On My Mind

What I learnt at the Olympics

Beyond anthems and podiums, the Games extend our understanding of human accomplishment

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In the film Collateral, where Tom Cruise plays a hitman, he's talking jazz in a club with his unsuspecting next victim. The subject of conversation is Miles Davis, the talismanic trumpeter, and the other man, talking about Davis' singular focus, tells Cruise: "That's the way he was when he was in his musical headspace. Fierce."

It's how I remember the athletes in Tokyo. Fierce. And in an athletic headspace we'll never fully understand. This is the poker-face championship of the planet. This is not God-given talent; this is single-minded labour.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 15, 2021, with the headline On My Mind: What I learnt at the Olympics. Subscribe