More to the Games than just Usain


You don’t want to read another article about Ainslie and Ennis, Murray and Mo, the rowers and the riders; which is convenient, as there’s nothing much more to say. Every paper this week has given the front-page treatment to the British medal winners – as well they should – to the point where any member of Team GB expecting a gold in the second week of London 2012 might almost start worrying about medal fatigue. Though if Phillips Idowu manages to both claim the triple jump competition and challenge Charles van Commenee to pistols at dawn there might just be a story in that. Still, I imagine we’ve reached saturation point with the headline sports.

So from the start I’ve been taking Jacques Cousteau as my inspiration and, remote control my bathysphere, exploring the murky depths the red button has to offer. It emerges that, beyond the big-budget, HD, multi-presenter zones of the velodrome and Eton Dorney, there are other worlds. Worlds where Hazel Irvine fears to tread. Often shown by fixed lens cameras, shorn of any presentation or commentary, this is pure sport. First stop was the under 56kg Men’s weightlifting. It was enthralling. These are men who weigh less than 9 stone, lifting over 26 stone. Without the benefit of commentary (or indeed any noise at all apart from the moans of the competitors) the viewer had to intuit the narratives – no idea of favourites or non-runners gave the whole thing a pleasant sense of surprise. Weightlifting, against all rash expectation, makes for compulsive viewing. There’s a moment between the lift beginning and its completion or failure where all is utter jeopardy – it’s like the flipping of a pancake but instead of a dough-plastered hob there’s a possibility for excruciating injury. The athletes are completely exposed, as if on stage delivering a monologue. And when Om Yun Chol of North Korea hoisted a preposterous 168kg of bar and plates into the air he blew the doors off the place. Most of this crowd were people who, it wouldn’t be too risky to wager, weren’t aficionados of the powerlifting scene, but they’d been won over by the sheer human exertion on display.

Next up was water polo. Not an event that’s made much of a cultural impact on the British consciousness, American high school films full of letterman jacket-clad jocks aside. But even without any analysis the bouts between south eastern European nations and traditional Olympics high-fliers like Australia and the US were compelling. An underwater camera showed the extent of the skulduggery, as many a man was sent to the sin-bin corner for a range of offences that ran the gamut from comical (tweaking) to violent (full on kidney punches). Highly tactical, the sport revolves around complex build-up play (think Arsenal) combined with explosive shooting (think other teams than Arsenal). Also impressive was the conditioning required to be constantly treading water before motoring oneself down the pool in possession, only to have to grapple with belligerent opposition.

So take the plunge. We have a week left – get off the beaten track. Whoever prevails in the Bolt/Blake/Gay tussl, the clip will be all over news broadcasts and highlight montages for months on end. But the winner of the women’s Elliott 6m sailing competition might not make BBC Breakfast, so catch her while you can. Taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling, modern pentathlon: there’s plenty of time left to learn enough to be a bore by the time Rio 2016 rolls around. In the good old days the motto of the News of the World was ‘all human life is there’. The same is true (if it was ever true of the Screws) of the Olympics. Tall and short, thick and thin, fast and slow. As Simon Barnes, the veteran chief sportswriter of the Times, has pointed out: every moment over these two weeks is the culmination of someone’s life. And that includes the kayak sprinters. So give them a shot.


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