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News for no-one

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Olympian heights

One of the pleasures – or the pains – of enforced retirement is the opportunity for the first time probably in my life to watch Olympic sport on TV for eight hours a day.

I’ve suffered along with our BBC commentators – that is, whenever there’s anyone in the box,  their mics are live, we can’t hear the French guy commentating alone in the background and the camera isn’t pointing at nothing going on – the disappointments of the damned as Brit after Brit has failed to match up to their ludicrous overexpectations to come ‘only’ fourth or fifth in the final (out of 200 countries in the games).

The actual winners of events, such as the astonishing Ethiopian runner Almaz Ayana, who twice lapped thirty of the supposedly best athletes in the world to shatter the 23-year-old record for the women’s 10,000 metres, and was still seemingly capable of effortless  acceleration after 24 laps, are virtually ignored in the media gushing over another Bronze medal for our plucky Brits in the one-metre pole-bouncing event.

Nevertheless, a ‘small island’, thanks mainly to our powerful and consistent rowers and cyclists we have now gone third second! in the world medals table, behind only Michael Phelps and overtaking China, which gives further cause for reflection.

It’s another example of our absurd British exceptionalism, that we still feel we have to lead the world at everything.

It’s not good or helpful for the sanity of the viewers to put so much pressure on our bravely battling athletes, who have spent four years training at vast expense for the moment when they might have to watch an Australian back disappearing over the horizon or an Uzbek boxer’s arm being raised in victory,  but we do it all the time.

This year, however, I fear ‘Team GB’ success may simply reinforce the notion that Britain is so great at torturing its athletes, we can go it alone in the world, vindicating the untenable position of the EU ‘Leave’ voters. By Day 8, I can already begin to hear loud crowing. Each latest cry of ‘AND IT’S GOOOLD FOR GREAT BRITAIN!!!!! both stirs and sinks the heart at the same time.

At least with so many great rowers we can be confident of speeding our little island craft out into the Atlantic as we start the Brexit lightweight double-sculls event for real.

(And those tedious interviews and catch-up segments showing all the stuff you’ve just seen, endlessly repeated CGI-animated trailers and mini-documentaries, embarrassing John Inverballs…. endless waiting around for tedious anthem-chewing ceremonies…. why can’t they just get on and show us the sport? The TV presentation is awful, erratic, with great, unexplained lacunae and haphazard captioning. Is no-one in charge?)

(And why do we need all those intimate ‘shots up the shorts’, is it to make sport seem sexy? It doesn’t, by the way. Too much bulging information.)

(And can we please stop pretending any win for a sportsperson, even coming second, is ‘making history’? It isn’t! Brexit votes make history. Wars make history. Assassinations of important people make history. Ireland winning a rowing silver is not ‘history’)

(Also, it seems to be compulsory political correctness for commentators to describe every participant as an ‘athlete’. Trap-shooters are not athletes, check their waistlines!) (Okay, trigger-fingers are on steroids…) Ping-pong players may be phenomenal sportspeople, how they keep landing it on that tiny table I don’t know, but they aren’t strictly speaking athletes, any more than are dressage riders or golfers.

Thinking about so many sports at once prompted me last night to make another list….

A complete list of the sports in which I have personally participated at some, very – to extremely – low competitive level is actually quite impressive, given that until the age of 13 I was considered a ‘delicate’ child – asthma went pretty well undiagnosed in the 1950s – who was excused games. It certainly shows that a boarding-school education with compulsory games gives you a broader upbringing.

In my lifetime, it seems I have tried playing:

  • Cricket (school 1st X1; works team)
  • Soccer (left-winger, you guessed!)
  • Rugby Union, rugby 7s
  • Hockey
  • Shinty (indoor hockey, played with a puck)
  • Gymnastics (vaulting horse)
  • Swimming (school team, 50 yds breaststroke)
  • Golf (gave up – too expensive!)
  • Tennis
  • Table tennis
  • Darts
  • Archery
  • Croquet
  • Squash
  • Fives*
  • Running (100 yds sprint; cross-country)
  • Long jump (medalled!)
  • Fencing (school team, foil)
  • Riding (gave up – don’t like horses!)
  • Shooting (.22 rifle, school champ two yrs running)

Normal domestic rowing, cycling (hey, that sounded like ‘domestic rowing!’ How do foreigners cope?)… plus, I’ve driven a Formula Ford single-seat race car five laps round Brand’s Hatch to win Gold over my loathsome BMW-driving boss!

Put like that, it’s a remarkably long list of sports, a veritable one-man Olympiad; yet I don’t consider myself at all sporting. Apart from the shooting, and being able to sprint quite fast, I wasn’t much good at anything. I can’t admit to any winter sports. And if I threatened to get good, I used to let the others go past. It seemed to mean so much more to them.

As one TV pundit explained, it’s not enough to be the best, you have to really want to win.

I was too lazy to do either. But I’ve been wondering what I could take up now, in time for Tokyo and a history-making Bronze medal (He’sh 70 yearsh old, yer know!)?

Freestyle bogling, possibly.

