Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Olympic Countdown #3

Anywhere, Any day, Any year

During the Sydney Olympics, my wife and I were driving back from doing some shopping when the call of the final of the men’s archery final came on the radio.

Now my experience with archery is that I once shot an arrow in my Year 9 PE class, and I have also seen a few Robin Hoods movies. If someone were to say to me, “Hey the 10 greatest archers of all time are going to be competing just down the road on Saturday, wanna go watch?” I would respond with a shrug and say well that was the day I was planning on doing nothing, so sorry can’t make it. But on this day while I was driving on the way back from the shops, Simon Fairweather of Australia was in the lead going in to the final rounds and so suddenly it mattered.

Archery I’m thinking is not one of the all-time great spectator sports, and listening on the radio probably isn’t the best medium for capturing whatever it is about archery that is enthralling to people who are enthralled by archery. But on that day the call was riveting; in fact we kept driving around just to keep listening. When the commentator announced Fairweather had made his final shot and secured the gold, I blasted the horn and cheered in my best Homer Simpson style, Aus-tra-lia! Aus-tra-lia! Aus-tra-lia!

This type of thing happens all the time during an Olympics. Moments for which beforehand you would’ve given tickets away for free, become afterwards “I wish I was there” moments.

They often involve upsets – Jon Sieben wins the 200m Butterfly in LA (remember when an Australian winning one swimming gold was considered incredible) – or an indelible moment – Bob Beamon jumping 8.90m in the Long jump at Mexico City (breaking the world record by 55cm or improving it by 6.5%) – or a moment which by itself means little, but combined with others means everything – the men’s USA team win the medley relay in Munich, giving Mark Spitz 7 Gold.

The Olympic Games are bizarre that way: every event is worth watching; each moment is at the very least an “I’m glad I was there moment”.

One of the reasons for this is that the Olympics have a strange way of making experts out of everyone. I really don’t like women’s gymnastics – any sport that requires music playing gives me the shudders – but if it is on this next fortnight, I’ll look at someone running in to do the vault, and after she has completed her double back-flip Chernenko with a Dostoyeski twist-pike landing, I’ll shake my head and think, nope her knees were slightly bent and the pike really needs to be higher when you’re doing the Chernenko... hmm I give her 9.765.

This affliction is doubled during the winter Olympics, when you find Australians throughout the country who have never seen snow and who haven’t ice skated since their Year 8 excursion to the Payneham ice-rink, will while watching the figure skating tell whoever else is in the room that the skater totally nailed her triple axel but absolutely butchered her double lutz (and her costume doesn’t really complement the music, score her 5.7).

The thing about the Olympics is that beforehand there are always complaints about the traffic, the security, the smog, (ok, justified in Beijing), but when the competition begins that’s all that matters.

There’s just something about them – an Australian is in the lead in the rifle shooting? I don’t like shooting, I never want to own a gun, actually I hate guns, but HURRY UP and cross to it! Oh he’s shooting from Station 5; that was the toughest one during the preliminaries (because of course you watched the preliminaries).

You could have the exact same 8 runners as will be in the men's 100m final running in the Melbourne A-series event in January and you'd get around 10,000 spectators and not a chance of it being telecast live. And yet in a couple weeks time around a million people here in Australia will watch the race even though it'll be on about midnight.

Why does this happen? Simple. I mean, it's obvious isn't it?

They are THE OLYMPICS!!!! There's no need to analyse; just accept and enjoy.

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