Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympic wars

So I'm back in wintery Aberdeen. I actually arrived home this time last week, but catching up with R&R from the recent travels has taken until now. Being 3/4 of the way through a long weekend is helping.

Anyway, the Winter Olympics have kicked off this month; they are an event that I have never really cared for. They strike me (and many others, I'm sure) as the "special" little brother of the Summer Olympics.

Hang on, should't the Paralympics be the "special" brother? If so, what did I think the Winter ones were? I don't know, maybe the Pepsi Olympics to the Coke Summer Olympics: trying really hard, but in reality only consumed when the other isn't available.

So, the Pepsi Olympics started in Canada last weekend, and immediately received a barrage of criticism: it wasn't wintery enough for skiing, then it was too wintery for skiing, the course designers murdered a Georgian lugeist, the Canadians cheated by allowing only their guys to practice. But, most damningly, the spectre of the "rubbish version" of the Olympics loomed large. I, as usual, fell in line with this dogma. Yes, I'd watch it if there was nothing else but yes, of course, it can't compete with the real thing.

Check out my Coke reference there. That was some clever writing.

So I started watching some of the events, and knock me down if the scales didn't start falling from my eyes. Yes, ice dancing is still rubbish, but pretty much all of the other events are superb. Has the reputation of the Winter Olympics allowed it to, under the rader, rejuvenate and pack the schedule with great spectator and viewer events? So far, we have had:
  • Alpine skiing: crazy people throw themselves down a steep hill, either at blistering speed or at blistering speed crashing off blue and red flags. They do jumps. They crash, regularly.
  • Skeleton: crazy people throw themselves head-first down an icy tube of (literally) death at speeds that would get you points on your licence if you were driving down the track. You'd have to be insane to do that, though.
  • Which brings us to the bobsleigh: crazy people drive down an icy tube of death at even faster speeds. They crash, and sometimes fall out of their little metal carts.
  • Speed skating: crazy people race around a track, bumping into each other and putting their hands on the floor and inches from their rival's skates. The skates used in the racing are, of course, razor-sharp knives of doom.
  • Ski jumping: crazy people slide down a hill and fly, using skis as wings and their arms to steer. Did you get that: THEY FLY USING SKIS AS WINGS.
  • Ice hockey: crazy people take the game of field hockey and turn it into a pulsating spectacle of violence and, well, violence.
And that's not all of them. Biathlon involves the natural combination of skiing and rifle shooting, the moguls involves flying down a hill-o-lumps as fast as possible, and in curling they throw lumps of rock (Ailsite, geology fans) down an ice rink whilst brushing the ice. I have deliberately not mentioned the (surprise, surprise) insane snowboard cross because tonight the ski cross starts and the trailers for it look amazing. Groups of crazies fly down the hill at the same time in a straight race. Involving jumps. They crash. Into each other.

Virtually all of these sports are exciting, quick, and photogenic, which makes them tremendously TV-friendly. Of course, the biggest TV sports event of them all is the Summer Olympics, so what has it got?
  • 100 metres: ok, this one it gets, but only because of Bolt. For a while before him it was unnecessarily-revered
  • The marthon: again, this gets a lot of attention but it is a pretty great event.
  • Some of the cycling, like the road race (essentially a stage of the Tour de France) the Keirin (cyclists follow a little motorbike that gets faster and faster until they sprint for the win), and the madison (I don't think anyone knows what happens in this one, but it involves teams of 2 literally throwing each other around the track and huge confusion over who wins).
  • Modern pentathlon: amazing for the comedy value of people drawing lots to ride on a horse that they have never seen before, with wildly varying results. The horses, essentially, get to cost people medals.
  • Taekwondo, but only because of that guy who kicked the referee in the head.
And that is pretty much that. Yes there is some interest in other events, like steeplechase, rowing, high diving, and a few of the athletic events. But the games are loaded with duds: swimming (a million variations on the same thing over slightly varying distances), synchronised swimming, gymnastics, equestrian, wrestling, basketball, fencing, judo, sailing, and weightlifting. Take tennis and football as examples: they are poor imitations of the sports that we love.

I'm going to come out and say it: I now prefer the Winter Olympics to the Summer ones. Open your eyes and see the quality of the events, which mainly seems to be due to the insanity and inherent danger of most of them. Maybe they can introduce some peril into the summer games, like jousting, pole vault through a ring of fire, motorbike daredevil acrobatics, or chess. I can't remember anticipating an Olympic event as much as tonight's ski cross, which had better not let me down.

I'm not switching to Pepsi, though. Unless there's no Coke available.

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