Monday, August 13, 2012

Scars of Track & Field

Forgive our indulgence, but it's not often that we've found ourselves so close to the beating heart of an international event, what with our palatial HQ being a mere four miles from the Olympic Stadium, and the Olympic torch even having made a late sally past our window. So we've decided to take one of our occasional detours from reviewing records you either already own, or would never listen to. And as it seems that you can't open a newspaper without seeing a list of "2,012 things we've learned from the Olympics", we thought that - rather than bring you those same one-sided, jaundiced views - we'd give you the benefit of our own, perfectly balanced, jaundiced views. Here, then, are 20.12* things we took from this recent local jamboree.

* Rounded down.

There was one Olympics in the media, another in reality. The media's take is easy to précis: everything was terrible until "Super Saturday"; after that, everything was uniformly brilliant. Unpicking the real Olympics is rather harder.

All right on the night. We had the privilege of two trips to the Olympic Park, and even us curmudgeons must admit that the organisation was impressive, inside and out (security and public transport included). The volunteers were up for it, the arenas looked the part, the atmosphere was friendly if a bit strange (actually, let's be honest, it was strange *because* it was friendly, the kind of atmosphere usually reserved for m/c music festivals, or for those of you that recall it, the Millennium Dome experience) and the spectacle was pretty great. The catering was a touch awry, but let's be generous and call that the exception that proves the rule.

Mad for it. How do you explain repeated full houses (to take the sports we got tickets for) of 12,000 to watch basketball prelims, or of 17,000 to watch qualifiers in the pool ? How on earth did a 0-0 group stage draw between Gabon and South Korea under-23s attract 77,000 people ? Hopefully such numbers can be interpreted as a boon for the appreciation of high-achieving international sportsmen and women, rather than merely evidence of collective madness.

Magic moments. Not sure we've ever seen anything quite like David Rudisha's world record run, or indeed that whole race. One of the most remarkable things I've ever witnessed from the comfort of a sofa. We'll all have favourites from the two weeks, across a variety of sports, but others who made our jaws drop included Mohammed Farah (for sheer tenacity and mental strength) and Allyson Felix (surely the epitome of the modern athlete). And the Jamaican men and American women who broke the sprint relay records. And Kirani James. And the Lithuanian girl, and Michael Phelps, and Missy Franklin, and Ye Shiwen... When performances like Louis Smith and Qiu Bo's only get silver medals, that shows how high the standard was.

The torch relay was a bit rubbish. Hailed as an unmitigated triumph, and attendance-wise you can't argue (in our postcode they estimated 100,000 spectators, which seems about right). Yet - and yes, we did stand on the roadside to watch it pass - said relay was basically no more than a few 'floats' (rickety buses and lorries) pumping out euro-dross, then a handful of police outriders, then someone jogging by in a tracksuit holding what was basically a massive candle. If people's minds are blown by that, then they really need to go to Carnival some time and see a proper parade.

The horses should get medals, too. We're in deadly earnest here. The dressage was a thing to behold, so long as you had the mute button on. The horses were the truly unsung stars of the Games.

Football doesn't have to be boorish, or boring. We were lucky enough to get to both Olympic football finals. Fantastic teams, fine support, special times. Japan's women's team, despite losing to the States, were a joy to watch, and we'd rank Mexico's over-achieving men, who toppled hot favourites Brazil, not far behind (very much enjoyed that Mexican anthem, too). Stat fact: the crowds at Wembley for *each* of the last three Mexico games were greater than the 80,000 capacity over at the Olympic Park.

Never thought we'd say this, but... poor old Sepp Blatter. Even in a stadium largely full of otherwise polite and friendly Japanese and American families, the abuse he got when he came out to present the medals to the women was *deafening*. His face, trying to look imperturbable on the video screen as the boos rang out, may just haunt us for a while.

That Fratellis song is the work of Satan. Only sour note at the footy was that on both occasions, the first thing played at half-time - and at unbelievable volume - was that Fratellis song (not sure of the name of it, but you'll know it: it's the one that makes you immediately want to murder everyone that's ever lived, before turning the gun on yourself). Something must be done to stop it ruining otherwise enjoyable sporting events: as McCarthy would have it, "write to your MP today".

Stella McCartney = Siobhan Sharpe. McCartney vs Lineker, a real lower division affair, was the most excruciating TV interview of the Games, but at least we've now (surely) found the muse for the girl from Perfect Curve.

In 1908, GB were the dons, weren't they ? Whatever Team GB achieved in 2012, they always had to add the rider that it was only our best performance since 1908. Everything seems to pale against our stats in 1908. Damn, those 1908 British Olympians were great. And it was the Belle Epoque. Our great-grandfathers' generation so OWN us.

