Sunday, August 24, 2008

And what are the foreigners good at? Running away ...

SO I’M sitting in the snug of The Shivering Whippet and there are two blokes perched on stools at the bar. They’re your usual lower middle class geezers – car boot sales and barbecues, caravan holidays and Cotton Traders polo shirts. And they’re discussing, in some detail, the art of the épée.

Now the épée, for those who don’t know, is one of the three Olympic fencing disciplines, the others being foil and sabre. And it’s fair to say that such a subtle, delicate sport wouldn’t normally be required viewing for men who owned their own power tools.

“Of course,” says one, “The épée might be similar to the foil, but it has a stiffer blade that is V-shaped in cross-section, a larger bell guard, and is heavier.”

“Yes,” said the other, taking the top off his Carlsberg, “and the technique is somewhat different, as there are no rules regarding priority and right-of-way. In addition, the entire body area is a valid target area.”

And that’s what I love about the Olympics – everyone is suddenly an expert. In the past fortnight I’ve heard tea-ladies discussing the need for pommel horse performers to keep their hands parallel at all times and listened to a kebab shop owner holding forth on the finer points of dressage. It’s brilliant. And with chilli sauce as well.

AND IT’S hard to be churlish about many aspects of these Games. Yes, the IOC has proved more slippery than a bar of soap when it comes to dodging difficult questions from Her Majesty’s Press. And yes, someone blundered big-time by sending out a highly-rated boxer who had the services of sports scientists, trainers and nutritionists and still turned up too fat to fight.

But that opening ceremony, although the lavish product of a free-spending totalitarian state, was still a bit special. I have to ask, is there anything the Chinese aren’t good at? Apart from cockle-picking, of course.

There’s also been a reassuring sniff of the Empire in Britain’s outstanding performance. Ask yourself, which sports do we usually excel at? Shooting, riding, cycling, sailing … all skills required to take civilisation to those parts of the world not already coloured pink, and mostly involving sitting down. And what do the foreigners do well? Running away, that’s what.

IF I WAS one of Gordon Brown’s spin doctors, I’d be desperately trying to find ways of shoring up his plummeting reputation by linking him with our unexpected success, much the way Harold Wilson exploited our 1966 World Cup win. Unfortunately, when you trace back the reasons for this record medal haul, you end up with the much-vilified figure of former Prime Minister John Major. For it was Major who launched the National Lottery back in 1994, and it is the Lottery which has pumped huge funding into British sport, resulting in those star performances from our cyclists and swimmers.

One small point: the fact that we’re now paying a whole plethora of athletes £12,000 a year just to play games means that these people are now civil servants, accountable to the public for their performance. That’s why the only bum note in a brilliant fortnight has been the presence of too many plucky losers.

“I’m just so glad to be here,” they bleat. “Whatever happens now doesn’t matter.”

Well excuse me, but it does. I am now paying for you so I expect a bit of effort for my money. This is not a free holiday or a publicly-funded gap year. This is serious stuff.

I would therefore propose that any Olympic athlete who’s pocketed Lottery cash for several years should have to pay back a proportion of that money if they fail to deliver a personal best performance. It’s not much to ask, is it? They’ve had at least four years to prepare. Barring injury or mishap, then I want value for money. They don’t have to win, or even ‘medal’ (and what a hateful abuse of a beautiful language that expression is); they just have to perform better than they ever have done before.

What I don’t want to see is big pussies like boxer Bradley Saunders whining that he was happy to be eliminated from the competition because he was homesick. No, really. The light-welterweight, a supposed medal contender, was beaten by a Frenchman and then said he was relieved to be leaving Peking because “It’s a weight off my shoulders now I know I haven't got a medal. Now I can live a normal boy’s life for a while.”

Well yes, and hopefully that means getting a job, you lardy-arsed waster. You’ve trousered £140,000 of our money in the past few years. The least you could do was go and have a proper go. And as for being homesick, wasn’t that your mum and dad and several members of your family I could see at ringside? Thought so.

LOVED THE uncomplicated post-race interviews with Dame Rebecca Adlington of Mansfield, a simple girl who just wanted to celebrate with a pair of new shoes. The only problem was, I kept thinking I’d tuned into a Victoria Wood sketch by mistake.

FINALLY, WHAT are we going to do about ‘Brave’ Paula Radcliffe? The mad, old, mdeal-free hag embodies selfishness in the extreme. Her self-serving decision to ‘run’ in the Marathon, even though she had no chance of ‘medalling’ and not much hope of finishing, denied a place in the race to a keen, young understudy.

In the light of her 23rd place, perhaps the woman who’s made herself a millionaire out of the sport might consider paying for some of the Lottery-funded assistance that she’s been receiving? Oh yes, you didn’t know that, did you?


Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

According to this, sales of sports goods have mushroomed because of the Olympics. Tesco's wimwear sales up 135% in recent weeks. Olympic fever, then; not because it's August.

And bicycle sales up 130%. That would be because of Beijing, and not at all caused by petrol being six quid a gallon.

I'm glad that's all cleared up.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Grumpy Goat said...

That's 'swimwear', of course.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another small difference between foil and epee: a valid hit in foil requires a 500 gram touch. In epee it's 750 grams. So every time you get hit in epee you wind up with a bruise the size of a shilling. And that's after the heavy duty FIE approved jacket and undervest protector (called a plastron).

8:35 PM  
Anonymous tony b.liar said...

Bazza had it almost spot on about the Olympics, with the exception of the best bit, which is that our Australian [and European] friends had their noses well and truly rubbed in the smelly stuff. Marvellous! Once Australia no longer wins medals for swimming and cycling it's plain to see what a busted flush they are as a sporting nation!
The upside of it all being over now, is that we no longer have to suffer the excruciating "Dame" Kelly Holmes - a woman[?] of dubious intellect whose only contribution seems to have been to endlessly repeat how "amazin'" everything was about "Team GB's" performance. When she made endless statements that so-and-so was "like amazin'", followed by a few "awesomes" thrown in for good measure, it's small wonder our langauge, our 'yoof' and our country are in such a hopeless bloody mess!!

3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So "medal" as a verb is attrocious - agreed.

When did "trouser" become a verb Bazza?

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

What I loved about the Olympics coverage was the way in which London 2012 spun the notion that in four years time it will, yes, be a smaller event, but that means it will be more intimate.

(And how the "hand-over" ceremony was so politically-correct, with the cute little Asian girl...)

Apart from that, I loved the whole thing - even Boris' attempt at flag-waving.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous arescee said...

previous comment in pass the henbane mother still applicable?

11:04 PM  
Blogger Snappy said...

We haven't a hope of matching the spectacle of the Beijing games, mainly because we haven't the money to throw at it (topped by the fact that we'd be useless at it).
Our only hope lies in going for a different approach (I considered saying 'slant' but felt that might be considered an inappropriate Prince Philip-ism).
London has a probably-undeserved worldwide reputation for being "cool" and "fashionable", so perhaps we should create the trendiest Olympics in history, with officials wearing Vivienne Westwood designs in a stadium created by Damien Hirst as an art installation. Knowing our luck, however, the fashions will be designed by Boris Johnson and the stadium by Tracey Emin.

9:39 AM  

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