Why you should watch the Olympics

One reason I like the Olympics, especially now the BBC red button is so heavily used for additional coverage is the.. er.. additional coverage that all the sports receive. So far I’ve watched a little basketball, fencing, archery, canoe slalom, badminton, weightlifting, boxing, cycling, swimming, and diving. That’s all before the athletics have started.

I’ve watched tennis and football too but they get enough coverage (thankfully there isn’t an Olympic golf contest!).

There is one thing that the BBC remain good at, and I guess it’s largely down to their researchers, is building stories into each event, adding personal backdrops to the unfolding drama and, for me at least, helping to drag you into the excitement.

Add in some skilled commentators who understand that their audience might not understand the finer points of the given sport and it’s an excellent combination (if only they’d managed to shut up during the opening ceremony, where they managed to spoil two surprises).

An example, the men’s cycling road race. At about the halfway point there was a breakaway of 3 riders. Now I’ve watched enough Tour de France to know that breakaways are difficult and that the peloton (the chasing pack) usually reel them back in (strength in numbers and all that).

However the breakaway pulled out a 30 second gap and managed to hold it. With a third of the race to go 2 more riders broke out of the peloton to try and reel them back in before the finish. They managed to get about 15 seconds out from the peloton but couldn’t catch the leaders. Then, with the race entering the final quarter, the last few kilometres, a lone Swiss rider broke from the peloton.

Now, this is a one off event, 3 medals and that’s it. Why the peloton didn’t work harder to catch the leaders I don’t know (there is an element of teamwork at play here too, with the Spanish riders in the peloton probably holding back because they know they have one of the front 3 riders).

Back to the Swiss rider then, and all of a sudden he’s catching the first 2 breakaway riders and no sooner has he done that than he starts to drag them up to the front 3. The kilometres are ticking down, surely the front 3 can’t be caught … but wait! there they are, just up ahead…

By now I’m on the edge of my seat. One man has to work VERY hard to close such a gap, surely he won’t have enough left for the final few hundred metres to the finish line, uphill!

6 riders turn the final corner, up out of their seats, legs pumping hard, lungs burning, adrenalin flooding their veins as they realise they could win! The Russian rider breaks into a sprint, but surely he’s too early!! The hill continues, the other riders are weaving hard now, focussed, determined, they catch the now fading Russian and pass him, the Spaniard edges ahead, the line approaches… HE’S WON!!!!

But what of the Swiss? Does he get anything for his efforts? Any reward at all? I’m desperate to know, unsure if he was beaten into 4th or managed to earn 3rd place and a coveted medal… the tension is killing me, come on commentator!!

He did it, he got bronze!! WOO HOOOOO

OK, so maybe I get a little wrapped up in such things a little too easily but I appreciate the effort, the training, the techniques and strategies at play, and not just in cycling. The mental pressures are as tough as the physical ones at times, and for some this is a one time only chance, the pinnacle of their sport.

How can you NOT be dragged into such drama? How can you possibly flick idlly to Eastenders or Big Brother when there is REAL emotion, real guts and passion on display.

Honestly, if you aren’t watching the Olympics you are some weird kind of cretin. It’s not about sport, it’s about passion, commitment and desire. It’s about despair and pain, about winning, about competing, about focus and drive. Tears, laughter and joy, not medals. It’s about being alive.

Isn’t it?

22 comments

  1. Oh, and I thought it was about getting to stand for 20 seconds wearing an Adidas shirt. Afraid I find the whole IOC concept repellent, especially for gravy-trainers like “Lord” Coe. Awarding the games to China with its vile abuses was the last straw for me and many others.

    Alan Sharp says it better than I ever could.

    Sorry to disagree Gordon, but then wouldn’t it be a dull world if etc.

  2. I was leaving that side of things alone to be honest Peter. I’m conflicted on it ya see, yes the ethos behind the Olympics is driven by large corporations but the athletes still have a right to compete, a passion for their sport, no?

