Thursday 21 August 2008

Days 12 and 13: A laziness round-up

It was Day 12 of the Beijing Olympics yesterday, which meant I got so engrossed in my oil painting of a naked Jill Douglas ravishing Dame Kelly Holmes I forgot to do any blogging of Sports Issues. It was quite a piece of bad timing, because yesterday was another notable day of Sports Happenings.

The big news was Usain Bolt, for once in his life running as fast as he could for the entire distance, in the 200 metres. The rest of the field looked flabbergasted as he disappeared into the distance, and at the line he broke Michael Johnson's 12-year old world record. It was a time which I clearly remember being set at the Atlanta games, so now having seen the mark be broken twice in front of my very eyes, it is now a very special world record for me. From this moment onwards I insist on only counting in base-200. I could pass comment on how astonishing an athlete Usain Bolt really is, but I'm sure you've all read all the superlatives everywhere else already. So, what I will say is this: Michael Johnson is probably the single most impressive sprinter I've seen in my lifetime. Anyone who can run fast enough to make Usain Bolt actually run flat out - and even dip at the line - to beat their best time has got to be the best of the best of the best.

Day 12's sport

Yesterday felt like a very hockeyey day, and so it proved, with the Women's Hockey semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands. Hockey is a sport which people who enjoy football will often start to follow during the Olympics. This is mainly because hockey is played with swift, neat, passing moves and exciting teamwork. Hockey is played the way football should be played but never is, in other words. By Jake the Peg.

All this said, there are some exciting and bewildering differences which are just bound to get my juices up.

The first thing I noticed is the opportunity to accessorise. I had imagined that the hockey sticks would be painted up in team colours and handed out to the players by a faceless drone before the game began. But the hockeyists all provided their own bats. It's an opportunity all the top world footballers would kill for. In the absence of a third, wooden, leg, David Beckham has had to turn to tattoos to such an extent some of his earlier ones are now being tippexed out and worked back over. The hockey players are able to neatly sidestep septicaemia with the simple expedient of a trip to JJB Sports. Argentina's star player, Aymar, thrilled the world - both with her doomed attempt to win the match on her own - and through her matching pink shoes/ pink stick combo. All marvelled. Except, possibly, the Dutch, who play a brand of the game best described as Total Hockey.

Running out comfortable 5-2 winners, Holland's success was largely due to their mastery of that other intriguing aspect of Hockery-me-Hock, the Penalty Corner. Awarded for any infraction in the defending team's shooting circle, the defending team must retreat to their goal line whilst the attacking team go through a carefully choreographed routine which normally ends in a ROCK HARD ball flying through the air (at head height) towards the goal.

This is such an important scoring opportunity that the majority of teams now have a specialist shooter. Some of them are so specialised that they are only brought onto the field of play for a corner to take place. They have evolved to be brilliant at shooting, with a huge muscular upper-body and trunk-like arms, but their legs are so atrophied that they cannot walk. Possibly. The Dutch specialist was able to both score from short corners AND play hockey, and she put Argentina to the sword. Argentina's game plan was seemingly reliant on the dribbling skill of - almost inevitably - "The Maradona of Hockey" Aymar. The Dutch team neatly circumvented this tactical masterstroke by keeping the ball at all times.

A word must also go to the Hockey goalkeeper. These brave, fearless, lunatic, prematurely-aged souls are entrusted with the hopes and dreams of a nation. A responsibility discharged in this case by very hard projectiles being fired at you with sticks. The reason so many hockey games are so high scoring compared with football, I think, is basic self-preservation instincts. At the post-match festivities, I imagine the outfield players celebrate or commiserate over a foaming pint of mead, pausing only to sing a filthy song or spit out a few teeth. The custodians, in the meantime, are carried off to a darkened room readt go into therapy. Or, if they've been forced to face a penalty stroke, a medically-controlled deep narcotic coma.

I, in the spirit of Great Journalism, made a list of points during the game which I felt needed to be covered. Now, in the spirit of Lazy Journalism, I present the remainder which I was unable to shoehorn into velvety prose.
  1. From the normal corner, players do not tend to head the ball.
  2. The match surface is butcher's grass watered to the point at which a football match would probably be abandoned.
  3. You are seemingly not permitted to hit your opponents with your stick.
  4. Giant orange inflatable novelty hockey sticks have been invented and are available to buy.
Cheating bastard update

Five athletes have so far been caught being dirty, filthy, cheating bastards so far. Day 12, however, saw the first medal-winning cheating bastard. Ukraine's Liudmyla Blonska won silver in the Heptatlon but was caught on the goofballs. Her B sample is expected to confirm the findings today, at which point Blonska will be facing a lifetime ban, having been caught doping twice in the past five years.

Two points. One, surely the answer to this is simple: lifetime bans from drug cheats immediately that the first offence takes place. This way we can try to avoid a repeat of this, where the promoted athletes in the event will receive their medals in a fed-ex bag rather than on a podium. Two, how shit is Liudmyla Blonska? If you're going to cheat, at least win the bloody gold medal. There's only one thing worse than a cheat, and that's a stupid, useless cheat. A round of applause, then, for Liudmyla Blonska, Official Cheating Cow.

Day 13's sport - interim report

China is a culture deeply entrenched in numerology and superstition. Most people now know about their love of the number 8, and perhaps their distaste for the number 4. They are based on the fact their words for these numbers sound much like important life events, such as health, wealth, death, crabs, hangnails, sex, etc. I can only assume that the Chinese word for the number thirteen sounds a lot like the Chinese word for Insanity. Because all the most outrageous sports are out in force now. None more so than the 10km open-water swimming.

'Swimming' is something of a misnomer here, because whilst a certain amount of aquatic self-propulsion does take place, the event is rather more complex than that. It seems to also involve elements of fighting, rape and murder as well. All wrapped up in the handy package of the sternest feat of endurance since the 40 days in the wilderness. This is an event so tough that, no matter what your parents or teachers warned, the competitors actually have to eat and drink during the race in order to stave off the effects of death. Just to add an extra air of lunacy to proceedings, this is completed floating on one's back, like a sea otter opening a clam.

Britain's David Davies led off and at one stage held a lead of seven metres. Funnily enough, by the end of the race - which takes just shy of two hours to complete - he was rather tired and being closed down by his rivals. Closed down, punched, pulled, bitten, wanked off, robbed, the whole gamut. All of the competitors were so tired that they were lurching from side to side in the water like drunkards at closing time, but Davies, in only his third open water marathon swim, was taking it harder than most. Taking a very deliberate look up to see the position of the finishing buoy was all the invitation his Dutch rival Maarten van der Weijden needed to burst into the lead. Davies crossed the line second, 1.5 seconds behind after 6 miles of madness. He was completely delirious, and was carried out of the water on a stretcher. The real Olympics starts NOW, I thought.

The result of the race came with a postscript. The gold medal winner, van der Weijden, is a cancer survivor, having beaten Leukaemia at the beginning of the decade. I think he can now add survival of the Olympic 10km Marathon Open-Water Swimming to his CV.

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