09 August 2008

Chairman Meh: the belated Sport Is A TV Show Olympic Preview

Let's get it out of the way, then: the opening ceremony, eh? What a load of crap.

I say this even without having watched it because it's always crap. Seen one eighteen-hour fireworks-and-giant-costumes-and-mass-formation-dancing-and-athletes-walking-around-the-stadium-fest, seen 'em all. It goes without saying that this was the biggest, most craptacular fireworks-and-giant-costumes-and-mass-formation-dancing-and-athletes-walking-around-the-stadium-fest in history and the world is abuzz with how well-spent the $983 trillion dollar outlay was. No doubt Yao Ming carried the torch into the arena while wearing a sweatshirt with a diamond-encrusted portrait of Mao on the front.

Anyway, the art of the opening ceremony was perfected in the 2006 World Cup when a group of German gentlemen in lederhosen stood around in a large circle, each ringing an enormous cowbell dangling from their midriff in a synchronised salute to Sigmund Freud. You'd be mad to try and top that.

Yet, astonishingly, organising committees seem to think that they can - nay, must - put on a better display of quasi-nationalistic eye-poking than the last lot, as if engaged in a globally televised international pissing-up-a-wall contest. No sooner had the madness ceased this time around than the British Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, was desperately seeking to reassure the majority of her compatriots opposed to the staging of the 2012 Games in London that their gigantic display of pretty colours and vaguely interesting lighting effects would actually bring about heaven, heaven right here on earth!

Still, it's over (until the closing ceremony, anyway - the bastards have you every which way). And hooray! Two weeks of sport! Wonderful, magical SPORT!!!

And yet, and yet...I can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by it all. I'm not as giddy about it as before a World Cup, say, or on the discovery of an Iceberger in the freezer when you thought there were none left. The whole deal about it being held in a country in the thrall of totalitarian regime which reveres a man responsible for more deaths than any other individual in the history of humanity...call me squeamish, but that kind of sits uncomfortably with me.

The time difference is a problem for the Greenwich Meridian-straddling sports fan, of course, but though it would be churlish to complain about it ("Dear Mr. Rogge, I am incensed that you have not seen fit to force the Chinese government to adopt Irish Summer Time for the duration of the Olympic Games..."), it does make things damn awkward. I'd love to watch the preliminary round of the softball, I really would, but I quite like to sleep. Sorry. Maybe I'll get reincarnated as a US TV network.

Then there's drugs, corruption, freedom-of-speech issues, drugs, drugs and drugs to factor into the equation, which if plotted onto a graph would come out as a big frowny face. Sigh.

I've usually experienced the games (I'm aware how lame it is to equate sitting on a sofa watching the TV with 'experiencing' anything, but bear with me) by just diving in, but in an effort to stop the thing from passing me by completely, I've decided to plot my course beforehand by picking out the events I, in theory, am looking forward to. And, lucky you, here is my guide to stuff I might like if I'm awake and it isn't rubbish.

Swimming Or as it's usually known in my house, 'I can't wait 'til this shite's over and the athletics starts'. There are only two reasons to watch swimming: (a) a compatriot has improved at a suspiciously rapid rate in the years leading up to the Games and you might get the chance to hear a horribly mangled version of your national anthem a couple or three times in the opening week; or (b) some mad bastard has come up with the crazy notion that he might win eight gold medals. I really hope Michael Phelps succeeds, and that after his final gold, he runs across the pool. And that he's not on drugs.

Track cycling I've had a fondness for the British track cycling team ever since Chris Boardman's astounding individual pursuit victory in 1992, and his and Graeme Obree's tussle for the hour record in the mid-'90s. Since then, they've developed into a multi-headed medal-grabbing behemoth, obliterating all comers at this year's World Championships (albeit on a home velodrome).

Displaying the kind of clear-thinking for which sports administrators are so widely reknowned, the 1km time trial has been scrapped. However, we still have the pursuit, the keirin and, best of all, the sprint: a brutal one-on-one test of nerves as each rider waits for the other to make the first move before a dash to the line. Note this: cyclists in some events reach 70km/h, and track bikes have no brakes.

Football No, the Olympics is no place for a glorified under-23 world championship. But there are at least some teams who really do give a damn about it, and Messi and Ronaldinho and Agüero are there, and besides, it's football. Of course, there's also the women's tournament, which is unequivocally significant, and it's got Marta.

