The 2012 Olympics – A fabulous sporting overload

There’s just a day or so left before the 2012 Olympics gets underway (or if you’re a football fan, they already have!) and I’m excited! I’ve only really got into the Olympics over the last couple of games, I paid more attention at Beijing than I have before, and I’m really looking forward to watching as much as possible this year.

It helps that we’ll have day by day threads on Sidepodcast, so there will always be a place to chatter about what is happening, and it also helps that the BBC’s overload of coverage means you’re unlikely to be able to miss anything. The games being held in this country is a bit tricky, because plenty of people are quite down about the situation (understandably so, traffic, politics, it can all be a nightmare). But I’m excited about the games for what they are – athletes who train religiously for four years from all across the globe coming together to put on a great show. And trying to win a medal or two.

With my growing interest in different sports, plus all my knowledge from the book I just read, I thought I’d note down how I feel about the different events before the games happen. Perhaps at the end, I’ll come back and see how my feelings have changed.

  • Aquatics – Looking forward to the diving and the swimming, the latter being one of my favourite events. I love to swim, although still haven’t been brave enough or found the right pool timetable to give it another go myself. Synchronised swimming isn’t really something of interest to me, and water polo sounded totally brutal in the book, so probably best to be avoided.
  • Archery – I like the concept of archery, but somehow all the high-tech gadgetry they have these days makes it look less like the Robin Hood tournament I have in my head. Having said that, it’s supposed to create some high tension competition, so it could be worth a look.
  • Athletics – It’s a must for me. The more I run, the more I am aghast at what the runners can do. I’m less bothered about the jumping skills, and would pass on the throwing, but they are usually interspersed with the track events so it comes as a whole package.
  • Badminton – This is one of the sports I could potentially have been good at when I was at school, but (think I’ve mentioned this before) it was either badminton club or chess club and I went for the latter because the teacher was nicer. I vaguely remember watching some badminton when it was Gail Emmins and somebody Robertson, but I think she retired. It’s a bit fast for my watching eyes, but if it’s on, I’ll be tuned in.
  • Basketball – Since I read the book and learnt about the rules and scoring, basketball has suddenly opened up to me. Instead of a bunch of freakishly tall people twisting this way and that incomprehensively, it makes a lot more sense. I’m not sure my interest can be sustained over a full match, with all the time outs and delays, but if I get behind a team, that might be better.
  • Boxing – No, no. Move along.
  • Canoeing – For whatever reason, I wasn’t really aware that canoeing was both slalom (the scary water rapids kind) and sprint (just regular racing). I’m intrigued by the idea of racing, presumably it’s just like rowing but different. The slalom is always worth a watch, if only because it looks so flippin’ difficult to go back through the uphill gates.
  • Cycling – There are lots of different velodrome events, and I can only say for sure that I don’t like the sprint (where there’s two cyclists and they grind to a halt in a bid to outfox each other) but I do like the pursuit (where they start on opposite sides of the track and chase each other down). I also think those two names should be switched, but what do I know. I caught a glimpse of BMXing last time out, just enough to see our British hopeful Shanaze Reade falling down. It looked great though, so I want to see more of this. The road and mountain biking stuff I can take or leave.
  • Equestrian – I’m really not interested in the horsey type things, except perhaps the occasional bit of jumping.
  • Fencing – Can’t get into this at all, and it’d just make me think of Madonna anyway.
  • Field hockey – See, hockey is not so much a good memory from school, so I tend to ignore it. But perhaps I can try and be more open.
  • Football – I would probably be more interested in the football if we hadn’t just invested a significant amount of time in the Euros. I only have so much football love to give of a year, and it may all be spent.
  • Gymnastics – The artistic gymnastics (beam, bars, etc) is one of my favourite events. I remember watching lots of it from Beijing, and getting really invested in the events. I like all the women’s events, and just a couple of the men’s, but would watch it all. Rhythmic gymnastics is not so interesting to me – I get that handling the clubs and ribbons is a real skill, and they seem crazy bendy, but it’s bordering slightly on dance, and I’m not sure where that fits at the Olympics? Also, I’ve been severely disappointed by any trampolining I’ve seen because everyone loves going on a trampoline, but it turns out it’s not so much fun to watch.
  • Handball – This one is a mystery to me, even after reading the book. If I catch it on, I’ll perhaps give it a go, but I’m not sure how much I’ll understand.
  • Judo – Not really my thing.
  • Modern pentathlon – I love the concept behind this (according to the book) about someone escaping from a prison, fighting their way out, swimming across a lake, jumping on a random horse, etc, etc. When it has a story behind it, it’s much easier to take in. In reality, the competition becomes far more sanitised, and with spread out events, I’m likely to lose track. Be interesting if I can keep on top of it though. I do like it when there are all-around style competitions (same as in gymnastics and athletics).
  • Rowing – Definitely interested in this, I do so like the boat race, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to differentiate the many classes. I know it’s how many people are in the boat, so I should be able to count, but I am easily confused.
  • Sailing – I’m not interested in sailing much, which is lucky because I didn’t really understand a word the book said about it, and there appear to be so many different types and events that it must be hard to keep up!
  • Shooting – I don’t know how I feel about shooting, I’m erring on the side of not interested.
  • Table tennis – This really is too fast for me to watch, and Forrest Gump will always be the hero in my eyes anyway.
  • Taekwondo – Like the other fighting and wrestling, just not my thing.
  • Tennis – I’m keen to see the tennis at Wimbledon again, particularly the novelty of it not being all-white. It’s also intriguing that Nadal is not coming back to defend his medal, so it could be an open field again.
  • Triathlon – Definitely interested in this one, it’s just an extension of the running (like), swimming (like), cycling (tolerate) – so it’s double the goodness!
  • Volleyball – Apparently there are two types of volleyball – who knew? This sport gets attention for all the wrong reasons. I don’t mind watching it but I can’t say I’ve ever got particularly excited about it.
  • Weightlifting – I do like the weightlifting, but I can never really work out why. I like World’s Strongest Man too, so there must be something there. Also the highlight of the last Olympics was that poor weightlifter walking into the wall.
  • Wrestling – Good lord, no.