    It’s a toughie, that’s for sure.

  3. I’m watching because my cousin’s son Matt is on the US Men’s eight rowing team. Go Matt! The Brazilian gymnasts were a joy to watch when there wasn’t any rowing.

  4. Oh dear. That makes me a weird kind of cretin. And proud.

    I’ve used my potential sport-watching time this week to be in the garden, play with Tom, walk around the village, do some baking, read a book and even do a little work. Plus lots of other things. I have not, repeat not, been watching the Olympics.

    I for one am not looking forward to 2012. I think it will be a great opportunity to show how we, as a nation, are particularly rubbish at this sort of thing. I’ll probably be abroad during proceedings and certainly won’t be watching it on TV.

    Yours curmudgeonly.

    PS – and another thing. I *hate* it when people say "we won a gold medal". No *we* didn’t. The athlete won a gold medal by virtue of hard work, lots of practice and a certain aptitude, possibly combined with a bit of good fortune. We as a nation can not and should not try to bask in the reflected glory of an individual or team effort.

    Harrumph.

  5. I have not watched one game, or even the famous faked ‘CGI’ opening ceremony. Just dont see the point of one bloke running faster than another, why? is there a fire?

  6. I agree totally. All the politics aside and the cheating notwithstanding, I love watching the drama and the moment of glory for these athletes. With it being on about 20 hours a day it does get confusing which events are ‘live’ and which are ‘earlier in the day’. And sometimes CBC and NBC will be showing the same events but at a slightly different time or order, just enough that you might miss the penultimate moment if you keep switching channels during the commercials. That is the challenge for the controller of the remote.

  7. I confess. I’m some weird kind of cretin. Haven’t watched a single second of the Olympics and probably won’t watch a single second of it.

    But then I’m not watching anything else either.

  8. I wrote a tirade here earlier denouncing your views as rubbish. Twice. And your blog didn’t post it.

    So I denounce your blog as rubbish.

    Ner!

  9. I’ve been watching lots and can’t help thinking if you multiply the number of athletes involved by the number of parents, grannies and grandpas, aunties and uncles, coaches, referees etc.etc. it adds up to A LOT of people who are more interested in sport than in wandering the streets stabbing people, and that has to be a positive thing.
    I also think that whoever is motivating the ‘British’ (now we won’t go there)team has done a sterling job as the interviews with the competitors in the face of the usual cynical interviewers have been spectacularly upbeat.
    Plus – Adrian Chiles should eh go back eh to the eh ‘One Show’ and eh leave the talking eh to eh someone who eh can say a sentence without eh saying eh! Driving me eh crazy. Will do the same for you now I’ve pointed it out I bet!

  10. How odd. Now my comment has appeared. Clearly you had to moderate it.

    I blame the Chinese. And the weather.

    Oh, and “mum” (if that is your real name :)), do you really believe that watching sport and stabbing people are the only two options considered by young people when they wonder how to fill the school holidays? My word, the Daily Mail does have a lot to answer for.

  11. So I’m not that big on the Olympics, preferring traditional rugby, cricket, blah blah blah.

    However as you write that I guess it’s because I don’t watch it enough, and watching clips (BBC iPlayer, wonderful) of the swimming, I totally agree with your point of view.

    For the rest, some thoughts, (of mine)
    – Yes China has a very poor record at say “being nice to their own people” however they are more in the spot light now more than ever, and change comes from strange places. Anyone who thinks sport can’t affect politics, have a look at South Africa, the world cup in 95 and Nelson Mandela.
    – When people say “we won gold” it’s an associative reference. It’s saying the team, player, representing my country won. People do it all the time “our town blah blah ..” Well you’re not the town planner right? Really it’s a nit pick.
    – I have no problem with people not watching a sport or the Olympics or what not. I find it curious how (normally, not you lot of course) people are so proud to let people know they have no interest in something, and specifically like to point out their lack of interest and how they are not doing being involved.
    – I can’t wait for 2012. I think the UK did a great job of the Commonwealth games in Manchester. I think London will surprise everyone and put on a fabulous British Games.
    – Compared to to all the ‘reality’ tv crap (an dI mean all off it from The Apprentice to the Big Brother to X Factor) this is actually inspirational. Competition can bring out the worst, but also the best of people. And it’s always interesting.
    – I wish I had a body like Phelps. There’s not an ounce of fat on that man.

