Long Live the Queen and the Olympiads
By Ion Grumeza
This summer in London two main events will attract the world’s attention: the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the summer Olympic Games. British pomp and circumstance will remind the world that constitutional monarchy is alive and well, as it did celebrating Queen Victoria’s sixty years on the royal throne. While one hundred years separate the two jubilees, the biographies of the two queens have much in common: they reigned longer than other queens, married a prince in waiting, had many children, and ruled in peaceful times. From any point of view, both long lasting queens were bright, restless and adored by the world, regardless of their blunders.
Yet, there is a major difference between their reigning times, concerning the British Empire and its capital, London. Queen Victoria ruled vast lands in each continent from Canada to Australia, and from India to South Africa. London was a city of great wealth and culture. Its lira sterling (pound sterling) was the strongest currency in the world, a proud display of the British gold reserves, industrial achievements and unbeatable military power, while the English language replaced any other international languages.
But the march of time and two international wars changed the British Empire that had ruled one-quarter of the world, a legacy of Queen Victoria, into a United Kingdom of Great Britain, commonly known as England. Presently under Queen Elizabeth II, the insular country has the same square miles as Romania. When Elizabeth ascended to the royal throne in 1953, her country numbered some 40 million citizens with 200,000 non-whites. Immigration from former colonies and increased birth rates added another 20 million, and today the non-white population number almost 10 million. The famous commanding British accent is forced to tolerate ethnic sounds and the proud nation fights for its traditional cultural survival. Certainly, many things have happened in the century between the two diamond jubilees in England. However, one event from the past will be soon come about again: the summer Olympic Games.
London already hosted two Olympiads, in 1908 and 1948, both marking tragic events. In 1908 the eruption of Vesuvius forced Italy to relocate the Games in London. The Olympics of 1944 were postponed to 1948 because of WWII. In the first London Olympiad the British athletes took three times more medals than the second placed United States. This showed the vigor of the British society and its competitive power, which was also reflected in its economy and political influence around the globe. But forty years later Great Britain ranked twelfth in medal count. While Queen Victoria extended her huge Empire and her personal example glorified female achievement Queen Elizabeth II rules over a shrinking kingdom with serious domestic problems, trying to be a good neighbor of Europe and best friend to America.
A passionate spectator of horse racing, Elizabeth II had the pleasure of knighting Daley Thomson, a two time winner in the decathlon of the 1980 and 1984 Olympiads. The best all-round athlete Great Britain ever had, Daley’s father was Nigerian and his mother was Scottish. A product of the melting pot, British style, Daley’s knighthood shows that Her Majesty is proud of her outstanding subjects, regardless of ethnicity. As for the pomp and circumstance unique in the world, modern Britannia continues to rank in first place. The British Monarchy with its dazzling parades is going to be around for many more centuries, just like the Olympic Games.
© 2012 Ion Grumeza