Alan White's Olympics diary: The 2012 Olympics alternative awards

Yes, it’s the laziest of all journalistic tropes. But still, what would any sporting event be without an alternative set of awards?

The Gerald Ratner Garland for Brand Promotion Failure:

As the games have rolled on, these stories have died down, but there haven’t half been some crackers. For all the joy, one needs to remember that this is a deeply corporate event: the organisers were so desperate to snuff out un-Olympic sponsors they even taped over the handryers in the toilets. Even better, an official investigation was even launched into the athletes’ use of illicit condoms.

In this febrile atmosphere, kudos to this press release from RealStaffing recruitment agency: “If you are looking for the next Bradley Wiggins (of financial accounting) or Philips Idowu (of Project Accounting) to see your team over the finish line this summer then get in touch...”

But the winner is easily McDonald’s, with the bizarre stand-off over chip sales in the Olympic Park. According to business information group Precise, the company has generated net negative sentiment across social media over the course of the Olympics. Well done to all involved.

The “Hello, Harvey Weinstein? Have I Got An Option For You” Trophy for Inspirational Stories:

There are too many here, most involving women. Gemma Gibbons won silver from 42nd in the world, thanking her recently-deceased mother who had ferried her on public transport to every class. For Taekwondo medallist, Jade Jones, the people of the small Welsh town of Flint helped her raise funding.  Another competitor, Sarah Stevenson, lost both parents in the space of three months and suffered a devastating knee injury, yet still managed to compete. Boxer Nicola Adams – so skilful, so damn cool – worked as a painter and decorator and as an extra on Coronation Street  to finance her dreams. I also think this guy has to be in with a shout, just for managing to play on. Christ.

But anyway, the winner is diver Chris Mears. He was never going to get a medal. But in 2009, after rupturing his spleen and losing five pints of blood just before the Youth Olympics in Sydney, his parents were told their son had a 5 per cent chance of surviving the operation. You’ll pardon me for saying it’s not the winning that matters...

The “Damn, If Only Andy Coulson Wasn’t Busy” Plaque for Misfiring Political Involvement

There have been a number of successes which, in any other country, would be an almighty failure. Most people found Jeremy Hunt’s unfortunate bellend incident endearing and somehow managed to overlook his meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the pool. They did the same for Boris Johnson, and likewise giggled as he found himself suspended from a zip wire. Aidan Burley MP, it’s fair to say, hasn’t come out of the games quite so unscathed, but given he’d previously been known as the guy who went on a stag do where people dressed as Nazis, some would say merely being perceived as crass is a result.
But the overwhelming winner has to be David Cameron. It started with “The Curse of Cameron”, as the Prime Minister gamely sped around the events in the hope of spotting a Gold, ruining the dreams of scores of British athletes (apparently). It got worse when a photo was released of him watching the games at home. Cue a thousand people firing up photoshop for giggles. Then he said some stupid things about Indian Dancing in schools. And then someone found footage from prior to the games of him playing table tennis with Barack Obama. Boy, does he suck.

The Daily Mail Newsdesk Ribbon for Totally Missing the Point

Too many. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by columnists and online about how the Olympics tells us something New and Profound about footballers, as if every footballer is John Terry. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by the right on the death of competitive sport and on the left about how PE teachers are mean. The Daily Mail railing against mixed race marriages and papping the athletes. On the latter, the Guardian joining in. French protests against British cycling’s “Magic Wheels” (GB cycling performance director: “They’re very round”).  

The runner up? Piers Morgan. Complains about the national anthem not being sung by various athletes, is righteously slapped down, and to save face complains about a faked picture (you may recall why he left the Mirror).

The overwhelming winner: Surrey police, who arrested a 54-year-old spectator for a “public order offence”, saying he failed to smile or seem to enjoy the men’s cycling road race. He has Parkinson’s disease.

Other awards:
The Official New Statesman Shield for Olympic Spirit

In a field containing the British Men’s Eight going for gold and getting bronze rather than a likely silver, the classy Kirani James ignoring the faux-controversy and swapping bibs with Oscar Pistorius, and the various hugs, cuddles and kisses between competitors that followed every event, it takes something special to win. So (sob) I’m giving it to the thousands of Games Makers. Thank you, all.

The Instagram Hipster Rosette for Photography

So many here. Something dodgy in the water. Something else dodgy in the water. Usain Bolt’s photos after his win. Also, another photo involving Usain Bolt. X-rated action in the water polo. Team Rwanda at a bus stop. Ruben Limardo on the tube.

But I’m going to go with this picture of runners shimmering behind the Olympic Flame.

The Archimedes Presentation Salver for A Good Idea

Gary Naylor suggests that we should see gold, silver and bronze plaques on the walls of every medal-winners school.

The Fowler’s Modern Dictionary Bowl for Services to Language

Turns out “medal” as a verb dates actually back to Byron, but well done to the Guardian style guide for hoping this is the first occasion where people use “brink” correctly, rather than “cusp”, wrongly.

The Bert le Clos Silver Tankard for Heartwarming Parenting

Fending off stern competition from Aly Raisman’s parents and Chris Hoy’s mother, this goes to Bert le Clos. Let’s watch him again shall we?

That’s it: we’re done. I’d just like to thank my coaches, family, friends and...sorry, it’s all too much. Enjoy the Closing Ceremony everyone....

Want more? Jumbo Odds and Ends

The official London 2012 auction: everything must go.

