Sunday, August 12, 2012

What the 2012 London Olympics Taught Me (Or, Keep Calm and Kerri Walsh)

The 2012 London Olympics are just wrapping up as I write this, and like many people around the world, I’ve been following the events very closely.  The past two weeks have been filled with thrills and excitement that only the Olympics can bring, and I am a little sad to see them end.  However, I have no doubt that the novelty would wear off pretty quickly if they went on much longer.  Looking back on the games, I’ve learned many, many things, but here are the top ones, in no particular order.

  • There’s just so much of it.

The Olympics are like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Even if you have the most comprehensive television coverage available, there is no way you are going to get your fill of everything that you’d like.  Even with TiVo, or a doggy bag, depending on which end of the metaphor you are talking about.  If I was able to record all the broadcast events from the Olympics, it would probably take me until New Year’s to watch them all.  I might be done by Thanskgiving if I fast-forward through all the promos for the new Matthew Perry sitcom though.

  • Canadian television coverage is actually better than American television coverage.

Living as near to Canada as I do, my cable system carries some Canadian broadcasters, which means I have the unique opportunity to compare their coverage to that of the Americans.  Suffice it to say, Canadian coverage edges out American, primarily due to two things: its willingness to broadcast most events live instead of on tape-delay, and its tendency to shy away from irrelevant fluff reports (Who really cares where the Spice Girls are now?) and put its energy instead into the events and the athletes.  Mind you, I do find it hard to overlook the Canadian pronunciation of the word boat as “boot” during the paddling events.

  • Those gymnastics girls could probably definitely beat me up.

Not that I would ever give them a reason to, of course, but there’s a lot of power and athleticism crammed into those small packages.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.  I’d be a smear on the floor and they’d have never broken a sweat.

In the past, I’ve always kind of avoided gymnastics and similar “style points” events, in favor of more black-and-white events like swimming and track & field, where the outcomes are clear to me.  This time, I gave gymnastics, diving and the like more of a fair shot, and was won over.  When they showed film of Gabby Douglas on the uneven bars in slow motion, and I could see the pure strength, speed, and coordination involved in doing such a complicated and difficult activity, my eyes were opened.  Respect earned!

  • Nobody stays young forever.

Bob Costas and Tom Brokaw, two youthful-looking guys that I’ve been watching on TV for years, are starting to look their ages.  Costas is 60, and Brokaw is 72.  The frequency with which they were shown this year in video clips from past Olympics may have heightened this perception on my part.  Not that it’s unexpected, and they both look fine, but it does remind you of your own mortality.  At least it does when you are wading into the heart of middle-age like I am.

And props to Brokaw for not getting plastic surgery.  I suppose being mostly retired as he is, there is less pressure to do that kind of thing.  I only wish Costas had done the same.  Whenever I see him nowadays, it’s the “work” he’s had done that I notice first.

  • Body hair apparently makes you slow and uncoordinated.

Being one with no shortage of hair on his person, I noticed that no one who was expected to be speedy or graceful had hair anywhere except on their head, and sometimes not even there.  This was the case not only with swimmers, but divers and track athletes too.  Does body hair really create that much drag for a runner? What about that 8 X 10 piece of paper they make you pin on your shirt during a race?  If hair is going to slow you down, then that’s got to come into play too.  And what about divers?  Is hair going to prevent you from doing one of those triple loop-de-loops with a twist thingies?  I suspect vanity comes into play here as well.

As for me, if I had to shave my body hair for an event, it would take me three days, and by the time I finished I would have to start all over again.  And man, oh man, the razor-burn and itchiness would be murder!  I think I’ll just stay hairy and remain in my recliner watching.

  • It’s much nicer watching sporting events without corporate sponsor signs plastered on every square inch of the venue.

The only signs were “London 2012” and it was great, because ad signs distract me during sports.  For example, I saw an advertising board for Fifth Third Bank, who financed my auto loan, while watching something not too long ago, and noticed their odd slogan “The Curious Bank”.  I spent the rest of the game wondering what kind of slogan that was for a bank and what the hell they were curious about.  Having already run a check of my credit report to approve my car loan, I would have hoped their curiosity about me had been sated.  Are they wondering if I prefer boxers or briefs?  Coke or Pepsi?  Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth?  None of your damn business, Fifth Third Bank!

But I digress.

  • Mere mortals cannot do a lot of what these athletes do.

I can swing a bat at a pitched baseball, kick a soccer ball, or even run a football down a field, although I could not promise you that I could do any of them well.  But a lot of these Olympic events are things that would just be physically impossible for me.  I refer again to Gabby Douglas’ performance on the uneven bars.  Check it out on YouTube.  There is no way on earth I could even start to do that.  I bet you couldn’t either.  And how about those athletes that run up and then jump over a bar that it two meters in the air?  Not a chance I could even come close.  Pole vaulting?  Someone would be shish-kabobbed if I tried that, and it would probably be me.  10,000 meters of running with an all-out sprint at the end?  I get winded if I take more than two flights of stairs. Again, I have nothing but the highest respect for these athletes and all the work they put in to do what they do.

  • The Olympic mascots,  Wenlock and Mandeville, look like animated metric wrenches.

Someone mentioned it to me at the start of the games, and by golly, they were absolutely right.  I just couldn’t unsee it after that.  Here's a link to a page on the London 2012 site that shows them, if you somehow missed them.

  • Beach volleyball is better than regular, gym-floor-type volleyball.

Beach volleyball looks fun, like something you’d do on vacation or at a picnic.  It’s just two people on each side, and lots of soft sand in which to land if you take a dive.  The only things missing are seagulls and beer.  Regular volleyball, on the other hand, looks exactly like what we used to have to do under duress during gym class in high school, while wearing itchy blue and yellow gym uniforms.  I often thought the gym teachers scheduled this activity every year to give the tallest and strongest kids a chance to legitimately pound on those who were smaller and weaker, thus getting the bloodlust out of their systems in a relatively controlled environment.  While far from being an athlete, I was lucky enough to have some size and strength in high school, so I was better off than many, but there are plenty of classmates of mine who still bear scars from volleyball.

  • There is no adequate explanation as to why that little stream of water flows into the pool during diving competitions.

Have you ever noticed that?  I’ve wondered about it for years.  I put it out on Twitter a couple of times and no one seemed to know for sure.  Why do they have that stream of water?  There must be a reason.  It’s not there during swimming competitions, I don’t think.  All I know is that if I had to hang out that pool for very long with that constant dribbling, I’d be inspired to run to the restroom every five minutes.

And while I’m at it, what’s with the showers and hot tubs the divers bolt toward immediately after they dive?  Are they some kind of weird fish-human hybrids that can’t be allowed to get dry?

  • The British are pretty cool.

I’ve always thought this, but the London games have only strengthened this opinion.  Their history, their people and their culture fascinate me to no end, and I’d love to visit England some day.  I mean, this is the country of Stonehenge, Winston Churchill, the Beatles, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare, Big Ben and Mr. Bean.  What’s not to love?  The food is a little sketchy, mind you (Exhibit A: Toad-in-the-Hole), but I could always pack some PB & Js if I made a trip. 

London did an outstanding job staging these Olympics if you ask me, and they should be proud.

1 comment:

  1. I have mostly been indifferent to the English in the past, but the BBC and my recent trip have definitely changed my opinion. I recommend going early and often. And make sure to get the special Stonehenge tour that lets you walk among the stones. Otherwise, you can't get within 20 meters. (That's some odd unit of measure they use there)