooted through the bins, and did something I have never done before – namely read the pages of notes that went with the medication. And there, on page 3, in large letters, was a warning that this medication should not be given to asthmatics!
Now I am not the litigious type, and can’t stand all that ‘we understand you had an accident, we can help you get compensation’ culture, but had I been so, I imagine I could have caused a bit of bother for the French doctor. Instead, I asked the nurse what to get, went to see him (for the last time in all likelihood) and asked him to write out a new prescription. Then back for the Olympics.
But as I watched all those wonderful sporting achievements, a little nagging sound in my head was telling me that I had my own outstanding sporting challenge to be met. Ventoux had beaten me, and though I could blame a bad chest, and a bad diagnosis and prescription, that could not be allowed to stand.
So what better day than yesterday, the day lots of our Olympians were taking part in the JoinIn campaign to boost sports participation as part of the legacy of the Games, to get back on the bike, get into a low gear, and grind my way up the mountain?
Hence the rather self-satisfied look on my face, which you will have to visit twitter or Facebook to witness.
Meanwhile, I have still to hear an explanation from Michael Gove as to why school sport took such a hammering when he first took office, and when it was blindingly obvious that the Olympics would fuel a demand to increase rather than cut investment. Reading between the lines, he is busy preparing how to talk down any success in GCSE results this week as a way of justifying the latest idea to emerge from his potty ideas factory, namely a return to the O Level.
I think a reversal of his abolition of school sports partnerships might hit the moment rather better.