*Explanatarium, Fives: obscure two-player sport, developed originally at Eton school, where it was first played against the chapel wall. Aim: scored like Squash, to keep a hard, stitched-leather and gutta-percha golfball in motion by smacking it against the walls, one floor-bounce per-point allowed – differences being: no racquet – just a padded glove; no back-wall, and a bloody great stone buttress sticking out of one side of the court, behind which is a pit known as the Pepper, where the server or hitter tries to place the ball irretrievably.

Toeing the line

Ayana’s incredible, perhaps never-to-be-bettered, run produced some very odd comments indeed from Britain’s ageing doyennes of the distance event. Steve Cramm, Brendan Foster and Paula Radcliffe were all quoted as saying something along the lines of: ‘I don’t understand what just happened’.

Am I to take from this that perhaps some unwritten convention of distance running had just been transgressed? That Ayana and her five African colleagues, who broke the field by setting such fast lap times in the opening stages, had maybe failed to stick to the script?

There was some speculation this morning about why so few track records were being broken in recent years, compared with the swimming.

So, swimming is pretty much an individual sport in which athletes, sometimes in relays, compete to be the fastest over the distance, using the prescribed style of stroke, in separate lanes. You either go all-out or you speed up towards the finish; you either put your fastest swimmer in first or last; either way, it doesn’t allow for much in the way of tactics, unless you count mysterious bee-dancing in front of Michael Phelps just to annoy him.

Could it simply be that it is easier on the track for a group of runners or cyclists to act in concert, anti-competitively, to collude in formulating a strategy to, effectively, ‘fix’ an event in favour of the recognised star performers, by setting slower lap times and generally protecting them by running in front, sacrificing your own chance of a medal to enable them to come through triumphantly in the final stages?

In other words, it looks to the crowd like an individual event but it’s secretly a team-tactics kind of thing?

And Ayana broke the cosy convention by going it alone from 10 laps out, cruising to victory, smashing the previous world record set in Beijing in 1993 by 14 seconds, four of her pursuers finishing inside the magic 30 minutes, showing-up the mostly ‘white’, American and European runners in their true colours as a bunch of slowcoaches who’ve been faking it all these years?

Ayana’s genuinely historic run yesterday, as one commentator described it ‘the greatest performance in modern Olympic history, whether male or female’, was so far down the BBC Sport homepage this morning, miles below the devastating news that Andy Murray and Heather Watson had crashed out of the mixed doubles tennis, I had trouble finding it.

The surly reactions of the beaten race insiders, supposedly the top women in their sport (not a few of whom were dragged along to post personal bests and national records), who had helplessly watched the half-dozen African runners overtaking them again and again would seem to suggest that they didn’t know ‘what just happened’ either.

Today the great Mo Farah goes in the men’s ten thousand; maybe some of his faster African ‘competitors’ might now throw off their shackles and dare to think the loveable adopted Brit’s long reign as the unassailable one could just be brought to an end this time?


And indeed, that is just what the Kenyan team tried to do, burn Farah out before he could put in his famous last-lap sprint. Only he’s been around too long to fall for it (except he did fall… and got up, and beat them at their own game. Amazing bloke.)

Money makes the athletes go round… and round

Lyn Davies, the great Welsh longjumper from the 1964 games, explains on radio this morning: Team GB is winning so many medals because if they don’t, they don’t get any more Lottery funding.

Seems a good incentive, with those Canadian racing bikes at over £6k each.


The age of infantile

A new Facebook thing is reportedly a page where grownups can post details of meals they have ordered in fast-food restaurants and other people can write in to comment nicely or nastily on their choice of menu. Hundreds of thousands are signing up to it.

Meanwhile, after weeks of mounting horror stories about the consequences of the latest global craze, in the USA a man has been killed by a random shooter while playing Pokémon Go, pursuing imaginary monsters around what used to be the real world.

Why do we need imaginary monsters in the world, when we have so many real ones?

Mob supporters of Donald Trump are hysterically screaming at Nuremburg-style rallies for the imprisonment and even the murder of his ‘crooked’ opponent in the race to the White House, Mrs Clinton.

Trump, who is plainly insane, as well as being a racist braggart and bullying mysogynist, is inciting them to do so as he sees his poll ratings slide; and yet he has not himself been arraigned for hate crimes or sectioned under whatever equivalent might exist in America (one can always hope) to our Mental Health Act.

His friend, the equally power-crazed Mr Putin, adroitly judging that Western leaders are all on holiday while the media are junketing in Rio, is busy manufacturing a case that the government of Ukraine has militarily violated the Crimean territory he himself violated two years ago, producing a badly bruised man to testify sincerely that insurgents killed an FSB operative and a Russian soldier in a border raid last week.

Kiev has denied it; but as I recently discovered, denying it doesn’t prove you aren’t a witch when some vindictive or possibly mistaken oik liar says you are.

No-one seems quite sure what Vlad the Imperator’s plan is, but as the Russian military builds-up on the Ukraine border again all agree it is but the latest phase in a long history of Kremlin dissembling aimed at confusing and dividing the West. Or maybe it’s an invasion.

Along with Prof Hawking, I’m no longer certain – if ever I was – there is a future for the human race. We have brought upon ourselves an age of infantile, self-indulgent fantasies, with live ammunition.




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