The very Special Olympic Games and stories of sex, love and politics

Ruth HartleyPolitics, Visual Arts2 Comments

 The Special Olympics and my good fortune

A Golden Chinese junk sails into the Special Olympics arena on a blue sea made of dancing people

How could I not write about the Special Olympics when the media are bursting with stories about the Winter Olympics and its stars? I can count myself among the very privileged because I was at the Special Olympics with John in both Shanghai and Athens. and so I’ve seen two amazing Olympic Opening Events in two extraordinary places. In Shanghai in 2007, John took part in the sailing events as the unified partner of Great Britain’s Special Olympic athlete John Hollingsworth who had Down’s Syndrome. I was there as the chaperone of Sarah Biggs, the only woman in the sailing team. In Athens in 2011, John and I were simply volunteers with the sailing team for the events at Marathon. We drove to Greece from the south of France and went home through Albania

The Great Britain Special Olympics Sailing Team

The Olympic flame is a double circle of fire above a fountain of water in front on the Special Olympics symbol for 2007

John Hollingsworth and John wearing lifejackets ready for their training at the London Docklands site

The full Team of Special Olympics athletes with their unified partners, and training team ready for the Shanghai Olympics

John had been a volunteer with Special Olympics for some years and the training took place in the London Docklands – a pretty fantastic place to sail – not easy because of the wind gusting around the skyscrapers. For me the best thing was getting to know the Special Olympic sailors, their families and the people who supported and taught them to sail. The people I met were worthy of love and respect and I’m so glad that I had that unique opportunity. Thank you to the Great Britain Special Olympics sailing team and Team Coach and Skipper Nic Jones.

Its not the winning that counts but the boldness of taking part.

Shanghai and Shanghai stories

The Special Olympics teams were taken all into the park to play traditional games with the local Chinese people. This game is spinning a top with a whip

Its impossible for me as a writer not to look for stories and books that relate to the places I have been and there are a number of books set in China that are significant for me. The first is undoubtedly A Many Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin. It is a love story but also is about the colonial politics of Hong Kong. The second is Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng which describes the impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. We actually stood outside the Red Guard building in which Cheng’s daughter died. There are other books, interestingly, they are all by women in a country fascinating for its political history! Wild Swans by Jung Chang is an enlightening and gripping account of 3 generations of Chinese women. Han Suyin also wrote Winter Love about a lesbian love affair in London at the end of WW2. Red Azalea by Anchee Min is a quite extraordinary story of survival and lesbian love in the time of Chairman Mao. Love and politics is what I enjoy reading about. All these stories helped me to understand the politics of colonialism  and of developing countries. They helped me understand my homelands of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Athens, the first Olympics, Mt Olympus and more stories

The sailing dingys and rescue boats waiting for the events on Marathon Beach

The Arena where the opening event was held in Athens. This was where Stevie Wonder performed for us. This is an ancient Greek Circus where chariot races were run

There was a brief moment when I wondered if I had read any books by Greek writers until I remembered that the whole cultural life of Europe is based on the Greek Myths and Mount Olympus as well as Homer’s tales. They must have been among the first stories I read and we live today with the images and the tales of the  Greek gods around us in art, in film, in poetry and in language. They are impossible to unpick from our lives. The film and the book that impacted on me most as a student was Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. It is a dark tale of peasantry, prejudice and poverty and how the dance of life must go on! There are the Durrell stories set on Corfu, there’s Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and then of course – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières – I loved the account of the fighting in the remote hills of North-west Greece – John and I drove through them and they are wild – but I did think that the ending wasn’t true to the characters of the lovers. As for the Greek myths, I wasn’t sold on the idea of the gods in the form of a swan or golden rain raping women. I would prefer to be Perseus rather than be tied to a rock like Andromeda but I do like the stories of Prometheus, Medusa and Pandora.

Greece is where the Olympic Games were first held so it was amazing to be in the ancient arena for the opening ceremony. China is the future so that was an exceptional experience too.

2 Comments on “The very Special Olympic Games and stories of sex, love and politics”

    1. Ruth Hartley

      We got a lot back from what we did – John got to sail and to get very wet and I got to travel and to know some pretty special people.

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