Tennis Definitely shouldn't be in the Olympics. In fact, I think they should cancel all tennis - all sport - because nothing will live up to you know what. I'll be watching this mainly because the US Open is on a station I don't have access to, and I have to stock up on mental pictures to accompany the radio commentary from Flushing Meadow.

Basketball In the late '90s and early part of this decade, an Irish TV station would broadcast highlights of the big NBA game of the week, and got me hooked. Then they dropped it, and it is now only accessible in Ireland if you live on a big hill within spitting distance of the border, where you can pick up the British channel which holds the rights. Given that my only source of quality basketball is via nba.com's 90-second highlight reels and internet radio commentary, the chance to properly see what all the fuss is about regarding Lebron James, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard is quite exciting.

Diving I have no clue how to tell a good dive from a slightly worse one (you're expecting a Ronaldo joke here, admit it), but it just looks cool. Plus there's the great story of 14-year-old Tom Daley, the youngest of this year's Olympians.

Hmmm...let's counteract some of the dangerously pro-British sentiment expressed so far...

Athletics I've nothing against British athletes, mind you, but quite a bit against Auntie Beeb's track and field coverage. During the Atlanta games in 1996, there was plenty of criticism of the US media's habit of going on at length about the plucky American who finished in 36th while neglecting the foreigner who performed so well that the heavens parted and he was lifted up to sit on God's right-hand side. The BBC don't go quite this far, but, while focusing on their own is understandable, the degree to which this is done, in combination with their addiction to the immediate post-race interview (when an athlete is at their most articulate and mentally alert, of course) makes viewing frustrating. Or maybe I'm just wilfully petty (there's no 'maybe' about it).

Athletics was my first real sporting love, but it's lost some of its sheen. When you're half-expecting a sub-nine second 100m race, it'll do that. I'll still watch; out of habit, I fear.

The Irish Of Ireland's last six Olympic medals, one was won by a doped-up horse,and four by someone who subsequently gave a drug test that smelled like a distillery. Now that we've used up our secret weapons, even one medal would be cause for celebration. My hope is that as many Irish Olympians as possible can excel and put in the best performance of their lives.

Despite my Beeb-bashing, their coverage looks pretty spectacular. As well as broadcasting on BBC 1, 2 and 3, their interactive service will show up to six different events simultaneously. They also commissioned this, of course. It's almost enough to make someone enthusiastic. Hello, caffeine poisoning.

Horse by Ted.


Steve 12/8/08 4:13 PM  

You strike me as young to be such an accomplished curmudgeon. Well done.

We've been too busy to catch much of the action, but the swimming has been a prime time focus, at least. They did a profile of Phelps last night; the guy literally eats, sleeps and swims. He consumes roughly 11,000 calories a day just to keep his weight from dipping below 12 stone. That's understandable when you're doing hundreds of lengths every day.

I see where Padraig did it again. Nobody was paying attention this time, though. Still, it's quite a feat.

Back to the games: may you find yourself surprised to be seduced again by them again. I'm ready to be myself, but then it's not really a surprise that way, is it?

fredorrarci 13/8/08 12:02 AM  

I must be in a better mood than I was on Saturday, because I'm kind of enjoying it. There's a pleasing depth of coverage: if you don't like what's on BBC One, then one of their five other streams will probably have something good. Then in the evening (middle of the night, Beijing time) RTE have a two-hour round-up show with the best bits from the day and a bit of Irish focus, with some terrific analysis for those of us not so familiar with the given sport. Between live stuff and highlights, you could watch the games around the clock if you wished.

Phelps' quest is captivating. That relay was something else (good lord, that last leg by Lezak...). I'm surely not the only one to feel inadequate while watching him.

I was charmed the cross-country from the three-day eventing yesterday, and I caught some of the men's team gymnastics today...wow.

So far, the cynicism has receded somewhat and been replaced by the warm fuzzy glow of top-class sport. Perhaps I need some more practise at my curmudgeonliness.

No doubt there'll be a soppy post of repentance at some stage during the fortnight.

As for Pádraig - didn't get to see it, but listened to it on the radio. It's stupidly exciting, the zone he's in right now. If only there was another major in a few weeks, instead of having to wait until April. There's probably a post to come on this too.

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