Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Faster, higher, stronger

Well, this is rather unusual.

I fully expected to be cynical about the actual running, jumping, pedalling and throwing bit of the Olympics. I didn't think I'd be spending much time actually watching the sporting part of the whole shebang.

I liked the opening ceremony. I think I've made my position clear in that respect. But I really thought that once Danny Boyle's influence was out of the way, it would be a succession of vaguely sweaty people doing unnatural things in front of cameras.

Yes, I realise how that sounds and you should be ashamed of yourself. Behave.

I am not a sporting person. As befitting someone with my unique shape, I don't take part. But I'm not normally to be found watching it on the idiot lantern either. That's always been the case for me. I know very little about sport. When the topic comes up in a pub quiz I always groan inwardly and hope the next round will be pop music. Or types of cheese. Or the Reform Act. Or just about anything.

So why have I spent much of the last ten days with the BBC's coverage of the Games on almost constant rotation? How is it that I now know more about cycling events - the strategy and equipment - than is strictly healthy? That can't be right. Up until last weekend I cold barely tell one end of a bike from another. Now I'm some sort of expert. It's all Keirins and Omniums (Omnia?) now. You'll never get me on one of those things - partly because I don't think there's that much lycra in the Western world - but still.

It's not just the cycling. As I watched Mo Farah setting off on his 10,000 metre run last Saturday I was to be heard talking about pace and stride technique like a calorifically-enhanced Brendan Foster. And I'm not alone. We're all commentators these days.

We watched the skeet shooting last week. I didn't know what a skeet was, nor why you'd want to shoot it. But I was rapt in amazement. A group of colleagues discussed the equestrian dressage event the other day as if it was a natural thing for normal folk to be talking about. I mean, that's basically reverse-parking a horse, isn't it? But a five-minute conversation ensued.

Most nights I've had the TV on in the background and let these extraordinary people into my living room. It's almost, but not quite, inspiring me to take up some form of regular exercise. I know. I'm as surprised as you are.

In common with most other Britons, the only way I was ever going to win a medal would be if they introduced Cynicism as an Olympic discipline. We all thought the sporting bit of the Games was going to be a little underwhelming, to be honest. That is the British way, after all. But I think our natural scepticism has dissipated, at least for the time being.

Our uncharacteristic sporting success may be a factor. Serial plucky underachievement is our default setting - all this high-performance is very odd. Or perhaps we're all thinking: "Sod it, the money's been spent, we might as well enjoy it."

I don't know what's causing it. But I suspect normal service will resume at some point. Let's get ready to be maudlin and disaffected once more.


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