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.