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Letters from London - Mitchell Garner’s Blog from London

The RRCA invites you to enjoy Mitch Garner’s blog—live from London, England—during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.  Garner is the RRCA Vice President, and he will be accompanied on his trip by RRCA MI State Rep, Gary Morgan.

2012 Summer Olympics - Games of the XXX Olympiad - London, England - July 27-August 12, 2012

Entry #1 – Speaking the Same Language

by: Mitchell E. Garner, Vice President – Road Runners Club of America, President – Ann Arbor Track Club

“England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” George Bernard Shaw

My maiden trip to England was in 1965.  My mother was an inveterate traveler, and she insisted that my older brother and I see Europe during the summer of that year.  It was the first time I had ever traveled “across the pond,” as they say.  I was 15 at the time and had little interest in leaving my friends back home for what I perceived as a boring trip to see monuments and museums and churches.  My passion was baseball, and I played on a pony league team for boys my age in an organized league at my local park on the Northwest Side of Chicago, where I was born and raised.  I was so afraid that I would lose my baseball skills while in Europe that I required my mother Michaeline—now hopefully enjoying her heavenly reward—to pack my baseball, my bat, and my glove in our community suitcase so that I could practice every now and then.  To be fair, my brother and I did occasionally break out our baseball gear when we had some free time during our trip, but Mom made it clear that she was not too keen on having to lug around boys’ baseball stuff in a rather packed suitcase.

While in Europe, I faithfully kept a diary.  For some reason I thought it was important to document for posterity my first impression of the distant places that I would be visiting.  In anticipation of my upcoming trip to England 47 years later to attend the Olympic Games, I recently reread my entry from June 1, 1965, the day we arrived in London.  About our common language, I made the following observation:

The language is still very much the same.  At first, it is difficult to understand the normal conversation because we are unaccustomed to the British accent.  But, because it is English, one is soon accustomed.  Also, there are various idioms.  One sign in a bus states, “Mind your head when you step down.”  Our elevators are called “lifts.”  Seeds are known as “pips.”

The quote from George Bernard Shaw about the language we share with our English cousins seems apropos now as it was then.  The history of England and the history of the United States are intertwined in a most pleasing combination, like apple pie and ice cream, or tea and crumpets I suppose if you are British.  We speak the same language, but still we are different.  Over the years we have been bitter enemies as well as staunch allies.  Indeed, two hundred years ago, the United States and England waged war against each other in the War of 1812.  In August 1814, British forces, after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many of our public buildings there.  By the same token, in the last hundred years we have fought side by side with the Brits in the Great War and World War II and other international conflicts.  We have both made large sacrifices in the quest for world peace.

Now London is hosting the Summer Olympics for the third time in history.  The first time was in 1908, when the unexpected eruption of Mount Versuvius two years before caused Italy to bow out of its commitment to host the Olympics that were scheduled to take place in Rome.  A change of venue was necessary, and the English rose to the challenge, offering to host the 1908 Olympics on relatively short notice.  The second time was in 1948, when London was chosen, even before World War II had ended, because the International Olympic Committee perceived London as the only city in Europe that would have sufficient resources to host the Olympic Games after a hiatus of 12 years.  At the time, there was scant support for London to be the host city.  The notion was unpopular with the British public, the media, and the government.  Despite this public opposition to the Olympic Games, again the English rose to the challenge and played a most welcoming host to the first post-World War II Olympics.

The 2012 London Olympics augur auspiciously for England.  By all accounts, the stage that brings together all the counties of the world every four years is ready for the next act in the Olympic drama.  It is estimated that the 2012 Olympics will witness 10,500 athletes from 205 countries competing in 26 sports, with 38 disciplines and 300 events.

This past weekend I packed my bags and did some last minute preparations for my upcoming Olympic trip with my close friend and fellow Ann Arbor Track Club Board member, Gary Morgan.  Gary is like a brother to me.  Four years ago we experienced the Beijing Olympics together.  We had a fabulous time.  Now we are Olympic traveling companions again.  In anticipation of our trip, last year my wife Ellen, who understands—sort of—my passion for the Olympics, purchased a guide book, one year out of date, for London.  Well, how much can the history of London change in a few years?  We will make good use of that book in London.

The official motto of the 2012 London Olympics is “Live as One.”  As I contemplate my upcoming trip to London, I am prepared as an American to both live and speak as one with the English.

Keep climbing that mountain and have faith.
Mitch “Iron Bulldog” Garner

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