The man with the wooden leg who won six gold medals.

Nice Vanity Fair feature on Olympic athletes of the past: where are they now?

Another great Olympic story: “The Flying Housewife”, from the 1948 Olympics.

Dr David Wright volunteered in 1948, and in 2012.

Is lactic acid to blame for Olympic pain?

Brilliant Ed Caesar piece on the Irish priest who trains Kenyan Olympians.

Nicola Adams’s dog watches her claim gold.

Best. Hashtag. Ever.

How would the ancient empires be doing today?

The BBC’s “20 things you may not have spotted” feature was excellent; so too its follow-up.

The physics of diving.

And the physics of cycling.

Steeplechase competitor’s awesome medal dance.

A love letter to the BBC.

How far do athletes travel?

Anyone else remember when high jump gold medal winner Ivan Ukhov competed drunk? (via 22 words).

Incredible Facebook album of 1948 Olympians.

The scariest British fan of them all.

Young athlete explains how he ran away from trouble last August.
 

The Olympic flame. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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“I see the world in rectangles”: Life as a Lego Master Builder

Nathan Sawaya stunned colleagues when he quit his job as a lawyer to play with Lego full-time. Now everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama’s a fan.

Nathan Sawaya is describing his favourite Lego brick, shiny-eyed and grinning at the thought of it. But he’s not a child proudly displaying a beloved toy. He’s a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer, and well over six foot tall. The brick he is evangelising about is a small 1x2 socket plate with a stud in the centre of its top. He calls this a “Jumper”.

“You know your Lego lingo?” he asks, looking crestfallen when I shake my head. “It has only one stud instead of two, and it allows you to do even more detail because you can offset the brick a little bit. But in general, I focus on the rectangular pieces.”


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Sawaya is one of the world’s eight Lego Master Builders, having left his job at a New York law firm when he was 32 to dedicate his life to building Lego constructions full-time. His most striking works include a torso of a man ripping his chest open with bricks spilling out, called Yellow, a lifesize T-Rex skeleton, a two-metre long model of Brooklyn Bridge, and replicas of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and Edvard Munch’s Scream.

I meet him in a dark exhibition space in a tent on London’s Southbank, where his works are lit up around us. His latest constructions consist of a series of DC Comics superheroes, so we are surrounded by expressionless Supermen flying around us, capes realistically rippling, and a full-size Batmobile with glistening batwings. His boyish eagerness aside, Sawaya himself looks like a comic book villain – a hulking figure dressed in black from top to toe, with a long black overcoat, piercing eyes and thick dark hair.


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Back in his early thirties when he was a lawyer, he would come home after a punishing day at work and do something creative – drawing, painting, sculpting with clay and wire. He soon began to experiment with Lego, constructing models out of sets he had lying around the house. His son, now 17, was never particularly interested in playing with it himself.

“Eventually I made the choice to leave the law firm behind and become a full-time artist who plays with toys,” he beams.

His family was supportive, his colleagues jealous, and his bosses confused – but it wasn’t long until Sawaya found success as a Lego artist. He has had exhibitions of his work on every continent but Antarctica, and gained some high-profile fans. When he was US President, Barack Obama posed with one of his installations – monochrome life-size men sitting on park benches in Washington – and Bill Clinton has a sculpture in his office, as does Lady Gaga in a music video.

“That is the magic of Lego,” he says of his popularity. “It has become a universal language in a way.”


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Sawaya’s Master Builder status means he can buy all his bricks directly from Lego in bulk – not possible for us Lego civilians. He used to buy sets in toy shops and on eBay when starting out; now he can email asking for 500,000 red 2x4 bricks, say, and Lego ships them to him on wooden pallets. He has six million bricks on hand at his studio in Los Angeles. “Millions of each colour and shape and size,” he says. “And they’re all organised by shape and colour.”

He works away for hours at a time in his studio, with his dogs obediently at his feet, in what he describes as a “trance”. He plans designs on special “brick paper” like graph paper, but sometimes he free-builds from his imagination. “I do often see the world in rectangles,” he says, and sometimes he even dreams in bricks.

Just like children do with Lego sets, he simply snaps the bricks together – though he does dab glue between each brick, which triples the time it takes. He describes it as “therapeutic”, but says making a mistake can be “heartbreaking” – he can lose days and weeks of work at a time. “There may be times where I start questioning my choices in life,” he smiles.


Photos: Copyright Jane Hobson

Sawaya faced snobbery from the art world when he first began approaching galleries as a Lego artist. “Oh, is that cars and trucks and little castles?” was the response. He feels it’s now a more acceptable medium. “It makes art accessible,” he says. “And in doing that, it democratises the art world a bit. It allows people to relate to the art. Everyone has snapped a brick together at one point, every child has played a little bit with Lego.

“As an artist, my role is to inspire. And what better way to do it than through a medium everyone is familiar with? If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but very few people have marble at home they can chip away at.”

The first Lego creation Sawaya can remember making was a little house, when he was first given the toy at the age of five. He then made a city that grew to 36 square feet. When he was ten, he was desperate for a dog. His parents refused, so he tore all his creations down and built a lifesize one. “It was blocky and very multi-coloured, of course,” he says. “But it was that ‘Aha!’ moment – when I realised it doesn’t have to be on the front of the box. It can be whatever I want.”

The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is on at Upper Ground, Southbank, London, until 3 September 2017.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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