Kill all the lawyers. Don't panic, that's not incitement, just a bona fide quote from the Bard. The sentiment should be clear though: the legal eagles did their level best to ruin the Games, what with their attempts to police the use of such dangerously loaded terms as "London". Or "2012".

We learned nothing about Czech culture. Eh ? Hardly the point of the London games, you'll be saying. Ah, but you see... the Czech Republic had set up a cultural base in our neck of the woods for the duration of the Olympiad, and had advertised it fairly keenly, so we eagerly rolled up there keen to get a glimpse of a nation we're rarely exposed to, and to learn a little something about their wider artistic, sporting and social fabric. Unfortunately, after paying a fiver each to get into a huge hangar we discovered that as far as the organisers were concerned, Czech culture essentially consisted of having a huge room with lots of big TV screens, and a bar serving lots of Czech beer to the almost exclusively Czech people who had congregated there to watch said big TV screens. The organisers had either been commendably honest, or - as I hasten to add, we suspect - there is more to Czech culture than that. There was one quite impressive cultural artefact on show (a fairly insane David Cerny installation, namely a double-decker bus doing press-ups), but you could see that outside the exhibition hall for free.

Ceremonies are pointless. They're *ceremonial*. By definition, they're not supposed to add anything of substance. The British relish such navel-gazing, but for our money the only good Ceremony is the Joy Division / New Order one. You could make a case for the opening extravaganza at least being an entertaining waste of money, but the closing ceremony was probably... um, how shall we put this... the worst thing that has ever happened. For a while I was convinced that the unremitting badness of this stage show (it made us realise that Dante merely scratched the surface, and that in fact there are far more than just nine circles of hell) had not only ruined these Games, but had despoiled the Olympic ideal for all time. It felt like the Games organisers saying, "the Olympics were good, weren't they ? Now it's all over and you can come back down to earth, back to the real Britain of pointless bling, terrible music going back decades and an unhealthy obsession with the cult of celebrity". However, am now starting to mellow, largely by convincing myself it was all just a bad dream (just as I did with Macca playing that "Hey Jude" dirge, ad infinitum, at the opening bash).

We're still some way off a republic. The new Park. You know, the one built for the Olympics, that they had the Olympics in. Why not just keep calling it the Olympic Park ? But no, there's already been a stitch-up to rename it the "Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park". Clearly, she hasn't had enough things named after her.

Kate Middleton and Prince William did quite well in the ballot, didn't they ? Appeared as if by magic at every event that someone British had a chance of winning. Beginning to see why our armed forces are so badly paid: if he's anything to go by, they must get 200 days off a year.

The London Mayor really has no shame. Talking of freeloaders (as we most assuredly were), it's scarcely believable how Boris Johnson is trying to take "credit" for the Games, largely by virtue of having attended them. If credit is to go in the mayoral direction, surely it should be to the mayor that actually did the work in bringing them to London: not least in persuading a reluctant Blair to back them ? To the mayor who overhauled the Overground lines which then took most of us to Stratford ? Ken was always quite open in that he didn't want the Games for sport's sake - it was more that he saw it as his only chance to prise funds from Gordon Brown for regenerating east London - but if you've enjoyed the Games, surely Boris is not the man from City Hall to be bigging up.

We don't yet know whether the Olympics were a success. Stating the obvious here, seeing as no-one else will. Ten billion pounds has to go a lot further than a two-week (and not universal) feelgood factor. And, of course, we're looking forward to the Paralympics next. But the generation that we're seeking to inspire will be grown-ups in, er, a generation's time: *then* we might know. Though, for what it's worth, we fear that...

Ain't a damn thing changed. This is what *all* logic tells us. Much has been made of the Olympics stopping the riots, saving the world, being the dawning of a new era for fitness, healthy eating and school sport etc. But surely we can reasonably safely predict that, actually, governments of all shades will continue to let drinks and fa(s)t-food megabrands dictate policy, school playing fields will carry on vanishing, all sports except football will now resume getting zero coverage until 2016, and our Olympians will get no tangible reward, just a smattering of OBEs and (for the girls) a renewed opportunity to undress for lads' mags. And...

The legacy is already tainted. Amidst all the temples to endeavour, branded only by Olympic rings, was the preposterous and indefensible sight at the heart of the Olympic park of a fuck-off McDonald's, the biggest on the planet, the golden arches visible for miles. Perhaps our most depressing memory from the whole Games, and the one leaving the sourest taste.

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