We won the Rowing Gold Medals on the seas of Trafalgar

I was quite chuffed with the gold-medal for the coxless fours. I like the olympics because they show the basic spirit of sport is competitiveness, and despite our liking for some more than others, sports which enable us to witness and feel competition are always good to watch every four years or so.

Rowing is one of them; apparently, BBC commentator Alan Green names it as his favourite sport. I watched Redgrave’s attempt for a fifth gold medal in a packed pub at 1am in 2000, where the atmosphere was like an international football match.

It’s disappointing then to see people unable to celebrate it on simple sporting terms. Dan Topolski said in today’s Observer that the British performance in getting three medals proved “beyond doubt that Britain is indeed an island nation with a special affinity for water.”

Such idiocy can be easily disproved; actually, the water surroudning us is sea, which is too choppy for rowers. Furthermore, the island surrounded by this water is actually called land, which should mean we’re bloody marvellous at all the land-based events. Or something.

No, what he’s getting at is some cultural memory of our island status. I rarely hear invocations to our maritime heritage these days outside of The Spectator, or Eurosceptics waxing lyrical about the sceptre’d isle and armchair generals going on about the times when a British gunboat was a key diplomatic tool. This imperial legacy tends to go hand-in-hand with a lazy respect for colonialism and the civilising virtue of Empire. It also goes hand-in-hand with a vision of Britain as a monculutral nation. Topolski’s reference suggests some sort of affinty for the water from your natural born Englishman; writing in The Sunday Times, cricket (cricket?) writer Simon Wilde states “Britain’s athletes have again shown at the Olympics an island race’s talent for performing on water.” Goodness – it’s in our genes now (which will surprise most people who see the pedal boat prowess of Brittania’s finest on any municipal pond).

The main maritime legacy has been the constancy of immigratiopn and cultural cross-fertisilastion, which means Amir Khan might win the second Bosing gold medal in 40 years after Audley Harrison. A cultural memory of an island nation is held dear mainly by those who fear it is being flooded not by those surrounding waters but by modernity and people who tend not to go to public schools and who tend not to e white. It seems so woefully inadequate for a the country who those rowers represented, and so ridiculously pointless and disappointing. They rowed. It’s a hard game. They won. It was exciting. If you wanted to advertise the sport, that’s all you needed.

The kind of lazy conservatism evinced by these writers seems to mirror that you see from in cricket and golf amongst others. I daresay we’ll read of a crisis in rowing, of how there’s concern that it’s elitist, and not enough people are taking it upand those that do tends to be, well, posh and white. I wonder why?