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Olympics, Academy Awards and a beach

Old Course Hotel and Swilcan Bridge
Old Course Hotel and Swilcan Bridge
Ray Pearson

Olympics from another place and time echo in my brain even as feats of talent and endurance dazzle during Sochi’s XXII Olympic Winter Games.

It was at the 1924 Games of the VIII Olympiad in Paris that saw American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller win four medals (three gold and one bronze) and the official marathon distance set at 26.219 miles (42.195 km). It was also the Olympics in which British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell won their 100 meter and 400 meter events, respectively. The story of Abrahams, an English Jew running to overcome prejudice and Liddell, a devout Scots Christian running for the glory of God is told in the 1981 film, “Chariots of Fire”. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Score, written by Vangelis.

Visiting the location of the film’s iconic opening scene showing the British track team running on an angry and blustery beach had long been a goal on my travel list. A press trip to St. Andrews, Scotland provided the perfect opportunity for me to follow in some famous footsteps, most recently by Rowan Atkinson, Britian’s “Mr. Bean”, in his brilliant performance with the London Symphony Orchestra during the Open Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwzjlmBLfrQ.

As fate would have it, my hotel was just across the links from West Sands Beach, where filming took place. The weather was Scottish Perfect – overcast, a bit of rain, and very windy. With the haunting music in my ear buds, I reveled in several idyllic outings during my stay. The Old Course Links at St. Andrews is the cradle and crown of the golf world. As a municipal course, it is open to the public on Sundays and is popular with walkers, tourists, and leashed dogs. The last scene of the opening of the film shows the runners leaving the beach and crossing the first and 18th holes of the fabled greens. Their destination was the same as mine: the magnificent red sandstone building currently known as The Hamilton Grand, but doubling as the Carlton Hotel in the film.

The title of the film comes from a line in the William Blake poem, “Jerusalem”:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

The plural phrase refers to 2 Kings 6:16–18: And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.