Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic observations

I haven’t posted for a while, for (not serious) reasons that may become clear, but here are some Olympic observations:

I’ve been wrestling with the concept of cheating in sport for a while; most of me believes that the Corinthian spirit should prevail. But this year’s Tour de France was not as interesting an entertainment spectacle as the years when people are being thrown out over drugs.

What’s more, there is no doubt that science is now central to sporting success – why, then, is chemically enhanced performance wrong, when enhancements through nutrition, engineering and technology are OK.

I have come to the conclusion that cheating is entirely legitimate in professional sport – afterall, if you’re not cheatin’ you’re not trying. That’s not to say it should be legal – if you get caught and thrown out, then you’ve tried and failed, and should pay the consequences. Sorry, Dwain Chambers.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that sport is more interesting when you’re good at it. Which brings me to the point…

Is it worth it?
One of the broadsheets ran a chart outlining the amount of money each medal cost us. How typically British. Something like £300 million was invested in the Olympic team in the last four years. On the radio someone said that this would buy you ‘quite a few hospitals’.

It wouldn’t. A big hospital has a budget of around £200 million-a-year, the investment in sport is chicken feed by comparison. But the impact is huge and the success is amazing.

Look at it another way; we have a medal for every 1.2 million people in this country; compare that to China (12 million), USA (4 million), Germany (2 million) and Russia (1.4 million). We have a gold for every 3.2 million, (against China (36 million), USA (13 million) and Germany (5 million)).

It means our personal investment in being successful at sport is relatively small. Yes, there are other things you can spend money on, but we should be investing in our collective esteem.

Team GB
I like the concept of Team GB – that every British competitor in every sport wears the same tracksuit and carries the same badge. We are one team – I like that sense of unity. It says something about us as a nation – that whether you’re winning gold medals or coming last, you’re part of the same team. We’re not only successful, but it’s a good kind of success.

Which sports
As the Games progress, we seem to be involved in increasingly bizarre sports. I rather like Steve Backley’s definition of an Olympic sport. The winner should be obvious - it shouldn’t have to be judged by experts (like, say, synchronised swimming). It should be the pinnacle of success in the sport (which would throw out football and tennis) and there should be legitimate competition across most, if not all continents (so, Baseball should be on the gallows).

Renewed acquaintances
On thing I love about the Olympics is watching a Czech woman winning skeet shooting at 8am on BBC1 a Tuesday. I will never hear of her again. I like that (as I’m tying, Iceland are playing France in Handball. I also like the fact that every four years you come into contact with Dan Topolski – who is a brilliant commentator in the rowing. But in between Olympics’, I couldn’t place him in a line up. What does he do in the interim? Him screaming “THE BRITISH ARE COMING” until he was hoarse during the coxless fours is my lasting memory of the Games.

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