Madeleine Winnett on the prospect of golf at the 2016 Olympics

Olympic golf, Ancient Greece and the radish deterrent...

I’m not sure what I think about the prospect of golf being played in the 2016 Olympics. As essentially I think I am a purist at heart, I would take the Olympics back to its origins with a bit of running, jumping and throwing, probably a spot of swimming, and perhaps the odd bout of wrestling for good measure.

Having said that though, wrestling can drag on a little. Apparently, one Russian Greco-Roman wrestler in 1912 was too exhausted to compete in the final after his semi-final took 11 hours!

I know I enjoyed watching Andy Murray outclass Roger Federer to win his gold medal, but I’ve never been terribly excited about tennis being included as the Grand Slams are the highest echelons of that sport, just as the Majors are for golf. I’ve never been excited about synchronised swimming, football or a whole host of other sports being included either, because, quite frankly, they just don’t feel Olympic enough somehow.

However, I cannot deny that standing on the podium to receive a gold medal must be the high point of any sportsperson’s career. After a Bambi film, and possibly a radish (more of that later) there is nothing more certain to bring a tear to the eye than watching someone choking over the words of their national anthem as the flag is raised.

Golf did previously feature in the Summer Olympics in 1900 and 1904. In the Paris games of 1900, American Margaret Abbott actually won the women’s gold but it seems she did rather less preparation for it than I suspect will be the case for two years time.

Margaret was in fact on holiday in Paris with her mother at the time, visiting the World’s Fair which happened to be on at the same time. She then took part in what she thought was simply a golf tournament to celebrate the Fair and returned home not knowing that she had become the first American gold medallist!

That clearly defines the amateur code of competitors then, but I am a little confused about the amateur/professional divide in the Olympics now. I always thought that everyone had to be amateurs to participate as I was growing up but that pretty much only seems to apply to boxers now which is a little bizarre. However, it seems that the ancient Greeks were also a little bizarre when you start digging into their culture.

For instance, unlike today, the nutritional plan of the early contestants seemed mostly to consist of eating cheese. And they always used to compete in the nude. Whilst I am quite grateful that we have now progressed to wearing clothing, it has to be said that some of the lycra items for men still only seem to be one step up from total nudism. Showing how far we have come from ancient nakedness though, if you wondered where all the streakers were at the 2012 London Games, they would have been fined up to £20,000.

‘Wanted, radish hammerer.’ Now, you are going to have to forgive me for my puerile sense of humour here, but I recently discovered that the punishment for adultery in ancient Greece involved hammering a radish (of all things) into the adulterer’s bottom with a mallet! Apparently radishes in those days were also a lot longer and a lot pointier than they are these days.

I also have to confess that I now feel a little inadequate. I have always prided myself on having a vivid imagination, but I would never even have come close to thinking of that one. The job application process must have been interesting.

‘Wanted, radish hammerer.’

Presumably, no previous experience would have been necessary, or that would have been seriously worrying!

On a higher note, I discovered a number of interesting historical Olympic facts. I am sure that many of you know that Johnny Weismuller, who won five swimming golds, went on to become Tarzan.

 However, you may not know that he used his famous ululating cry to win over Cuban rebels who attempted to kidnap him during a round of golf on the island in 1958. It didn’t say if he beat his chest at the same time.

Whilst I am hoping I won’t be in a situation where I am likely to kidnapped when on the course, I am definitely going to remember that one as a certain way to disconcert my opponents if things aren’t necessarily going my way in a match!

Thinking about it instead of asking the question, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ we should be celebrating all things Greek from now on. Emanating from the origins of their ancient naked romps, not only have the Greeks enabled us to watch some splendid sporting contests over the years, but they have also given us the solution to a problem which has plagued golf for years – namely the curse of slow play.

Instead of putting groups on the clock if they start to fall behind, if you had someone walking with each match who just happened to produce a radish from his pocket and shake it a couple of times in a cheeky manner whenever they started to drop off the pace, I am sure that would put a spring into their stride in no time at all!

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