A long time ago I forgot all that crap they taught me at school in England about keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘don’t let your emotions get the better of you’, and ‘big boys don’t cry’.
A career as a sports journalist in Britain took me closer to the action than most ever get; ringside at major boxing matches, in the commentary box for big horse races, on the course for stunning golfing last-hole drama. And believe me, if there are two things that can make even the toughest guys break down, one is the birth of your first child, and the second is outstanding sporting achievement against all the odds.
Red Rum winning his third Aintree Grand National race, Muhammad Ali winning back the world heavyweight title for the third time, even (now Dame) Kelly Holmes’ double gold medal at the Beijing Games.
Well, for me, add to that list yesterday’s stunning achievement of Israel’s Noam Gershony winning the gold medal at the London Paralympics in the wheelchair tennis. A brilliant sporting success from the 29-year-old former Israel Air Force pilot who was all but killed six years ago after his helicopter crashed during the Second Lebanon War.
It’s impossible to even begin to imagine what Gershony must have been through; the trauma and heartache of losing his co-pilot, his own terrible injuries, and doubtless periods of wondering what he would do with the rest of his life under his new physical handicap.
But from bad has come good, and the pathway to Israel’s only gold medal in London at either games opened only two years ago when he discovered wheelchair tennis and found he was very good at it! A straight sets defeat of his American rival in the final took Gershony to an amazing gold medal, watched on closely by family and friends who had travelled from Israel to be there to cheer him on.
And when he turned to view the Israeli flag and the strains of ‘Hatikvah’ rang out for the first time at the games, it was more than Gershony could do to control his emotions and he broke down and cried; and so did I. And I’m proud I did too.
There are few things that compare to the emotion and pride in supreme sporting achievement, a feeling rarely felt by the Israeli population due to our pathetic investment in sport and sporting facilities, and the incompetence of the Israeli Olympic Committee and other ‘gentleman’s’ clubs such as Hapoel and Maccabi.
More than business or politics, sport successfully transcends borders, race and religion. The hugely successful London Olympics have brought the British public to a near ecstatic mood even in times of desperate financial straits and economic hardship. Israel is heading into a period of huge uncertainty and potential austerity, aside of the serious security concerns that surround us at all points of the compass. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to cheer on and admire for a change?
Noam Gershony arrives home tomorrow and should rightly be hailed a true hero, but not before he deservedly receives the honour of carrying the Israeli flag in tonight’s Paralylmpic 2012 closing ceremony.
If he receives what is truly due to him and gets a roaring reception at Ben Gurion Airport this toughest of men may cry again; something to be extremely proud of after Gershony conquered the most extreme adversity and topped the world – from a wheelchair.