There’s such a lot to get through, and although I have the best of intentions I know I’m going to miss a lot. If Wimbledon is anything to go by I will have less time than I imagine I do and there will be more I want to see than I expected, and I will fail to consume it all. The priorities though, for me, are gymnastics, swimming and athletics. Any more than that will be a total bonus. What are you interested in watching over the next couple of weeks?

A former champion or a past champion?

At the beginning of the month, when I was catching up with the Radio 5Live Wimbledon podcasts, I was intrigued by this snippet of conversation between John McEnroe and Pat Cash. McEnroe was hosting one of those 606 listener call in specials, but Cash had to share a sudden irritation of his that wasn’t in relation to any question in particular.

Pat: Something that annoys me a little bit, people calling you former Wimbledon champion, or something. If you won the championship, they don’t take it away, do they? So, former Wimbledon champion is like taking it away from you. You’re always a Wimbledon champion. People say “you’re a former Wimbledon champion.” No, I’m a Wimbledon champion!

John: It may not have been last year, but you know…

Pat: Yea, past Wimbledon champion, that’s okay. Former is not correct. So please…

John: As long as they say Wimbledon Champion…

So, clearly John isn’t bothered particularly, but it’s one of those little bugbears that has gotten under Pat’s skin. I found it really interesting because I refer to previous Formula One champions as ‘former’ all the time, but maybe I shouldn’t be doing that!

The 2012 Boat Race in three dramatic events

I almost missed the Boat Race this year. I love it enormously, and tweeted a reminder to others (and to myself) earlier in the week. I even had it in my mind to make a live commenting thread for the event. However, then I lost track of what day it was. I didn’t realise it was Saturday and the Boat Race couldn’t have been further from my mind. Thankfully, the fabulous Pat reminded me and I switched on the TV just in time to see the rowers begin their arduous journey down the Thames.

It wasn’t quite as much fun watching without the build up. In previous years, I have mocked the BBC for their overly dramatic and very long build up programme for what is, essentially, a fifteen minute race. However, without it, I didn’t know who any of the rowers were, didn’t know their stories or why they were doing what they were doing. It’s not necessary information, particularly in light of the interesting turn of events, but if it had been a normal boat race, I would have been less enthusiastic about whichever team crossed the finish line first.

Photo credit: Rachel C / Creative Commons

As it happens, there was plenty to be intrigued about without knowing who any of the people were. (Did you know, by the way, that the Oxford Cox, Zoe de Toledo, was also in The Social Network? She played a cox because those twins were rowers. Cool!) Three dramatic events occurred, with the swimmer halting the race midway through, the collision of the oars handing the win to Cambridge, and the collapse of Dr Wood of the Oxford crew at the end.

I don’t have much to say about the crazy swimmer who smiled his way through the disruption. His hopes were to stop the race from being completed, but he did not manage that. Instead, he made himself a laughing stock. Those who don’t like the Boat Race had more ammunition, those who do were left with a race ruined, and no one paid attention to his cause. Every single report I’ve read about the protest has been very vague and fluffy about what his swim was in aid of. No one really knows so there was nothing gained, really and everything lost.

There’s plenty of discussion today about one of the Oxford crews Twitter account, where he has been surprisingly prosaic in the midst of what must be crushing disappointment and anger. The phrase that sticks out for me is: “…your action speaks too loudly for me to hear you…” That one will stick, I think.

