Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

And for the glory of sport, innit

I love voices.  A person’s voice says so much about who they are, where they come from, and how we should react to them. Voice is every bit as important as looks and dress, charm and intelligence in creating an impression. For the opening of the Olympics, you want to create the best impression possible. The selectors deciding who would speak  the Olympic oath must have had a hell of a job. Not only is the way the oath sounds important,  the message those people send about  everything else, who we are, what we stand for etc etc, is pretty important too.

The honour went to Sarah Stevenson, Taekwondo silver medallist at Beijing 2008,  Mik Basi, a boxing referee born at Newham, and Eric Farrell, who has an MBE for services to canoeing. I’ll leave the interpretation of their  performance up to you, but one thing’s for sure, their voices are nothing like the one heard in in 1948, the last time a Briton had to do it.

That time the job went to Group Captain Donald Osborne Finlay, a Spitfire pilot who’d fought in the Battle of Britain. He was  British team captain and a  hurdler who’d won bronze in 1932 at Los Angeles and silver in Berlin four years later.  You can see and hear Wing Commander Finlay here. His voice is clear, his articulation perfect RP (Received Pronunciation as it was once known), and listening to it is  a reminder of how much speech changes over time.

And, although they were ‘the austerity games’  at least some British pomp was on offer.

At the end of the Archbishop’s speech…the Choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus accompanied by the Massed Bands. While this was in progress, the standard bearers of all the nations formed a semi-circle …. At the conclusion of the Hallelujah Chorus, Wing Commander Finlay, Captain of the British Team and competitor in three Olympiads, mounted the Tribune of Honour facing the Royal Box, and holding the flag in his left hand, in a clear voice took the Olympic Oath on behalf of the assembled athletes. ….To end the formal ceremony, one verse of the National Anthem was played by the Massed Bands and sung by the choir, joined by all those assembled in the Stadium.

The Oath was introduced in 1920 for the Antwerp Games, following the 1912 scandal when American Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals having been paid for taking part in minor league baseball.  Sports historian Philip Barker   quotes the New York Times reporting that a “solemn vow on the flag is suggested as the best and only means of ensuring that competitors at the next Olympic Games are amateur”.  Before World War Two, the oath was typically taken giving an Olympic salute. This was modified after the war because of Nazi overtones. The  judges oath was introduced in the seventies and in 1999, the words”To refuse doping” were added. Not exactly poetry but it’s the sentiment that counts.

What did you think of the oath?

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2 comments on “And for the glory of sport, innit

  1. Claire Duffy
    30/07/2012

    Here’s an email I received in response to this post:
    “I remember the 1948 Games quite well, as it was such a novelty after all those years of war. I was 15 or thereabouts, and remember going to the movies and seeing the newsreels of the opening ceremony, with everybody marching in in a fairly military-looking way, ordered ranks and all that. Even in those days , that version of received pronunciation would have seemed terribly pompous, and I suspect,not only to Australians”.

  2. Claire Duffy
    30/07/2012

    “It was the speeches etc that got up my nose” says Mary Beard, classics correspondent for the Times Literary Supplement. Read her take on the event here:
    http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2012/07/olympic-opening-the-other-bits-seb-coes-speech-etc.html#comment-6a00d83451586c69e2017616dd7dac970c

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This entry was posted on 29/07/2012 by in Public speaking, Speeches on video.

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Speak For Yourself