Regardless of who heads the medal table come the end of the Olympics, Hammadou Djibo Issaka’s efforts, if not his name, will be one of the defining memories once the competition is over.
The rower from Niger, a country many will never have heard of and even more would struggle to place on a map, finished a full 1 minute 39 seconds behind the winner in the men’s single sculls repechage, having only taken up the sport three months before competing.
The crowds cheered his row to the end, and Hammadou ‘won the hearts’ of many of those there.
This is a wonderful symbol for the Olympics and magnifies how, sometimes, just sometimes, sport can be a mesmerising and wonderful thing. Had he completed the same feat back in Niger, we would probably not have heard, but if we had, there might have been a scoff, a snigger, or ignorance altogether.
Yet the Olympics being held on our own soil reduced the geographical and cultural distance to the extent that thousands of people were cheering him, applauding his endeavour and for a moment realising the reality that lies behind the difference between nations, whilst becoming swept up by some kind of intangible human spirit.
And this restores a certain faith in humanity.
When we look at the news, the pictures transmitted are often so foreign and unintelligible, the places and circumstances so distant, it is easy to distance oneself from what is going on, and extricate oneself from the responsibility of action.
It is like the man dying alone on the desert island. In the first scenario, we live so far from him that we do not even know of him and thus cannot save him. In the second scenario, we are on a ship sailing past and choose not to save him, thus making us as culpable for his death – through inaction – as the man who stepped off the ship and laced his water with poison.
What Hammadou from Niger told us was that we might just after all be the kind of people who would get off the ship and save the stranded man. The only thing stopping us from doing so is distance – both physical and cultural, if not empathic.
For a moment, with the crowds cheering on a stranger from a strange land, for all the thought and effort that has gone into planning ‘legacy’ and ‘integration’, we had a global village in microcosm, if only for a fleeting moment.