Everyone has their one moment when they became hooked on sport. And whether it was ten or twenty or fifty years ago, everyone remembers it. Mine was the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. It was the first major sporting event I had ever watched and it had a profound impact on me. A couple of days ago, it was the 25th anniversary of the Closing Ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics and, without those Olympic Games, my life would, in all probability, have panned out entirely differently.

I was nine years old at the time of the Barcelona Olympics. I was fairly interested in sport at that point – played a bit of badminton, tennis and a few other things – but nothing obsessive. However, Barcelona ’92 changed all of that. I still remember watching the Opening Ceremony, with Steve Redgrave as Team GB’s flag-bearer.

That Olympic ceremony was the first time I’d seen the Olympic flame and realised quite how significant it was. The Paralympic archer, Antonio Rebollo, lit his arrow from the Olympic torch and shot the flame into the cauldron. I was mesmerised, and I remember being devastated when I realised it was all an optical illusion and he hadn’t hit the cauldron at all – he had in fact, overshot it and the cauldron igniting was done mechanically. And who couldn’t still sing ‘Barcelona’, the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat theme song to the Games?

Loading article content

Read more: Consistency not enough for captain Eilidh Doyle in 400m hurdles final

Just over a week into Barcelona ’92, Sally Gunnell won gold for Great Britain in the 400m hurdles. In the 53 seconds it took her to claim first place, she became my hero. I had a Sally Gunnell scrapbook and everything. And it was watching Gunnell that made me want to go to an Olympic Games myself. At that point, I had no clue what it took to get to an Olympics, nor did I, I don’t think, really believe that I would actually make it, but it was watching that race that sparked something in me. It took me twenty years to make it to the Olympics myself, but if it hadn’t been for Barcelona ‘92, I’m not sure I would ever have had that drive that was needed.

Almost everyone who has even a passing interest in sport has a similar moment when they remember sport hitting a nerve in a way that nothing else can. It might have been the World Cup, or the Open, or Wimbledon, but more often that not, that moment happened.

Watching the World Athletics Championships in London this week, it is easy to be cynical about sport. Justin Gatlin, a two-time drug cheat, robbed the world of the Usain Bolt retirement party that we all wanted which makes it all too easy to forget the magic that sport can produce. Half the joy of being a kid watching sport is that there is none of the scepticism and suspicion about any above-average performance that almost every adult now has. I certainly did not watch the Rio Olympics last summer with the same unadulterated amazement that I watched Barcelona in 1992 and while some of that is down to the fact that I am not nine years old any more, much more of it is that I watch many Olympic gold medallists and wonder if their performances are chemically enhanced.

Read more: Consistency not enough for captain Eilidh Doyle in 400m hurdles final

This is why so many now believe that hosting the Olympic Games is a pointless and vain waste of money. Certainly, it is hard to argue that London has had its £9 billion worth from the 2012 Olympics or that Rio’s problems have been solved by hosting last year’s edition. But it has to be remembered that sport does have an impact on people and, most significantly, it often has a life-changing impact on kids.

The recently departed sports writer, Frank Deford, once described sport as “the most significant cultural element in this imperfect world”. It is, he said, more of a devotion than a circus. In this, he is absolutely right. The Barcelona Olympics cost a fortune, it had its faults and there were medals won by drugs cheats. Yet it changed the course of my life forever.

I will not have been the only kid to have been impacted so markedly by a major sporting event – there will have been many others and there will continue to be many more. So yes, when someone like Justin Gatlin becomes world champion, it is easy to scoff at the value of sport. But there will have been kids who have watched London 2017 and become hooked on sport forever as a result.


There has been almost as much commentary on the BBC pundits at the World Athletics Championships as there has been on the athletics themselves. Michael Johnson has been, as always, honest and insightful in a way that few pundits are. Similarly, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s former coach, Toni Minichiello, has been interesting and entertaining. But some of the alleged ‘expert analysis’ has been utterly shocking. Some of the commentary on Gatlin has been unbalanced, to say the least, the treatment of Caster Semenya has been disgraceful and the grilling of the London 2017’s Head of Medical services on Tuesday evening was unnecessary and unprofessional. I’m a fan of the insight that former athletes can give, but an athletic career does not mean a free pass to say whatever you like.