My diary for last month really begins 30 years ago, when I arrived in a small village on the side of Mount Kronion in Greece
MY DIARY FOR the last month really begins 30 years ago, when I arrived in a small village on the side of Mount Kronion in Greece. Under the auspices of the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, I was to spend an unforgettable fortnight, mingling with Olympic athletes at all stages of their careers and forming lifelong friendships. Fresh from my first Olympic Games and in the ancient site of their birth, I was utterly captivated by the philosophy and vision of the Olympic movement.
Recently I returned, as chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), for the lighting of the Olympic flame. In this stunning and evocative setting, past met present in the simple, moving ceremony, which culminated in ‘The Lighting of the Flame’ by the High Priestess of the Temple of Hera.
From her oration in Greek, the word ‘Britannia’ could be heard as she held out the torch to the people of the United Kingdom. That symbolic gesture underlined for me that the preparation, the anticipation and the waiting are almost over and in that moment, the final countdown to London 2012 really began.
THE JOURNEY TO London 2012 has been the most astonishing, exciting and all-consuming of my sporting career. In recent weeks the BOA has continued its transformation to the modern, accountable, performance-driven and highly professional organisation it is today. We select, lead and manage the athletes who will represent Team GB at the Games: a record 550 in 2012. With no lottery or government funding, we must raise all the money we need ourselves.
May’s event, ‘Our Greatest Team Rises’, at the Royal Albert Hall proved to be an inspirational evening for the athletes, sponsors, guests and many members of the public who support us. We were honoured to have the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in their roles as official Olympic ambassadors for Team GB and Paralympics GB. They had particularly asked to sit among the athletes, so our table was joined by Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls intent on their quest for victory.
Managing the limelight is second nature to the royals, and it was invaluable for the young stars of tomorrow to have this chance to learn from their experience. Not surprisingly, they stayed longer than scheduled, making it a truly memorable and extraordinary night.
BUT SPORT IS all too often a rollercoaster of emotions, from the unbeatable highs to the unbearable lows. So it was that early the next day I woke to the news that my mother had passed away. Initially, I was hesitant to write about this, but my three teenage children insisted. ‘How can you write a diary entry for the last month and not mention the most important event?’ reflected my sixteen-year-old son George, and he was right. I was ten when my father died, leaving my mother a young widow. My errant half-brother disappeared abroad and the Moynihan inheritance disappeared with him.
Our lives changed almost overnight. My mother had no choice but to move from the magnificent estate in Ashtead to the gardener’s tiny bungalow. The kindness of friends and family helped to keep us afloat, while my mother went out to work to support her two young children. Organising her funeral is incredibly hard, as is the knowledge that our journey together has come to an end. Whatever role I play in ensuing the success of the historic summer ahead will be a tribute to my mother and the vital source of strength and support which she provided throughout my life.
CHAIRING THE BOA is a full-time, pro-bono activity. I also have business commitments in the energy sector and I try to speak in the House of Lords as often as possible, but inevitably this adds pressure to an already packed schedule. Over four weeks, I have made three one-night visits to Texas, with meetings at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, a day in Scotland to support Glasgow’s bid to stage the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and preparations for a speech in the Lords sandwiched in between. The key has been non-stop work on the ten-hour outward flights to Houston, an endless supply of cranberry juice and as early to sleep as possible on the return flights.
ONCE THE OLYMPIC torch embarked on its 70-day relay around the UK, it was time to celebrate. The facilities are ready, the country inspired, the anticipation building, and soon the spotlight will switch to the athletes. Four years ago, in Beijing, our athletes delivered nineteen gold medals, thirteen silvers and fifteen bronzes. Now we are looking to match that result in London and meet our aspirational target of fourth place in the medal table.
For many, the success of the Games will be judged by how many times they hear the national anthem on the podium, and rightly so — but I hope that London 2012 will live on long after the applause is over, through the provision of a genuine and lasting sporting legacy for this country. That is our goal: now it is time to deliver it.