What I was really interested in was what happened once the race did restart. Within minutes, the two boats were getting close and clashing, and it didn’t take long for an Oxford rower to find himself with a broken oar. They wanted to halt the race but it continued onwards, granting Cambridge a very easy win. Eight rowers against seven is no good – particularly when that eighth person on the Oxford boat is just extra weight. He kept on pulling the strokes to keep the rhythm but it was all in vain.

The commentators on the BBC were discussing what the history books would say. “Will they mark it as a Cambridge win with an asterisk saying a swimmer halted the race midway through?” asked Jonathan Legard. They concluded it would not be that way. It would be a Cambridge win, no questions asked. In fact, they also decided that the only way Oxford could lodge any kind of note in the history books would be to stop rowing and thus it would be a win to Cambridge, with a non-finish from Oxford. People should be able to deduce from that there was a significant problem.

But the Oxford crew didn’t stop rowing, they kept on pushing to the end. Perhaps they were clinging on to the hope that something could happen to Cambridge and they had to be there to pick up the pieces if anything did occur. Or, perhaps it is a pride thing, so that it is more important to finish the race, no matter what has gone on before. I don’t know which it was, but I think it’s a really interesting debate. Should they stop when it clearly wasn’t an equal race after the restart and they had no chance of winning? Or should they finish because it was their own fault they clashed with Cambridge in the first place, and they have to take the loss with their heads held medium/low?

Year Winning Team Winning Time
2008 Oxford 20:53
2009 Oxford 17:00
2010 Cambridge 17:35
2011 Oxford 17:32
2012 Cambridge No Time

The official results did not record a time due to the restart, but that doesn’t affect the winner, or reflect the Oxford difficulties.

The other thing I noted from the race was that the Oxford cox appealed the race. There are mixed reports on what she was appealing – some say she wanted to restart the entire thing because the wash on the river was too much for the boats on the restart, others say it was because if an incident occurs within the first so many metres, there has to be another restart. Either way, the overall judge and race director John Garrett denied the requests and said the race result stood. Surely an appeal should go to someone other than the person that made the decision in the first place? Otherwise they just say, no, I’m right, hush now?

Odd goings on in the Boat Race this year. I feel sorry for everyone taking part because it ended up being a very disappointing event. I hope that Dr Wood gets better, and that the two crews (and potentials) aren’t put off training for next year. Everyone has been very quick to say this hasn’t happened in 158 years or what have you, so next year’s race can be a normal one. Finally, I hope I remember to tune in early enough next time to find out more about the people involved. Row on, chaps!

Friday Five – Updates on being a Villa fan

Back in August, I wrote about my new enthusiasm for being a football fan, after my first visit to a match earlier in the year. At the end of summer, I was all excited about following along at home – checking in with the app, catching up with Match of the Day, and trying to keep up with the scores. I figured now was as good a time as any to update how it’s going being an Aston Villa fan.

  1. I have finally learned how to pronounce Agbonlahor’s name. It has only taken four months. That’s not too bad. He and Darren Bent appear to be some kind of dream team. I like it. Haven’t seen much from that new N’Zogbia chap though.
  2. The Aston Villa Twitter feed is pretty invaluable. I’m not very good at being in the right place at the right time – for instance, we have occasionally put the TV on mute and just watched the Final Score updates via the BBC. But sometimes I forget to do that, and even worse, sometimes I forget there is even a game on. I am more likely to check Twitter, though, and the AVFC feed has 15 minute updates, punctuated by extra tweets if there are goals. Mr C and I have great fun trying to figure out what the descriptions of the goals actually mean. If we remember to watch Match of the Day, it’s good to see if we pictured it in our heads right.
  3. The goalkeeper is fabulous. Mr C said as much when I told him they’d first signed him. He knew of him from Ireland type teams, but so far he’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve seen. That’s not saying much, of course, because I only know of about three.
  4. I very much enjoyed it when they had an unbeaten streak. They had either won or drawn and not lost a game for ages. Then they lost, and it all got very controversial and the streak was gone. Not doing too badly in terms of the Premier League table though. Somewhere about eighth or ninth, middling.
  5. After seeing my first game in January, I was pretty confident I wouldn’t want to see another. It had been fun but I certainly wasn’t addicted to it. Now I’m starting to think I could do with seeing them in action again. I’m pondering if there are any away games I could visit because I don’t really want to battle my way back to Villa Park again.

So, I can’t really be trusted when I say I’ve done something once and never want to do it again. I also can’t be trusted to be a fanatical fan for too long – as it only lasted a couple of weeks. I was keeping up with who Villa were playing, how it was going, watching the score updates, noting down the results, staying up to see Match of the Day. Now it’s more like remembering at about 4pm that they were playing someone, and then deciding to sacrifice MotD so we can fit in a film instead.

