And so, a couple of weeks after the cauldron at London 2012 was extinguished, I finally catch up and pen my random collected thoughts on the Games. With appropriate apologies to real sports writers who write columns such as these, I present EPO’s parting thoughts from the couch on the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
- “Catch up” is a most appropriate term for my responses to the Games, as much of the viewing of the Olympics in Chez Olsen was done on Foxtel’s iPad app, which included a “catch up” section. Here, viewers could skip straight to any medal events, events with Aussies in them, or matches from team events from the quarter-finals onwards. Apparently, the BBC had the same function in Britain. May Australia’s free-to-air carriers learn how to use the technology to such effect within the next four years.
- “Catch up” provided Mrs EPO and I with one of the most nerve-wracking sports viewing experiences we’d ever had. Deciding one night that we had about 30 minutes to spare before bed, we thought that we’d check out the men’s triple jump final – but skipped forward to watch the final three rounds. When skipping to round 4, we noticed that we could, if we wanted to, jump straight a particular moment during round 4 which was entitled “Terrible Injury”. Seriously: try to resist partly covering your eyes with your hands and developing a knot in your stomach as men take turns sprinting down the runway when you know that one of them is going to cause themselves serious damage. By the time Leevan Sands of the Bahamas started running, we knew that he had a 25% chance of being badly injured as there were only 4 jumpers to go. Sure enough, his patella ended up in a most uncomfortable position. The fact that we knew something was coming meant that it was as memorable an Olympic moment for the two of us as any other.
- I can’t remember if I asked him or if he asked me, but I remember a conversation with Dad many years ago where we both answered one of those nice hypotheticals: “What sporting moment would you most like to experience?” I can’t remember my answer, but I remember his because it completely outstripped mine. He said that walking the 18th hole at the British Open, with a lead of about 10 strokes and a short put to finish off the victory, would be perfect: the galleries swarming around you as you strolled up the last fairway and everyone in the stands rising as one as you approached the green. What an awesome response. This Olympics, I learnt what I thought the opposite might be: being knocked out in the early rounds of the Olympic high jump or pole vault when you thought you had a serious chance at a medal. As the women’s high jump progressed, the number of eliminated competitors in intermittent tears as they sat and watched their peers continue to compete kept increasing. One even had to stand at attention and sing her country’s national anthem while appearing as if she just wanted to run away and hide.
- Can everyone stop fussing about the gear that the female beach volleyballers wear? Most of the blokes this Olympics were checking out the chicks in the main stadium anyway – they wear almost as little, and there’s a serious dearth of unattractive high jumpers and heptathletes in Olympic competition.
- Every Olympics it seems that we’re all duty bound to fall in love with a gorgeous athlete from an exotic place. For me this time around, it was Norwegian handball goalkeeper Kari Aalvik Grimsbo. Mind you, I’m just a little concerned that come Rio, the only athletes who I won’t be too old for will be shooters or on horseback.
- For anyone else not feeling old today, just remember: some London gold medallists weren’t yet born when the Atlanta Games were on.
- I don’t care if you’ve seen Bolt run, Phelps swim, or Hoy ride. Nothing at the Olympics moves faster than a table tennis umpire’s eyes.
- Can anyone explain how we live in a world where gold medals can be decided by 0.01 of a second, and yet the only technology used to determine whether or not a ball has landed in or out in volleyball (or its beach cousin) is the human eye? Nothing more bizarre in the year 2012 than a commentator saying “I don’t know why they are bothering to argue with the referee, he won’t change his mind” between points while we’ve already seen two different angles showing us that the referee’s call was wrong.
- There’s something especially cool about Olympic athletes with names which are stereotypical of their own country. Exhibit A: the huge middle blocker for the Italian volleyball team. Luigi.
- Everyone in the world seems to be of the opinion that the IOC don’t have the list of sports correct. Indeed, the most common questions I was asked during the past fortnight were related to which events I think should be in/out of the Games. My take? All sports that are currently in are perfectly fine, with two exceptions:
- Any sport that does not permit countries to send their best possible team of players shouldn’t be in the Olympics. Women’s soccer takes the Games seriously, but men’s soccer is a joke. Either have a real competition, or remove it.
- Unlike some, I’m fine with events that are judged, such as artistic gymnastics and diving. That being said, any event which involves an “artistic interpretation” mark shouldn’t be in the Olympics. Seriously, the top rhythmic gymnasts shouldn’t be Olympians – they should be in Cirque du Soleil. Get rid of them and synchronised swimmers. Of course, this would also mean removing the ridiculously crowd-pleasing figure skating from the Winter Olympics, so it’ll never happen.
- Just quietly, I’m sure I will think that seven’s rugby is a joke when it’s played in Rio too.
