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Letters from London - Mitchell Garner’s Blog from London #8
Entry #8 – Remembering England’s War Heroes and Meeting America’s Olympic Heroes
London, England - August 2, 2012
Happy is England! I could be content
To see no other verdure than its own;
To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances blent.
- John Keats, from the poem “Happy is England”
The 2012 Olympics are in full swing here in London. Team Great Britain is doing very well in these Olympic Games, and the Brits are very happy. Team Great Britain has won medals in sports as diverse as rowing, gymnastics, and equestrian, and there are many more sports in which British athletes have strong chances to win a medal. It is interesting to note that several American Olympic greats, including Greg Louganis (diving), Michael Johnson (track), and Carl Lewis (track), are serving as color commentators for the BBC’s Olympic coverage. At one point I saw Michael Johnson doing an analysis of synchronized diving. I am not sure how he acquired his expertise in synchronized diving, but as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Nevertheless, it strikes me as odd that NBC would not have obtained commitments from these three Olympians to do color commentary for an American network.
Tomorrow track and field events start at the Olympic Stadium and I am excited. Because we did not have any tickets for Olympic events on Thursday, Gary Morgan and I decided to do a walking tour of Central London in the area along the Thames River near Parliament. As we strolled through the area, we came upon St. Clement Danes Church. The church was built by Christopher Wren in 1682. During World War II, it was heavily bombed. Today it stands restored as a Royal Air Force chapel and a memorial to the 125,000 Royal Air Force servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives in World Wars I and II. The church is a sanctuary of peace and quiet amidst the cacophonous chaos of Central London. Inside are 10 Books of Remembrance—10 thick volumes, with a page respectfully turned each day—listing the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and died so that their country would be free from oppression. One of the Books of Remembrance lists Americans airmen who died in England during the two World Wars.
During my visit to St. Clement Danes Church, my thoughts turned to my father, now deceased, who served as a doctor in the United States Army during World War II. In June 1944, he was part of the D-Day invasion. While he was alive, he told me how fearful he was as the amphibious vehicle in which he was crossing the Channel from England approached the beach at Normandy. The Germans were firing at all the “Ducks,” as they were called, from the French shore, and some of the shells were landing very close to his Duck. Luckily he survived the landing on the beach and treated the wounded, of which there were many. He went on to serve his country very nobly during World War II and to become the best doctor I have ever known. My father was my first hero.
In the afternoon, Gary and I returned to the New Cavendish Club for a reception given by the New York Athletic Club, of which Gary is a member. The NYAC has a long history of providing financial support for Olympic athletes and Olympic hopefuls. At the 2012 London Olympics, 55 NYAC athletes are competing. Among them are men’s marathoner Meb Keflezighi and men’s shot putter Reese Hoffa.
Several prominent NYAC Olympians were in attendance, including 1968 Olympic long jump gold medalist Bob Beamon. He was impressed that I was wearing a tie (purchased on ebay) that depicts his Olympic and world record long jump of 29 feet and 2.5 inches at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. His jump remained the world record for almost 23 years until it was broken in 1991 by American Olympian Mike Powell. The tie shows Bob in mid-air as he is about to land in the long jump pit and features the Olympic rings above him. Bob is a big man, or else I was standing in a hole when we took a picture together. I showed Bob my Olympic flag, which he graciously signed for me.
It is interesting to note that when the announcer called out the distance for Bob’s memorable jump at the Mexico City Olympics, Bob, being unfamiliar with metric measurements, did not immediately realize what he had done. When his teammate and coach Ralph Boston told him that he had broken the world record by nearly 2 feet, Bob’s legs gave way, and he suffered a brief cataleptic seizure brought on by emotional shock. Bob collapsed to his knees, his body unable to support itself, placing his hands over his face. In one of the more enduring images of the Olympic Games, his competitors then helped him to his feet. The defending Olympic champion Lynn Davies told Beamon, “You have destroyed this event,” and in sports jargon, the adjective Beamonesque came into use to describe spectacular feats.
Several other Olympic gold medalists were in attendance at the NYAC reception, including two from the 1948 London Olympics. It was very inspiring to see these past Olympians and have a chance to talk to them about their Olympic experience and have them sign my Olympic flag.
Happy is England, and happy are those who are here in London to enjoy the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
Keep climbing that mountain and have faith.
Mitch “Iron Bulldog” Garner