Official 2012 Olympics Event, The National Portrait Gallery, St James's
The National Portrait Gallery
2 St Martin's Place
by Kipper Sutherland
Riggs and Murtagh
discount and fireworks
Olympic and Breakfast.
There are just some rare and racy conjuctions that really agitate the submandibles - that promise greatness, with just a hint of danger.
It is the last of these pair of nouns I pondered as I found myself tripping down St Martin’s Lane at 8am, on the morning that the countdown to East London’s sportsday ticked past 1000 days to go.
In my hand, an invitation to toast this occasion, to parley “with refreshments” with Kelly Holmes, Seb Coe and company in the National Portrait Gallery, to find out first hand, how the sporting elite fuel up. I wondered if anyone would be in shorts.
As I turned into Trafalgar Square, a phalanx of corporate sponsors were inserting Dame Kelly into a hot air balloon. Waving a cheery, flaming, helium bye-bye, she was released, bemused but beaming into the morning air. My appetite soared with her.
Here I was, a revolving door away from real Olympians and lottery funded catering. My imagination was going to town. There’d be gymnasts mainlining carbs; isotonic grapefruits; Greco-Roman wrestling in Ready-Brek mud-pits. I stood on the threshold of once-in-a-lifetime breakfast experience.
Or so I thought.
But settling into the assemblage, something was wrong. The NPG’s Ondaatje Wing, an all-mingling, cutlery-precluding Corbusian temple of geometry was to be our dining room; vacant box-office workstations our breakfast bar. There was no smell of victuals. The ambience was an appetite-suppressing soundtrack of singsong cultural burblechore and profane media hum. Nobody was holding a plate.
Panic shot from stomach to brain. Then Jonathan Edwards arrived. He was wearing a broad grin and clutching a Pret a Manger bag from which he pulled an egg bap. He clearly knew something we didn't.
Groping for the refreshment table, fears coagulated. Wineglasses, cups, saucers... There would be. No food. I was facing a liquid breakfast. Not the good kind, either, as although the pinkish tinge of the orange juice winked kir-royal I held little hope of feeling that delicious lightening behind the eyes, the gift of a pre 9am cocktail. The coffee was doping-scandal strong and Motherwell brown. I couldn't finish a cup.
And that was it. Someone asked if I wanted apple juice. But I was too sad to answer.
Empty and dejected. I chastised myself for not checking the IOC’s breakfast guidelines, for too readily subscribing to the Olympic ideal of Little Chef.
I glimpsed Clive Woodward, striding through the throng. Here was a man who looks like he starts his day with a weak fruit tea and four John Player Specials. But it made me start. He also looked like a winner.
Maybe, I reflected, there's more to this. Maybe the breakfast isn’t wrong, maybe I am wrong. These are go-getters. An egg for them is not for poaching and covering in béchamel while you’re in a dressing gown at ten to twelve. It’s for putting raw in a spoon, and running 26 miles without dropping. No fuss, no mess.
As a nation, we mistrust mollycoddled or sports-scienced sporting stars, in the same way we mistrust avocado in a full English. Sure, it may be the right thing to do, and if we gave it a whirl it may give us an edge against the Swedes, but it feels like cheating.
We respect a noble loser. Likewise we only really respect a certain type of champion: the Chariots-of-Fire, leave-the-bag-in, stir-it-with-a-biro, knock-it-back, squeeze-in-the-paper-round, hitch-to-the-stadium, three-gold-medals-and-back-to-the-village-in-time-for-Countdown Champion. Come 2012 that’s who should carry the torch.
I felt like doing a star-jump. I vowed from now on to eat all my food in bar form. I left feeling lighter, sportier. I caught the bus home, had a bacon sandwich and went back to bed. Maybe these aren’t my games. There’s always Rio 2016.