- Best new sport suggestion? Charlie Brooker’s comment on mini golf: “Crazy golf is a huge missed opportunity too. Imagine an Olympic-scale crazy golf course designed by the nation’s weirdest art students. You’d watch the shit out of that.”
- I genuinely can’t comprehend why people are surprised that some silver medallists are stoked and others are bitterly disappointed at finishing second. Take two contrasting examples: Tiny Montenegro, in their first Olympics as an independent country, were so excited to have won silver in the women’s handball that after their loss to Norway in the gold medal game, it was hard to tell which team was more excited by the result. Meanwhile, the US 4x400m relay team became the first US team to miss out on gold in that event since 1972 when they finished second to the Bahamas. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t quite as peppy as the Montenegrans after their race.
- The most interesting statistic I read during the Games came from the New Yorker: ”A 2001 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine counted thirty-two catastrophic pole-vaulting injuries, sixteen of them fatal, between 1982 and 1998. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research ranked pole-vaulting as the deadliest sport per participant.”
- Being able to box at the Olympics is a great step forward for women’s rights. We should all be for equal rights when it comes to beating the crap out of another person’s head and calling it sport. Now, if only the men could be treated equally and participate in rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming.
- It’s so awfully memorable when you drop in on a moment of sheer heartbreak for an athlete in the biggest event of their lives. The American diver Chris Colwill walking off alone into the showers after having to give up on his last dive in the semifinal when his take off went awry; American 1500m runner Morgan Uceny slamming her hands on the track after she fell during the final – incredibly, she fell in the most recent World Championship final as well; and Icelandic handballer Snorri Gudjonsson sitting down the end of the bench with a towel over his head during the closing minutes of the second overtime period of his team’s quarter-final loss to Hungary, berating himself for missing the penalty with 12 second left in regulation that would have guaranteed his team a spot in the semifinals.
- The shortest amount of time I spent watching a sport was the 5 minutes of completely incomprehensible fencing I saw. Joe Posnanski described the experience best:
1. ”Two fencers face each other while a referee of some sort says, “En garde.”
2. The two fencers each make moves so ridiculously fast that it is impossible to see what the heck just happened.
3. Both of their helmets light up.
4. They both celebrate like they won the point.
5. The person who was NOT given the point acts like this is the greatest injustice in the history of the world, at least since Alfred Hitchcock was robbed of his Oscar for best director in “Vertigo.”
6. The officials go look at the replay.
This pattern generally happens over and over again.”
- I started the Games by saying to Mrs EPO that I enjoyed watching field hockey about as much as I enjoy watching soccer. Half way through the first match I saw, I realised that I was wrong. Hockey, especially men’s hockey, moves much faster and is far more open than soccer, perhaps due to its lack of an offside rule. Not that it captured me enough to watch a gold medal game that didn’t involve Australia, mind.
- Administrators and broadcasters of badminton, tennis and table tennis all worked out years ago that the best way to view a net sport on tv is watching it from the baseline, with the ball running north-south on the screen. How on earth volleyball (and, again, its beach cousin) haven’t worked this out yet, and so show the ball moving east-west, I’ll never know. Every replay shown from the baseline proves that such an angle gives the audience a much clearer view not only of the game’s angles and tactics, but even the rather fundamental concept of whether the ball has landed in or out.
- Bring on any coverage of top level European handball or volleyball competitions. Perhaps the two Olympic sports I’d be most likely to watch between Games if access was available.
- In one of the best “think before you post” moments ever, “Riley Junior” wrote some incredibly nasty tweets to British diver Tom Daley after Daley had finished fourth. You can see how it played out here. Nothing sweeter than a snotty-nosed, big-mouthed, disrespectful kid suddenly finding himself trending worldwide, on the news, and then arrested for his trouble.
- Remembering how much I loved lying on the grass in Sydney’s Olympic Park and gazing up at the flame as many took their picture with it in the background, I thought it a shame that London’s cauldron couldn’t be admired and adored by those at the Games who weren’t inside the main stadium.
- Throughout the Games, everyone gave due, glowing credit to the incredible beach volleyball pairing of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh for winning their third gold medal. In Olympic play, they won 39 of a possible 40 sets. What was missed, though, was an equally impressive (if more famous) American pair in a different sport. Serena Williams didn’t play in the 2004 Olympics, but she and her sister have never lost in Olympic competition when playing doubles together, winning gold in Sydney, Beijing and London. This time around, they won their final 6-4, 6-4. It was the first time they had lost more than two games in an Olympic final.
- “Catch up” means that one can decide what the last event of the Games is for them. Having not seen her final race previously, I thought it only appropriate to leave it to Jessica Ennis.
So ended a spectacular Games…
Bring on Brazil!