Does Shakespeare have the winning words?
The challenge has been set, the bar has been raised - the competition is afoot. The nation has been asked to suggest inspirational poems to be inscribed throughout the athletes' village at the London 2012 Olympic Games in order to give our boys and girls a competitive edge.
It is not a new idea and if you take If as the modern standard-bearer of inspiring-poetry-in-sporty-places, not necessarily a very good one for us Brits. Two lines from Kipling's famous poem are written above the entry to Wimbledon's Centre Court that might well have served to inspire all sorts of wonderful tennis players, but conspicuously few of a British hue.
Maybe Kipling is a bit romantic and brings out our sensitive, terribly decent side. After all, if you treat triumph and disaster the same, why bother fighting for every point?
Perhaps we'd respond better to something that doesn't give houseroom to the notion of failure. And for that we need look no further than William Shakespeare. Frankly you could adorn the entire village with rousing Shakespearian passages (and thereby make it part of the World Shakespeare Festival), but I will point to two of the more obvious examples of his adrenalin-inducing rhetoric.
This from Julius Caesar (Act 4, Scene 3) where Brutus is discussing war with Cassius:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Or, if it's more of a rallying cry required, there's always the Henry V's speech in Act 3 of Henry V (edited for the most pertinent bits). A bit hackneyed perhaps, and the word English would need to be re-written to include the rest of Britain - but other than that, it should hit the spot.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
But if they insist on If, they should cut out all that triumph and disaster business and put this passage up instead near the cabins of the long distance runners/rowers.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on."