Olympics update, dateline August 7, 2012


I am enjoying the Olympics this summer.  They are chock-full of peculiar stories, and give me many a laugh and tear.



For example:



There was a badminton scandal. Apparently, eight players from South Korea, Indonesia, and China were throwing their own matches, in order to play against (and presumably beat) lower-ranked teams. The press threw up a couple of images of indignant badminton players, which were pretty funny; also there was a spate of badminton jokes on television. My favorite was: “Isn’t badminton something you play at your family reunion?”



A man with no lower legs or feet is competing in a track-and-field event. Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who was born without fibulae and had his legs amputated below the knees in childhood (see photo above), uses “running blades” to compete. He does pretty well. There has been a sniffy little argument about whether the blades give him an unfair advantage; they’re pretty bouncy, apparently, but they also give him a disadvantage at the beginning of the race, so it sort of balances out. And, says I, what’s stopping the other runners from having their legs amputated and using blades themselves? I know that I myself would not be able even to stand upright on running blades. So: good on Oscar Pistorius, as my British friends would say.



Doping has entered the GATTACA era. A Chinese swimmer won her race by swimming at unbelievable speed. An American official insisted she must either have been doping, or – more insidiously – undergone some kind of genetic modification. (This is all the rage at the moment – have you seen the trailer for the new Bourne movie?) The Financial Times ran a very sober article about this last week, citing the example of “Marathon Mouse,” which (after genetic modification) can run twenty-five times farther than an average mouse. This is creepy, and (to date) undetectable. Who can say what’s going on?



Upsets are fun to watch.  Why do we root for someone who’s already a champion? Isn’t it more fun to watch an underdog win? I hate tennis, normally – it’s just bip-bap-bip-bap to me – but I was lucky enough to tune in on Sunday just as Andy Murray aced his match point past Roger Federer, and I thought that was just fine. I hate to see the same six or seven people winning all the time. (Hear that, Michael Phelps?)



I’m baffled as to why some sports are in the Olympics and others aren’t. I’ve made fun of badminton today, and trampoline last week. One of my colleagues at work thought “canoe slalom” was a person’s name rather than an event. And yet: no lacrosse in the Olympics. No squash. No cricket. No camogie. (Usually it’s because they’re not universally played. Lacrosse, for example, is pretty much limited to the US and Canada. Cricket is popular in the UK and a handful of Commonwealth / former Commonwealth nations. Camogie – well, give yourself ten points if you even know what camogie is. But what about rugby?)



Now and then it makes sense to me why something is an Olympic sport. Judo and taekwondo, for example: it’s easy to train for these, and inexpensive – all you need is a bathrobe and a floor mat.  There were dojos everywhere in North Africa when I was there in the 1980s. Archery and shooting are modern transformations of hunting skills. Wrestling is about as primal as you can get. (Also, it’s fun to watch.)



I’ve been learning stuff every day through these Olympics. I hope it continues right through the closing ceremonies, when (according to the Financial Times) the seven young athletes from the opening ceremony will hand the Olympic flag over to seven elderly CEOs, who will bill back the young athletes for tuition fees.



More soon.



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