Watching the Olympics

12 August 2012
Although I wasn't planning on doing so, I've watched a whole bunch of the recent Olympics. What can I tell you, except getting back into the workforce is taking a little longer than planned. Yes I know the whole thing is a shameless marketing exercise, imposes insane restrictions and long term costs on the residents of the host city, is an environmental nightmare and plays politics. But I'm still a sucker for the uncertainty of competition, the pageantry, the history. Oh, yes, the history:
  • The first modern Olympics were held in 1859, but they weren't acknowledged until the IOC got involved in 1896.
  • The spirit of amateurism, long a cherished Games ethos (though recently abandoned) was rooted in the notion of the aristocratic gentleman athlete who had the time and funds to pursue his hobby.
  • The first torch relay was held in 1936 as a means of the new government promoting National Socialism throughout Germany.
  • The first athlete to fail an Olympic drug test was a Swedish pentathlete, who was stripped of his bronze medal in 1968 for use of that famously sports-enhancing drug, alcohol.
  • 1964 was the first Games to be televised live internationally. Previously, tapes had to be flown overseas for viewing, a policy Channel 9 paid tribute to in their delayed London 2012 coverage.
  • Hitler nearly missed the 1936 opening ceremony due to his shocking piles, and spent the entire thing in considerable discomfort. 

  •  (All right, I made the last one up). But the Olympics are pretty weird. Consider the sports featured. The world's most popular sport, football, is featured along with tennis, but both are also-ran competitions of little import on the world stage. Bowling, cricket and netball are not featured at all (and who wouldn't want to see a cricket competition made up of five day tests played in a round-robin format). The sports that are featured tend to lean heavily towards those enjoyed by the, shall we say, more affluent. There's no bowling, but sailing and equestrian events feature heavily (please stop me if you've ever met anyone - anyone at all - who participates in dressage; my stepfather gamely sat through the horses doing their little dances, waiting for the warm-up to end and competition to start, only to be told that that is dressage). "Walking" is a sport, but it resembles no walking any normal person without a nasty case of crabs has ever done. Then there's rowing, and canoeing. God knows why sticking both ends of your oars in the water and once, and sticking them in one at a time, should be separate sports. And what happens if a young athlete shows promise in both disciplines? Do they lie awake at night tearfully contemplating the choice they have to make, the vastly different paths their lives take? What do they do? Plus they have the option to stick the oar in on one side only whilst up on one knee. I've no idea how anyone ever makes a commitment with so many options. I do love rhythmic gymnastics, but let's face it, dancing with things shouldn't be a "sport" whilst roller derby isn't; let alone dancing in water. Beating someone into unconsciousness would also seem to be against the supposed spirit of peace and harmony.

    Anyway, the whole thing's coming to an end now, and the Australian team will soon head home to the various breakfast television interviews or recriminations, depending on performance. There's been much discussion in particular on the lack of expected medals from the Australian swim team. Several swimmers have been heard to remark they don't know what went wrong. I would have thought it was fairly obvious that what went wrong was they didn't swim fast enough, which leads me to hope one day basic physics will be included as an Olympic event.


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