14 Aug 2012

The Olympics

Ah the Olympics! Sixteen days of sporting achievement, with blanket BBC coverage so you cannot POSSIBLY MISS IT, EVEN IF YOU TRY. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE THE OLYMPIC JUGGERNAUT, LICENSE FEE PAYING MORTALS.

Ahem. Despite generally loathing televised sport, I have a soft spot for the Olympics. I don't know why. I have a huge love of the Winter Olympics, primarily for it's vicious edge and risk of blood on the ice (I watch Dancing on Ice for the selfsame reason). For Beijing, I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and WEPT HELPLESSLY at every medal ceremony. Usually on my lunch break, eating toast. Then I had to go back to work and try not to let on that I was pregnant and make excuses for my tear stained visage.

I digress. Despite inauspicious omens (the G4S security fail, the sponsorship fascism, the dreadful logo), it all fired off, an improbably long time ago, with the opening ceremony to end all opening ceremonies. I don't know about anyone else, but I sat down to watch it in FULL snark mode (which some of you will know is quite a terrifying spectacle). I proceeded to tweet about it to such an extent that I exceeded my tweet allowance before the lighting of the cauldron. I LOVED every melodramatic, all singing, all dancing second of it. There may have been no Sherlock Holmes and the Voldemort swaying around over the top was a bit...strange, but it was a celebration of British culture. If anyone has ever tried to summarise British culture, you'll know it's quite hard, but oddly the opening ceremony did just that. Kenneth Branagh as the legendary IKB? Yes, why not! A massive celebration (/fuckyouDave) of the NHS? YES! Paul McCartney? Sadly yes. It was a triumph.

We have won sixty four medals, across the board. Thats the most since 1908, when we won a rather improbable 146. Did nobody else come that year?
There have been no massive logistical errors since it actually started. The TV coverage is supplied by the Olympic Broadcasting Service, and has had some flaws - like cutting away from Andy Murray before he got to his mum. DAMN YOU, OBS! I WANTED TO SEE JUDY CRACK A GRIN!

Highlights of actual sport for me are:
Andy Murray winning gold off Federer. Federer's heart may have not been wholly in it, but who cares?
Tom Daley winning bronze in the 10m diving.
Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis winning gold and flying the flag for British athletics, British diversity and everything the Daily Mail hates (HUZZAH).
Victoria Pendleton's performance in the keirin, which was breathtakingly amazing and won her the gold.
Beth Tweddle finally getting a medal. Which rhymes.
And, representing my very own Peterborough, Louis Smith!

It has been such an excellent year for Team GB that it's really difficult not to just list every single medal and request a small, desktop round of applause. I've missed most of the athletics and swimming, because it coincided with putting my kids to bed. In truth, it would be impossible, even with the TWENTY FOUR channels of coverage, to see everything. But, not a day has passed where I haven't sat and watched SOMETHING. My three year old son has loved it, and he's never shown any interest in watching anything other than Jake and the Neverland Pirates during the day. He has informed me he wishes to take up diving.

He's not going to be the only child inspired to take up some sport. But most olympic sports are not part of the school curriculum. Swimming lessons aren't even on the curriculum anymore in some schools. There are after school clubs, saturday clubs. They cost money. They cost time. They're not always local. For example, I live in a small city in the East Midlands. The nearest small-child-friendly swimming pool is 15 miles away, well out of the city. The only pools in my locality are Bannatynes and the college pool, which is all lanes. You can't take a three year old lane swimming, let alone a 15 month old. Swimming is a fairly common activity to undertake and yet there's no 'leisure' provision in this city.
There has been much talk in the media about the proportion of privately educated athletes being greater than state school educated. Is that really a surprise to anyone? If you're going to become an elite athlete, in almost any sport, you need considerable financial backing. You need a high level of parental commitment. You need transport, you need time to train, you need to be able to afford to train. Your talent needs to be recognised. Increasingly, school PE is being cutback. When I was at school, in the lae 90s/early 00s, we had about 4 hours of PE a week. The girls did hockey, netball, crosscountry, track and field (mostly track) and tennis. If you were like me, and had long legs, you were entered into the high or long jump, or hurdles, come sports day. I went to a (non-fee-paying) Grammar school, and in years 10 and 11, we could go and do FUN sports like horse riding and skiing, but I couldn't because my parents couldn't afford the extra cost. I sat in the gym doing improbably vertical sit-ups for a laugh instead. I could've been an olympic showjumper. It's unlikely - I'm terrified of horses for a start - but the finance to back the opportunity was not there.

