29 JULY 1972, Page 21

Olympian view

Benny Green

Mount Olympus, Thursday Now that the Games are so very many upon us, there seems to be no reason to suppose that our original optimism, so buoyant when the team was first announded, should be dimmed by the imminence of the opening ceremony. There can be no denying that all our athletes, male, female, and hermaphrodite, acquitted themselves admirably at the spring trials, or that Father Zeus and his selection committee have chosen wisely and well. Indeed, had it not been for Alcestis's irritating mannerism of turning herself into an olive tree every time the Ladies' High Jump was due to begin, our preparations for this year's Games could have been described as quite perfect. Even at the most conservative estimate, it is difficult to see how we can fail to capture at least 45 golds. and I propose on this final eve-ofGames survey to discuss the six athletes, four men, one woman and one demi-god, whose victory in the next few days seems a foregone conclusion.

The prospects of Hercules in the Decathlon could not be finer, Having trained for so long on the basis of a Duodecathlon, and having established world records in all twelve events, it seems impossible to believe he will not shatter the field when asked to perform in only ten. Admittedly there has been considerable disquiet at his selection as team captain, presumably because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of Megara and the children. However, all those close to Hercules insist that there is nothing better calculated to equip a man for the onerous duties of team captaincy than to have murdered his own family. In any case as Father Zeus so sagely observed last week, at the official opening of the annual Swanhunting season, if we were to exclude from the team all those citizens who have been involved at one time or another in the murder of a relative, we should be hard put to find a team at all. Having weighed all the relevant factors, we remain confident that Hercules will bring to the task of captaincy that same impressive amalgam of penitence and patriotic fervour which proved so vital a factor in his record-breaking day at the Augean Stables, a feat which nobody who witnessed it is ever likely to forget.

In the Weightlifting section Atlas still stands supreme and judging purely on past performance there can be no doubt that he is a foregone conclusion for a Gold. However, reports have been filtering through to the oracle at Delphos that he has recently been plagued by severe misgivings about his own ability. Whether after all these aeons he is beginning to find his official burdens too onerous it is hard to say, but certainly he behaved in an uncharacteristically irrational way last weekend in the unfortunate Patroclus affair, when he fell upon an old friend who had happened to pass some perfectly innocuous remark about people who went around looking as though they had the weight of the world on their shoulders.

What is much more interesting about this whole business is the change it has revealed in our social habits, It seems clear that there is a growing tendency among the more intelligent elements of society these days to discount anything the Delrhic Oracle might say, and to attribute more significance instead to the newer sources •of chic sophistication like Homer, Herodotus and Robert Graves. Some sceptics have gone so far as to complain that if the Delphic Oracle were as smart as all that, there would be no need to hold the Games at all, but simply ask the oracle who was going to win. There is little doubt in this correspondent's mind that the decline of Delphos dates from that most unsybilline utterance it made on the day Paris abducted Helen, to the effect that there would be no war in Europe. So far as Atlas is concerned, we remain hopeful that when the psychological moment comes he will rise to the occasion as he always has done in the past.

We had hoped that by this late stage the eligibility of Achilles to compete in the Games would have been established once and for all. Unfortunately the persistent attempts of the Trojan delegation to have him disbarred from the 1500 metres because of his supposed semi-divine origins have had the accidental effect of delaying a decision on his amateur status. While we agree that it is extremely tiresome that any great athlete should be the outcome of a liaison between a god and a mortal, we fail to see what Achilles himself could have done to prevent it, and would indeed have thought that a man deserves to be pitied rather than victimised whose mother was in the habit of going around masquerading as a lion, a serpent and even, on one or two particularly scandalous occasions, as a cuttle-fish. Achilles's professional status is a more difficult point, and must rest on whether or not the payment to hini of a young girl called Chryseis, as a win bonus at Troy, can be construed as a surrender of amateur status. Achilles having since returned the girl to the Board of Selectors who originally gave her to him, we fail to see what there is now to stop him winning a Gold.

In the other races Hermes is well-fancied to retain his sprint titles, provided he is not disqualified for flying. The new ruling, by which all contestants are required to pinion their pinions, may inconvenience Hermes slightly, but surely not enough to prevent his victory. The same cannot be said of Icarus, and if, as at the final trials, his wings fall off in the middle of the High Jump, nobody will be surprised, except possibly Icarus. Finally there is the Marathon, and while we admit as readily as the next man (who happens to be Polyphemus) that this is the most demanding of all races, we take exception to the melodramatics of Pheidippides at the press conference this week when he stated that he would run until he dropped.

Odysseus will no doubt find some way of discounting the superior strength of his rivals in the 10,000 metres, though it is to be hoped that his methods will be more tactful than at the last Games, when he recruited Circe to transform all the other runners into geese on the eve of the race, since which time all the said geese have been sitting as members of the selection committee. Our leading woman is, of course, Atalanta, the shock loser at the last Games. Yesterday in a syndicated interview she was quoted as saying, "To hell with the fruit. This time it's gold medals, not gold apples." We sincerely hope so. Two last points: it was a great honour for us that Orpheus should be invited to compose the Victory Hymn; and for those looking for straws in the wind, it was noticed that when Father Zeus said to the athletes as they departed for the Games, "The important thing is not to win, but to compete," Odysseus was heard to murmur to Circe, "In a pig's ear."