MP Jeremy Hunt: No local stop-off for torch? Think again!

By Jeremy Hunt   |   MP for South West Surrey   |
Friday 30th July 2021 8:30 am
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Witley charity founder Dan Eley and Hampshire’s Roger Black, who won an Olympic silver medal in the 400 metres at the 1996 Atlanta Games, carry the Olympic torch through Godalming in 2012

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As the Tokyo Olympics get under way, I remember one meeting in particular in the run-up to the 2012 London Games, for which I was responsible as culture secretary.

It was to approve the route of the Olympic Torch, for which a map of the country had been unfolded and put on the large meeting-room table.

They had forgotten, however, that the first place any MP will look when shown a map is their own constituency – and when I did, I was disappointed, to say the least, that south-west Surrey was not included in the plans.

After some mumbles and coughs, they agreed to come back with a revised route.

Thus we ended up with one of my happiest memories of the entire Games as the torch was processed triumphantly through Godalming High Street on a wonderfully sunny afternoon, practically its last stop before heading to London.

The 2012 Games were a triumph for the UK in a difficult time for us as a nation – and I hope the same will be true for the Japanese who face the much greater challenge of trying to host them in a pandemic.

I thought their opening ceremony struck exactly the right tone with some awe-inspiring moments that showed off Japanese technical prowess with links to Japan’s ancient culture infused with its characteristic modesty.

As we celebrate our first gold medals, for me the most fascinating aspect of it all is sport psychology: I remember asking Lewis Hamilton how he spent the last half-an-hour before the start of a race.

I imagined some complicated routine to psych himself up but he told me he just slept, demonstrating, I suppose, his nerves of steel.

I once asked Lord Coe, a distinguished south-west Surrey resident, how much success in sport was down to physical prowess and how much mental strength.

Ninety per cent mental strength was his reply – which is surely why having a home crowd is such an advantage.

The other thing that struck me was the innate decency and humility of the athletes when you meet them during training, something I am always reminded of when I meet Farnham’s own Paralympic gold medal winner Rachel Morris.

Since the 2012 Games, Rachel and I have worked to create a permanent legacy for that glorious summer afternoon in Godalming.

With support from local philanthropist Larry Sullivan and local organisations like Sport Godalming, we set up the Surrey Para Games which are held annually at Charterhouse Club.

It has become the biggest disability sports event in Surrey.

We have had to pause it this year but hope to get it up and running again next year.

Even though the Olympics are happening the other side of the world, we are managing to capture some of the Olympic magic right here on our doorstep.

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