An Olympics of women
Not only are all sports now open to women; the Games make it possible for women to be seen and to be objects of observation without guilt and apology.
1. The first sculpture that a visitor to the British Museum sees is Discobolus, the discus thrower − surely the best-known artwork of an athlete in the world. It’s a replica, about 2,500 years old, cast by the Romans from the Greek original. The athlete’s head was glued on from a different sculpture.
To the right of the foyer, in a side room − which is completely dark apart from one light source, as if for a theater performance − you will find Chinese artist Sui Jianguo’s version of the discus thrower (his work was previously on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum). It’s the same figure, with the same body tilt for momentum, but in a Maoist uniform.
Dressing the smooth, beautiful man in the working attire of a totalitarian society creates a bizarre, almost unfathomable, contrast between excellence and freedom and nudity, and obedience and uniformity. But it also enables us to understand anew the use that was made of the ancient sculpture to personify the Ubermensch in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, visualized by Leni Riefenstahl in her “Olympia” films.
Worlds meet and unite in the British Museum during this fine, well-designed, branded, fashionable and astonishingly attractive Olympiad, which seems to be more about the physical beauty of the human species than ever before. What’s become clear is that the discus thrower is an ideal that has passed. Women are the athletic ideal of London 2012. Not only because all sports are now open to women, but because the Games make it possible for women to be seen and to be objects of observation without guilt and without apology. The tremendous thigh muscles of Sandra Perkovic, the gold-medal winner in the discus throw, are a model of perfection.
2. Fulham Palace, the historic home of the bishops of London, is hosting an exhibition about the London Olympiad of 1908. We learn that the games were supposed to take place in Italy, but Vesuvius erupted in 1906. The Italians needed the money to rehabilitate Naples, so the British organized the games within two years and won 56 gold medals.
London also hosted the Olympics in 1948, and in the decades between Olympiads, the world changed. On the website of the direct broadcasts, an animated version of Mandeville − the one-eyed mascot of the Paralympics, which starts at the end of the month − waves a tennis racket as the site loads. But for me London is the gardens of Fulham, with their violet, red and yellow flowers, and the glittering grass, damp and green. A girl whose father scolded her earlier for leaving biscuit crumbs in the car picks a few yellow flowers and decorates the doors of the locked car with them. Look, she says in Hebrew, now it’s good!
3. Almost every shop in the city has a stand with official Olympic souvenirs: colorful rubber bracelets, key chains, packs of cards, mascot dolls, T-shirts, thin scarves. The graphics are young and contemporary. The Olympic logo is even elegantly imprinted on the edge of a chocolate bar, in a vending machine at the airport.
But the best display of the loveliest logo − a little behind the attire of the Team GB athletes themselves, designed by Stella McCartney − is to be found in the shops of the Next chain, with its comfortable, colorful, sensible clothes. It is the symbol of the British team: the head of the roaring, great-maned Pride the Lion, in blue and red. The shops carry lion shirts studded with shiny sparkles, and outside there are large posters with photos of female athletes running, throwing, jumping, pulling, hitting a ball, bending, arching, doing their thing.
In shop windows, billboards and magazines, this is an Olympics of women, of clothes, of physical health. A universe away from the heat, the difficulty, the fundamentalism, the anxiety, the control, the occupation and the hunger games between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.