  12. Back to the ‘us’ comments – I sometimes sort of wish that they showed the sports that ‘we’ don’t participate in. I LIKE sports that ‘we’ don’t participate in, because I get to learn something and I stop being quite as cynical as I can be otherwise. I like when the Olympics is on and I am in another country as you do end up watching sports that you didn’t even realise existed.
    On a similar note I would like it if they sometimes explained some of the sports you are supposed to know (yes, pommel horse, I mean you) as the commentator gasps and starts using all the technical words and you aren’t exactly sure what they mean. Channel 4 used to be good on that with its minority sporst stuff – they would use the time between, bouts or whatever instead of repeating interviews or gabbing on endlessly to show short graphics or bits of film that would explain the move, rule whatever.
    So, yes, enjoying, but well able to be improved upon.

  13. graybo – apologies, your (and a few other) comment did get moderated for some reason.

    donalda – I was chatting about Channel 4 doing that kind of thing just this lunchtime – I remember the start of a new American Football season (NFL) and they spent an hour explaining things, and continued to do so throughout the first few opening games of the season.

  14. Ha! I was thinking sumo and Kabbadi when I wrote that! I never understood NFL until I actually attended a game and then it sort of made sense: I had always assumed that they plays they showed where part of a whole bit, continuous game like football – only once I realised that they did actually stop and start ALL THE TIME did something click in my brain…
    I also wrote a huge, ranting comment on usability for your other site, which the internet decided to veto and swallow. DAMN!
    Kabbadi was ace, perhaps in part due to the way that everything was explained.

  15. also… peloton is a great word… would be word of the week if i could figure out how to worm it into everyday usage…

  16. Pingback: Olympic Thoughts
  17. I’m a bit late on this, but I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THE OLYMPICS. Yes, it’s great that Britain are doing well, but I would get totally lost in it anyway. I was in raptures at Nicole Cooke’s face as she crossed the finishing line in the women’s road race, and I’m still loving it now, as a younger, harder breed of British athlete is not content to simply finish second. As I have said elsewhere though, the thing I love most about the Olympics is that although winning is important, here above anywhere else, it isn’t everything. The guy who came last in the Triathlon and skipped across the line waving at the crowd has likely done as much training as the guy who won it and made just as many sacrifices. As De Coubertin said, it’s not just about the winning, it’s about the taking part (he said it in french, obviously). Who could forget things like Derek Redmond being helped across the line in Barcelona by his father after his hamstring had gone? Or Ian Thorpe’s backstroke bronze last time out, in an event he knew he couldn’t win, but he entered it anyway, and a multi gold medal winner was overjoyed to win “only” a bronze. Sport is brilliant. Brilliant. It’s the emotions of the winner and the losers that feed that, and I can’t get enough of it. Meanwhile, the Premier League has turned back up and given us yet another reason to be grateful of the Olympics.

    By the way, your comment:

    “It’s not about sport, it’s about passion, commitment and desire. It’s about despair and pain, about winning, about competing, about focus and drive. Tears, laughter and joy, not medals. It’s about being alive.”

    Is brilliant.

    From these comments, lots of people aren’t bothered, but I am, and I’m already rooting for Shazane Reed and that Tae Kwando kid to come back and do it all again in 2012.

    My favourite sporting moment ever? Pinsent’s coxless 4 winning gold in Athens. I was there! I was there! There were about 8 of us in a line, about 50m from the finish, and in our photos you can see how close they were with the Canadian boat, each one going ahead and falling behind on the stroke. Sensational sport.

    ST

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