We can forget (probably never to recall) the names of Chinese divers, South American gymnasts, East European heptathletes.
We can allow our anxieties about the ambiguous rules of the keirin to fade. Along, perhaps, with our recently renewed understanding of the complexities of the omnium and the tactics required in its concluding points race.
All this and more we can set aside until Tokyo. While allowing more familiar entertainments like the return of league football to assuage the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. At least we have nightly highlights from the Vuelta a Espana to bring us down gently.
“The Olympics,” one of my friends asserted in his Facebook status, “is stupid.” Deliberately contrarian, perhaps, but no doubt Ben has not been alone in that opinion these past few weeks. It’s a view I once held myself, and I can still partly understand it.
Back in 2005, when London was awarded the 2012 Games, I stood against the grain. I was convinced that hosting them would be a huge cost with little benefit. I was right about the first part. And all the joys and razzmatazz of London and Rio haven’t changed my mind on a few points.
The Olympics is too big. Much too big. For some countries – and we have yet to see the full reality for Brazil – the cost of staging the Games is ruinous.
As with football’s World Cup, its unwieldy size and global profile make it a glorious opportunity for corruption. For commercial exploitation both legal and illegal, moral and immoral. For personal and corporative empire-building.
It can be an irrestible sporting attraction, as so many of us have found again these past weeks. But it’s impossible to keep track of it all, and there are sports that have no business being involved.
They are – and I’m hardly the first to point it out – all those games for which the Games is not the pinnacle. Tennis, in which the Olympics has become an unofficial “fifth Major” is perhaps one, however much Andy Murray may have thrilled himself and us by retaining his crown. Golf, in which it barely counted as a Minor, much more so. And as for football – well, could a mere Olympic final possibly give Brazil real satisfaction?
I can understand the frustration with the BBC, on whose airwaves there has been little else from opening ceremony to closing carnival. Coverage not just wall-to-wall but hedge-to-hedge too.
I have some nostalgia for Olympics past when we got to watch events with no British “medal prospects” involved. When we could just enjoy the skill and spectacle without being cajoled to root for one particular competitor or team. When we could get through the whole thing without having to endure endless playing of the most tedious national anthem in the world.
Or endless repetition of the question: How did we get so good at what we used to be so bad at? A question I can answer in one word. Money.
It’s not that Britons at large are any more sporty than we ever were. Rather the opposite. Just that our elite athletes and coaches, once ill-equipped amateurs, are now well-funded professionals. At least in some sports.
All the jingoism, all the self-congratulatory flag-waving makes me queasy. But some great moments will stay with me, I’m sure.
Like the climactic thrill of the GB women’s hockey triumph. The impish, imperious dominance of omnium queen Laura Trott. The nail-biting farce of the keirin final and the glee of Jason Kenny’s eventual victory. The sparkling brilliance of US gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman casually performing feats that ought to be humanly impossible.
For all its glamour, all its weekly controversies, the football season will have to go some to match up. The allegedly beautiful game is about to reassert its prominence. But at least for a little while the rowers, runners, swimmers, leapers, tumblers and paddlers got to claim their share of the limelight.
Now they can get back in their boxes as normal service is resumed on BBC1 in the shape of Strictly and Bake Off. While BBC4 can get back to showing science, arts and history programmes worth more than a few medals. And we can all remind ourselves that sport isn’t actually the most important thing in the world.