I will try and do better.

Gymnastics is more than just doing cartwheels

Yesterday, the BBC screened a feature length documentary following the Team GB gymnastics squad as they trained ahead of the 2008 Olympics. It was called “Gymnast“. It started at the very beginning, before the six gymnasts had been chosen, and followed many more hopefuls as they tried to get selected.

Hopes and dreams, and all that, it was interesting to see the dynamic between girls, their family, and the coaches. The pressure on those taking exams at the exact same time as the Olympic trials, the worry of those who got injured and whether they would be fit in time.

At the age of 15, spending 40 hours a week training, 10 hours travelling, plus school work, plus having a life? How does that work?

Emotional moments when the six were chosen. A tough, tough job for the coach. Ahead of his announcement, he warned that half would cry, and half would have their dreams fulfilled. It turns out they all cried, and even he needed a hug afterwards.

One of my favourite quotes of the whole thing was a terribly British parent saying: “One day, she might get that Olympic Gold… or one of the Olympic medals.” The unsaid part continued… “or maybe she’ll just get to be there… or get close to being picked…or…”

Really enjoyed the film, and would recommend it, particularly as it might be fun to spot some of the gymnasts and supporting team next year.

Hi ho Aston Villa

You’ll remember that earlier in the year I went to my first (and probably only) football match, and somehow became an Aston Villa fan. I vaguely followed what they were doing for a few weeks, and then sort of lost touch until the season ended. Mr C and I watched the occasional Match of the Day update, but even then only if we happened to be in the right place at the right time – it’s not allowed on the iPlayer.

However, new Premier League stuff is about to begin again, and that means I get a second chance to do a better job of being an AV fan.

I have downloaded the app.

I have browsed the BBC for news, and learnt that:

  1. Ashley Young has gone, which means the people who were beside us at the football match and screamed at “Youngy!” every time he came near, they’ll be bitterly disappointed.
  2. Brad Friedl has also gone. That is annoying because I have a picture of him which is now out of date.
  3. N’Zogbia has arrived. I do not know how to say this name.
  4. Some other people have moved in and out. I don’t know who they are.
  5. No one likes the new manager.
  6. Aston Villa are currently second in the league. Because the alphabet is awesome.

I swiped a pocket size guide from someone else’s newspaper, and it has dates of when they’re playing and stuff. It also has a big picture of Ashley Young, which is unfortunate.

I have even downloaded some football related podcasts (although I do not promise to listen to them).

I have Aston Villa gloves, although it is still summer.

I can’t fail!

When they say beautiful game, they mean Forlán, right?

Ah, so that’s it, it’s all over. Done and dusted. The World Cup 2010 is complete. Wait a minute… that was it?

I am left feeling slightly confused and bemused by the whole World Cup thing. The first two weeks were brilliant. Football overload. Matches starting all over the place, lots of great teams and fun player names to laugh over. There were barely any tactics, because a draw was okay. None of that hanging around near the goal to make sure you didn’t lose the lead, or bringing your goalie out to strike because you have nothing left to lose.

The knockout rounds have left a bad taste in my mouth, and not because England were supremely awful. There were more goals, and better play, but only for some of the matches. The rest of it all seemed very tactical. The commentators called the final “tetchy and cynical”. We’d only been waiting an entire month to watch it, and I have yet to find anyone who enjoyed it.

What was with all that waiting, anyway? From the manic early rounds, where at one point there were four matches a day, two on at the same time, to days and days of no football at all. Waiting around for the semi-finals, so much waiting that I had plenty of time to forget who was who.

We had that ridiculous third round match that didn’t make any sense at all, who remembers who came third in any given tournament? Who cares? But that silly match had better play than the final, which just made the whole thing even more confusing.

I learnt lots about the “beautiful game” though. From my initial crash course, to now, I have added notes about what kind of fouls are legal or not, whether penalty goals count towards the award at the end, plus more than I could ever want to know about goal line technology and that goals don’t count even if everybody saw it but the four ref type people blinked and missed it.

Being a referee must be the worst job in the world. Why would anyone do it?

In summary, I found the World Cup 2010 all very odd. I did enjoy the tournament, although lots of people have said it hasn’t been very good. I think it says a lot when the most exciting thing about the final was that Paul the Octopus got his predictions right again.

Still, lovely Forlán won the player of the tournament. Not the Golden Booty thing for the most goals, but arguably something better. The BBC have a video montage of his best bits (UK only, I think) and he posted a photo on Twitpic of himself and the other Uruguay players right before they threw him in the swimming pool. Charming!

The general consensus is that he’s a bit old to be around for the next World Cup, so I’ll have to consign this to a brief but finished obsession. Roll on Brazil 2014!