Earlier on today I found myself watching the Olympics, as I have found myself doing so much over the last couple of weeks. It just happened to be USA v Australia in the women’s beach volleyball final, and for all that’s been said about the atmosphere at these games to be honest I didn’t really notice that there wasn’t a crowd to speak of; I was too busy enjoying the subtle nuances, incredible athleticism and near telepathic team work for which beach volleyball is so rightly famed. It was only at the medal ceremony a bit later that it occurred to me no one was really wearing many clothes. I must pay more attention.
Before that I was watching the horse jumping round of the modern pentathlon event in the gym (on TV, obviously) and it involved a German lady who had clearly lost, or had never had, control of her horse. She was really very upset and her face sported an expression you might find on someone who was having their hemorrhoids flicked whilst being told their father had just died. After a few agonising moments Dobbin (or whatever it was called) finally got a shift on and cleared a few fences but then decided it was all a bit too much bother today and flatly refused to jump any longer, instead choosing to petulantly knock off the poles and leave them for someone else to clear up. The commentator was as useful as they ever are, saying things like “this clearly isn’t going well”, “she’s living a real life nightmare” and “the crowd don’t know what to make of this” (how could they, they weren’t there). Eventually she rode off in tears, her dreams of Olympic glory shattered, though the horse didn’t seem to be all that concerned. Perhaps he was tired of being ridden over fences all the time. Perhaps he had a point.
Only later did I learn that in the modern pentathlon riders are teamed up with unfamiliar horse at the last minute, which means you can fly or crash depending on what kind of mood the horse is in. This seems unfair initially but when you think about it that principle, if applied to all Olympic sports, would make the Olympic Games even more entertaining. What if you just gathered a group of sporty types for each country but not tell them what they were doing until just before the event starts? It would all be pot luck, but it would also be very amusing to watch a hefty shot putter suddenly asked to ace it on the parallel bars, or a kayaker have to compete as a skate boarder or pole vaulter for the very first time in their lives. Not only would it shake things up a bit it, it would also free up so much time for everyone: instead of spending four years preparing for the next games they could just relax and do something else, safe in the knowledge that anything could happen and if it doesn’t work out, well, that’s just the luck of the draw.
I have a curious little competitive streak in me. It often serves me no favours whatsoever but every once in a while it proves to be quite handy. That said, being overly competitive and losing a lot must be a very hard world to exist in. The Olympic Games are that world. Every single competitor is there to win. Nothing else will really do. They might say they’re thrilled with a silver or bronze medal or just so proud of themselves to be there in the first place but what they mean is “for fuck’s sake, I was only three seconds off the lead and that jammy fucker has already won it twice before”, or something along those lines. To the casual armchair observer like me the women’s beach volleyball may seem a frivolous, if strangely captivating (I still can’t put my finger on it), event but you can be sure that those ladies in the final were definitely not there to come second, and they would have worked just as hard if they were dressed as bananas (another concept worth pitching to the Olympic committee?). And that German on a horse should have ridden him straight out of the stadium and into the nearest glue factory, for being a fat lot of fucking good just when she needed him (the snag being that the horse wouldn’t have let her and instead would have headed straight to the nearest equestrian brothel). Having just turned 45 it is becoming increasingly unlikely that I will ever see my Olympic dream come true, and that’s precisely why I don’t have an Olympic dream: dreams always hurt much more when they don’t come true. If, however there was an Olympic medal for a writing a short, half-baked piece about the Olympics that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything then this would be in with a shout. I’d probably come fifth, and thank my trainer.
G B Hewitt. 06.08.2020