My take on the Olympics in Beijing

Image above: Matthew Mitcham, from his Facebook page. His win was the moment of the Games for me, marginally ahead of Sally McLellan, Jared Tallent and Steve Hooker.

Image above: Italy’s Giovanna Trillini (L) competes against Cuba’s Misleydis Company during the Women’s individual Foil elimination round of 32 match on August 11, 2008 at the Fencing Hall of National Convention center, as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Trillini won 15-7. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images).

This post will by dynamic. I will keep adding my observations as they come to mind. Oh, this definitely has an Australian bias. I wasn’t going to get too interested in the Olympics this time, in fact I really didn’t four years ago, but there were so many brilliant surprises and historic moments this time. These events can only be positive for China.

Opening Ceremonies. Zzzzzzz. Who cares? I do not think that we should need armies to run or entertain us at big sporting events, wearing uniforms or not. Hopefully they will not try to do it in the same way in London. I would rather see the money devoted to sport itself.

Inane morning TV programs. Yum Cha, the lowest of the low. Why? They occupy time that could have been used to show delayed telecasts or at least highlights of events that could not be broadcast live the day before. Mostly they are full of stooopid comments from assorted B-grade idiots who do not understand any sports and seem more interested in self-promotion than anything else. Their only saving grace is that (hopefully) they provide canon-fodder for the acerbic SMH journalist and TV-reviewer Ruth Ritchie. Please Ruth, pleeeeeaaaassseee!!!!

Inspiration. Michael Phelps, Stephanie Rice, Drew Ginn & Duncan Free, the Australian hockey teams, the Australian female swimmers, Emma Snowsill, Jared Tallent, both 470 crews, Sally McLellan, Steve Hooker and perhaps above all the others Matt Mitcham . . . (more to be added I hope). They stood out to me from the sports I managed to watch. Phelps is a complete legend, almost too good to be true. Jared Tallent pushed himself so hard that he threw up twice in the finishing straight, then he backed up with 2nd in the 50 km walk. Their results are not just from four years of work. To do what they do usually requires many more years of extreme devotion and more hard work than any of us have ever done. They showcase humanity almost at its peak. We can’t all be Olympians, but their efforts can at least inspire us to overcome inertia, resistance and sheer incompetence in our daily work. How many of them have said that nothing is impossible so far? Did Matt Mitcham and Steve Hooker choke under enormous pressure when the gold was on the line before their final jump? I don’t think so. What fantastic mental strength and belief in their own capability. I was so impressed. Matt’s win was unexpected and certainly against all odds.

Hope. I hope that those we find inspiring are “clean” and that more honest-looking and talented hard workers like all those Jamaican sprinters continue to beat the heck out of all of those big-headed, loud-mouthed, steroid-fed show-offs from you-know-where. And I hope we continue to see more inspirational efforts in the last week. I also hope we never have to see Happy Daddo and his stooopid side kicks associated with serious sport ever again. I hope Jo Griggs continues to be associated with sports broadcasting. She knows what it means and doesn’t try to steal the limelight from the real stars, nor does she feel the need to remind us of her own sporting glory.

Entertainment. The Australian womens’ water polo team coach; all of the gymnasts and divers; Phil Liggett (the doyen of cycling commentators, who could make paint-drying sound exciting); the laconic Mike Turtur (84 Olympic cycling gold medallist and commentator); and Steve Moneghetti whom I will always remember for his impartial, objective and highly technical call of the final moments of the 5,000m event won by Andrew Lloyd at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland: “LLOYDIE, LLOYDIE!!!!!!”. And the brilliant association of fantastic sporting images and drama with Massive Attack’s Teardrop during the final night’s coverage on Seven. It worked for me!

The Olympics and Social Media. For me this was one huge distinction between this and previous Olympics. You didn’t need to donate to Telstra to send a personal message to athletes who had the brains to set up social media profiles. As soon as Sally McLellan won her silver and spread joy to athletics fans all over Australia, I was straight onto her Facebook profile and sent her congratulations. She even mentioned receiving the messages in her post-race media interviews. With Matthew Mitcham I could go even further as someone had set up a fan page for him on Facebook. Within about 36 hours of him making the 10 m platform diving final the total number of his global fans had increased (from memory) by about 4-5,000. This indicates a few very powerful aspects of Social Networks: their viral power, world-wide reach and spread; community (in this case probably strongly GLBT or GLBT-friendly); and the need people have now to express themselves or engage when they feel strongly about something. Whilst those of us in cultural institutions might not always be able to compete with such popular figures and events such as the Olympics, there is nevertheless a lot for us to learn from this.

In conclusion, I would like to add here that I think Matthew’s final gold medal was very important for Australians. His attitude, emotion and his open, honest and very articulate responses to the media left all of us in a very positive frame of mind post-Olympics. I take nothing away from the efforts of previous medal winners, but I feel and I have heard it said elsewhere, that some of the swimmers’ interviews were just too well-drilled and unconvincing. Perhaps Ian Hanson does too good a job with them and now their responses just don’t have half the credibility and spontaneity that Matthew and Sally did. The media just lapped them both up.

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