I watched open water swimming on television the other day. The next day I watched cross-country mountain biking. I couldn’t tear myself away, which is odd when you consider that the one thing these two Olympic sports have in common is that there is almost nothing to look at for a very long time. And yet…and yet…if there was something to look at, I wanted to be there to see it.
Presumably I have a bad case of Olympic spirit, characterised by a compulsion to watch all kinds of bizarre sports in which I have no real interest. The BBC is not helping me. Every time I turn on the TV there is nothing much going on except tedious conversation, and whenever I turn it off, I find I have missed something that no-one who has seen it will ever forget.
Not wanting to be a total couch potato, I end up watching all the exciting bits after they happen, which means I am deprived of the emotional high that uncertainty adds to the mix. I have not screamed, cried, laughed with joy or torn my hair out. To be fair, I rarely do. I have however got a great deal of pleasure out of superb performances, medal or not.
I have to admit my Olympian compulsion did not extend to actually going to the Olympics. The whole alien paraphernalia of trying to obtain tickets was just too much for me, especially as you could, like friends of mine, end up watching something you would never watch under any other circumstances – in their case, two nights of boxing.
Bearing this in mind, it seemed odd in the extreme for the BBC pundits to enthuse about the big crowds that certain sports were attracting. There may have been full houses for taekwondo, women’s football, tiddleywinks and Greco-Roman freestyle wrestling, but did anyone really want to see it, or did they just want to be part of the Olympic experience and couldn’t get tickets for anything else? If so, the legacy might be a bit thinner, or less certain, than anticipated.
Not that I want to put a damper on the Olympics. I really love watching most sports, even women’s football, though I find that as I age, I tend to prefer highlights. What is difficult to sit through is commentators rhapsodising about all and sundry, over and over again. The few who have something worthwhile to say, like Ian Thorpe and Michael Johnson, are of course wonderful, brilliant, the best I’ve ever seen and worth a medal every time. How do you feel about that, Ian? Could you just tell us what was going through your mind, Michael?
I don’t really blame people for asking sports people stupid questions. I blame the people who make them ask the questions. But maybe I have an allergy to excessive emotion.
I suspect, though, that the real problem is over-exposure. There is just too much to take in, and the desperation not to miss anything tends to take something away from the pleasure you get out of what you see. What I really wanted was, say, an hour’s programme around 10pm each night, showing you all the bits you really wanted to see – and when I say highlights (which I see I didn’t), I do not mean the last lap of a 1500-metre race. There does seem to be a complete failure to understand what you can shorten and what you can’t.
Oh, well. I expect it’s just me. I don’t even have a flag. And next week we’ll be back to Match of the Day. How is that not going to be an anti-climax of epic proportions?