A golden decade for Team GB’s Olympic athletes

Believe it or not there was a time when people in the UK could choose whether or not they wanted to watch the Olympic Games.
It was a more innocent age when not being interested in handball, beach volleyball and synchronised diving wasn’t punishable by incarceration in the Tower of London.
It was a time when seeing Olympic athletes perform on telly in glorious colour was a relative novelty and BBC employees had the freedom to criticise stuff as they saw fit.
It was a period when we weren’t brow-beaten into repeating the mantra that sports we’ve never heard of are all wonderful and exciting just because it has almost bankrupt the nation to stage an Olympics.
That decade was the 1980s when colour TVs which were becoming a fixture in most homes turned some British Olympians into household names.
The Moscow summer Olympics of 1980 was the games that made baldness cool as swimmer Duncan Goodhew scooped gold in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay.
At the same games, which was boycotted by many countries including the U.S., Japan, China and West Germany because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Scottish sprinter Allan Wells won gold in the 100 metres in a photo finish. He was pipped to silver in the 200m by just 0.2 seconds.
It was in Moscow that decathlete Daley Thompson announced his arrival on the world stage by taking top spot on the podium – a feat he then repeated four years later in Los Angeles.
The 1980 games saw current London 2012 supremo Lord Sebastian Coe, beaten into second place by his great rival Steve Ovett in the 800 metres – his speciality.
However, Seb hit back in the 1500m race to take gold, while Ovett had to settle for bronze. Coe replicated his achievements over both distances at the next Olympics in LA.
Those games in the City of Angels marked another golden period for British athletics when Tyneside’s Steve Cram – the ‘Jarrow Arrow’ – completed a one, two, three for us when he nabbed the silver in that infamous 1500 metres.
It was a race which was so thrilling that even I, a 12-year-old asthmatic and the laughing stock of Holden Lane High’s cross country course, was enthralled.
That year also saw Tessa Sanderson become the first black British woman win gold in the javelin. She went on to represent Britain at no less than six Olympics.
Meanwhile, her close rival Fatima Whitbread, whose personal story of triumph over adversity was as inspirational a tale as you could hear in sport, won hearts and minds when she scooped bronze at LA and followed this up with a silver medal four years later in Seoul.
Hockey forward Sean Kerly sealed a bronze medal for the GB men’s team with his winner against Australia in the Los Angeles games and went on to be the Aussie’s bogeyman again in 1988 when he scored a hat-trick against them in the semi-final.
Believe it or not, 1984 was the year that a young Steve Redgrave won the first of his five Olympic gold medals for rowing.
Little did we know back then that he would go on to become Britain’s greatest ever Olympian.
Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse had been expected to win gold in LA in the breaststroke but finished a disappointing fourth. Happily he made up for it four years later by winning gold in the 100m race.
My final Eighties Olympic household name will be no stranger to Sentinel readers.
Former policeman and Cobridge newsagent Imran Sherwani scored two goals and set up the third in Team GB’s demolition of West Germany in the final at Seoul.
It prompted one of the best bits of Olympics commentary ever by the BBC’s Barry Davies whose enthusiasm led him to ask the question: “Where were the Germans? And, frankly, who cares?”
All in all the Eighties was a great Olympic decade for Britain – before the time when the games themselves became the huge corporate monster that they are today.

I grew up in an era of proper celebrities who earned their fame

Another week and another non-entity leaves the X-Factor while whatsisface wins the latest edition of Big Brother.

All this and Strictly Come Dancing trundles on as I’m a Celebrity prepares to resuscitate (or kill-off entirely) the careers of a dozen Z-listers.

As someone who avoids such shows like the plague, I often yearn for the days when stars were stars – not someone who had simply blubbed in front of the nation or showered for the cameras.

The definition of a celebrity is a famous or well-known person but these days the word has been diluted to such an extent that any Tom, Dick or Harry who has been on the telly for five minutes – irrespective of their obvious talent vacuum – can earn the label.

People we wouldn’t know if we fell over them in the street – the ‘stars’ of Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – are tragically classed as famous. Basically for being, er… famous.

But it wasn’t always like this. Turn back the clock a quarter of a century and there was no internet to speak of, no reality TV and mobile communications were in their infancy.

Back in the Eighties, if you were famous it was usually because you were good at something and people liked or at least respected you for it.

Generally speaking, you also had to have served your time – shown enough talent and been around long enough to have been talked about, written about and seen enough to warrant fame.

When I recall the celebrities – for want of a better word – who dominated my formative years, they had that status on merit.

(I am not, here, talking about the time that I met Grotbags at the Garden Festival).

As the blockbuster movie phenomenon took hold, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford and the assorted beautiful people who made up the Brat Pack loomed large into our collective consciousness.

Then there were the sporting celebrities of that period – genuine icons whose auras haven’t diminished with the passing of time. For instance, I put my love of cricket down to watching the colossus that was Ian Botham (now Sir Ian) almost single-handedly wrestle the little urn from the Aussies back in 1981.

I know the killer statistic off-by-heart: Five wickets for one run off 28 balls. Enough said.

Then there was Daley Thompson (now a CBE) whose gold medal-winning heroics at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984 enthralled millions.

Let’s face it, most Olympic sports are boring and rubbish but Daley ran, jumped and chucked stuff better than anyone. I mean, what’s not to like about the decathlon?

Sticking with athletics, who could forget the rivalry between working class hero Steve Ovett and the posh lad Seb Coe? Those boys made actually made running watchable. For a short while, at least.

The Eighties was also the decade that snooker entered our living rooms and we all, inexplicably, sat up until the wee small hours watching a one-man domination of a sport.

This, of course, prompted a huge spike in sales of fold-away, six foot by three foot snooker tables like the one mum and dad brought me for Christmas in 1983.

A world champion no less than six times in the decade, the ginger magician Steve Davis OBE was nothing if not interesting.

At the time, Gary Lineker was the darling of England football fans – back when yours truly still gave a monkey’s about the national team.

Famously never booked or sent off during his illustrious career, his reputation at the time was as white as his freshly-pressed Spurs shirt.

He was a far cry from today’s high-profile England stars who can’t seem to go a week without appearing in the tabloid press for all the wrong reasons.

Interestingly, back in the 80s even politicians seemed to have genuine stature and a celebrity status which transcended the kind of spin-doctoring that goes on today.

I wonder how much of this was down to a certain television programme which mercilessly poked fun at the great and the good?

First airing in 1984, the multi BAFTA-nominted Spitting Image turned the country’s top politicians into figures of fun. And we loved it.

There was a time when many people could name all of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet – simply because they had been so brilliantly caricatured by Spitting Image.

It helped, of course, that the Iron Lady herself was such a powerful figure – not only in the UK but also on the world stage.

No matter what anyone thinks of her now, I somehow can’t see Maggie playing lap-dog to George W. Bush like a certain Prime Minister of ours famously did not so long ago.

By the same token, even the royal family seemed larger than life back then – prior to the scandals and the tragedy which rocked the house of Windsor to its foundations in the Nineties.

In my lifetime, there hasn’t been a more famous person than Princess Diana whom I bumped into at Alton Towers, of all places, while I was learning my trade as a cub reporter.

She was out with her two young boys and they went past me on the Log Flume.

At the time I remember thinking that I had just taken a photograph of the most famous person in the world.

For all her faults – the beautiful, vulnerable, misunderstood and ultimately tragic Princess of Wales deserved the fame she both enjoyed and hated in equal measure.

I honestly can’t think of a single, modern celebrity who can hold a candle to her.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia