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  • Jacob Sweetman: A family affair


Jacob Sweetman: A family affair

The Sportsdesk is ignoring the missiles on the rooftops, the corporate pillaging of a city like the Vikings never went out of fashion and the hideousness of a fortnight spent looking at Seb Coe. For Natascha Keller the Games mean so much more.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: A family affair
Photo by Nick (chelmsfordblue; Flickr CC)

Much of the talk in the buildup to the London Olympics is about the Family. That group of companies held together under the Olympic ideals that fit so well into their usual, every day, jolly business practices. This collection of smilingly benevolent market traders have done well. They are Family. We are told so. It must, therefore, be true.

It’s not quite the Sister Sledge idea of family though, more the Charlie Manson one. Family pronounced with a massive capital F, and a demonic grin to go with it. As far as I know Sister Sledge never required surface to air missiles on the rooftops when they arrived in a city. They never required the building of the world’s largest McDonald’s either.

But I (and I suspect I am not alone in this) am trying to ignore the Olympic Family. Fortunately I live in Berlin, and not London, so the surface to air missiles are only in the vicinity of my actual family, and they, equally having never needed a single rocket launcher to be set up in advance of their arrival anywhere – they don’t count. In fact I’ll probably get sued if I try to refer to them as my family over the next fortnight.

I am trying to concentrate on the Olympic Games that I fell in love with as a kid, that beguiling mix of heady excitement and statistical frenzy. The hours spent watching the dressage, the archery, the modern Pentathlon. Time well spent picking up a favourite in the decathlon. Time happily wasted wondering what the person who came up with the butterfly swimming stroke was really thinking about at the time – it is the Aquarian equivalent of running sideways or climbing stairs on ones hands.

At its best the Olympics is a pure, unbridled joy to watch. Hours and hours of mindless competition, in a thousand sports one hasn’t watched for four years, and won’t again until 2016, iIf you like that sort of thing. The Sportsdesk unreservedly does.

So try to ignore the bullshit, the threats to normal people for having the audacity to try and use the word Olympics in their day to day lives. Ignore the omnishambles of the organisation, and the terrifying fact that this is what privatised police forces in the UK will actually look like in a few years. Ignore the incomprehensibly smug Sebastian Coe at all costs – and be safe in the knowledge that we all preferred Steve Ovett really.

There is a Berliner in London competing, however, to whom the concept of the Olympic family will be completely different to that of our favourite soft drinks manufacturers’. Natascha Keller really does come from an Olympic family. The former women’s world hockey Player of the Year (and Germany’s most capped player) comes from some fine stock indeed. Her Grandfather, Erwin Keller, was in the German team that got destroyed by an imperious Indian side 8-1 in front of 20,000 people in the final of the 1936 games, right here in Berlin.

Erwin’s son, Natascha’s dad, Carsten Keller, managed to top that, again on home soil, as he won a hockey gold in the horribly blighted Munich games in 1972. Her Brother Andreas repeated the gold in Barcelona in 1992.

So there was no little pressure on Natascha as her side reached the final in Athens in 2004. They had edged out the Chinese on penalties after an impossibly hard fought, fingernail tearing 0-0 draw in the semis, but now had to face a superb Dutch side who had already beaten the Germans 4-1 in the first round. It contained an edge of the 1954 World Cup about it, a tint of 1974 too- simply because no-one gave them a sniff of a chance against the Dutch. In 1954 Hungary had spanked the Germans in the first round, but improbably contrived to lose to them in the final. No one in the German squad would have been unaware of the precedent set by their footballing forebears – but for Keller it wasn’t just the weight of expectation on her shoulders. It was the weight of her family history.

She scored nervelessly in that penalty shoot-out against the Chinese, but it was the performance of goalkeeper Luisa Walter that dragged them through as she saved twice.

The Germans had taken the lead against the Dutch, but were under pressure constantly. They were constantly dealing with an Orange swarm, buzzing around them. Another great save from Walter had kept them ahead, when Keller somehow conjured a chance from nowhere, beating one, cutting inside and chipping the ball across the face of the goal. It took a deflection and landed to Franziska Gude who took a touch, moving the ball onto her backhand, and she spanked it home.

The commentator that day was the former French Foreign Legionnaire René Hiepen, and he summed up perfectly the release of joy and tension in that breath-taking moment. The Dutch pulled a goal back, but it remains one of those rare moments, the ones that the Games at their best are all about. His voice cracked like a chihuahua whose balls are dropping live on camera – this self-proclaimed tough guy squeaking in jubilation without a shadow of self-consciousness.

“Germany wins the gold medal. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”

Keller could believe it. She had been preparing for this day for a long time. That her little brother, Florian, went on to match the efforts of her, her brother and father (and almost her grandfather) in Beijing four years later merely added to the family’s hockey pedigree. She will be sitting in London now, waiting for the games to begin, waiting to lead the German team out.

Sod the Olympic Family. The Keller family are where it’s at. And the only missiles they need are the ones they send out with a sweep of their sticks.