The big medal winners have been the USA and China. Neither of these should be a surprise, but what did surprise me was how badly Chinese athletes took winning silver. They seemed to take it worse than if they'd won nothing at all. I wonder if they're going home to be flogged half to death on account of COMING SECOND. IN THE WORLD. NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
The internet has been awash with talk of how Yorkshire has been the predominant medal winning county, but it is the largest county in the UK, so should we really be surprised? They also gave us Peter Sutcliffe, but you don't hear anyone crowing about that.

The boom of social media in the last four years (Twitter, I'm looking at you) has meant unprecedented access to athletes and other people's opinions. Did you think the boxing was rigged? So did hundreds of other people on Twitter, and they're all discussing it. You want to tell Nick Griffin that the whole Olympic experience proves how beautiful multiculturalism is? Feel free, but I warn you, he thinks the UK kidnapped Mo Farah and we should all be ashamed... Some arsehole kid decides to troll Tom Daley? Twitter fell on him with all it's might and got the police involved.
Now, I'm probably in the minority of thinking that serious internet trolling IS a police matter. You wouldn't stand for it via any other media, so why does the internet make it OK? The rise and acceptance of online bullying is a pervading evil, especially amongst teens (and Tom Daley is only 18, in case you missed them screaming it in your face every 30 seconds). It is not 'just the internet' to them. "Don't feed the trolls" doesn't work; they cannot leave alone, or take the resulting abuse.

Now, Steve Redgrave said the other day that gold is the only medal that matters, anything else is failure. This does not strike me as what the Olympics is about. These people are the best in the world. They can't all win, the medal ceremonies would go on forever. Obviously, I am not an athlete. I couldn't run to the shop and back without dying in the road. But if I was good enough to get to the Olympics, good enough to get to a final, then I'd be content. Disappointed if I didn't manage a medal, but not wrenching my hair out and howling no. It must be a most crushing disappointment, to work so hard and fall at the final hurdle, but surely getting to the Olympics IS the final hurdle? As I said, I'm not an athlete, but the ethos of "gold or die" strikes me as tremendously egotistical and unrealistic. If that's your life's goal and you fail, what do you have left? Bitterness and freaky muscle structure?

The closing ceremony was notsomuch of a triumph. It was like a school disco, circa 1997, with added Jessie J. I don't know if anyone's told the organisers that Jessie J and Emeli Sande are NOT the only women in British music. There was papier mache, and a pyramid tribute to Kate Bush. Madness, not sounding amazing. A cover of Parklife, while Blur and Phil Daniels appeared at Hyde Park.  Liam Gallagher scowling and posturing. The Kaiser Chiefs pretending to be the The Who. The Pet Shop Boys in Klan hats. Bloody One Bloody Direction. A time wasting segment advertising British fashion. A lot of pandering to Yoko Ono. An enormous amount of bad miming and a static Victoria Beckham. Gary Barlow's appearance has split the internet - was he brave or unfeeling? Brian May was given far too much time to fretwank, and then was joined, once more, by BLOODY Jessie J. Annie Lennox appeared on a doomed galleon. Eric Idle in a bizarre banghra sketch that came across uncomfortably racist. Muse, in all their shiny glory. George Michael and Jason Orange seemed high as kites. The highlight was either Elbow, or the inflatable, neon octopus and Fatboy Slim. It was just...no opening ceremony...

They wanted to Inspire a Generation and they have. Now they need to take this legacy, while it's still fresh, and invest in better sporting facilities for our younger, and increasingly unhealthy, generations. Otherwise, all this public expenditure will have been for nothing.

And thus it ends. Except, it hasn't. The Paralympics start in a few weeks, to extremely limited fanfare. I shall be watching!