Like the World Cup, there's something about the Olympics that just seems to hook you in.
Part of it is the way they always hype it up – previews and trailers long before the Games actually start, portentous, cliché ridden cobblers intoned by that bloke with the impossibly deep voice who used to do the Hollywood Blockbuster voice-overs, promising 'glory, guts and achievement', inevitably accompanied by a soundtrack of Spandau Ballet singing ‘Gold – always believe in your soul’ – whatever that means.
You’d think that’d be more than enough to put you off, but like the rest of the sheep I always wind up watching, even – especially – the sports I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever.
I say sports, but, to be honest, if it wasn't for the Olympics, you'd be hard pressed to realise that some of the events actually existed as a sport; such is the paucity of their normal television coverage. Though for me, that’s one of the best parts of the games – the weird stuff that normally never crosses your radar but nevertheless appears to be incredibly popular, based on the number of competitors who seem to dedicate their lives to it.
Top of this list is The Walking. I have never, in my entire life, known, seen or even contemplated anyone who actually participates in this sport, yet, every 4 years, there are dozens of them – men and women, cruising around the track, hip bones sticking out like swizzle sticks, their buttocks doing that chewing a Highland toffee thing, giving all of us armchair athletes a bloody good guffaw.
Who invented this sport? And did they ever expect anyone to take it seriously? I mean, I’ve no doubt that it takes incredible technique, fitness and dedication, but the fact is, it’s impossible to watch it without laughing.
Walking’s one of the few sports I wouldn’t fancy being any good at it. Apart from anything else, you’d never be able to do it anywhere in public, for fear of complete and utter scorn. When I was a kid even people who ran in public – Harriers they were called then (when they weren’t called nutters) – were disparaged – so anybody daft enough to be seen cruising along the pavement the way the walkers do would have been soundly mocked. You’d have to do all of your training indoors and even then you might need your own personal therapist to deal with the trauma of humiliation.
Ditto the Synchronised Swimming, though you don’t see too much of it on TV these days for some reason. Possibly because it’s so boring, though that doesn’t seem to be a deciding factor in some of the other sports – normal swimming for example – exceptionally boring, yet still gets plenty of TV coverage.
It’s the quirky sports that make the Olympics for me. The weightlifting for example, is a personal favourite. Big grisly blokes with thighs like ham houghs giving it the snatch, clean and jerk – a magnificent feat but one that’s pretty much of no practical use whatever – save for entry to the world’s strongest man competition which always used to be on TV at slack times over the Christmas holidays.
I don’t mind the Table Tennis either – even though it’s a bit of a small doses one – gets boring pretty quickly – and I’d also give a quick shout out to Trampolining, Turkish Wrestling and Synchronised Plate Spinning, though I might have made that last one up.
To be honest, there are a few sports from days gone by I think should be revived – genuine amateur pursuits that typify the Olympian spirit far more than Sailing or Archery which, let’s face it, you’d have to have a few bob to be able to get into in the first place.
The Tug of War, for one. Utilitarian, accessible and totally pointless – it doesn’t get more Olympian than that.
Other sports which have been wrongly jettisoned in recent times – for various reasons – are the Long Jump (for horses), Indian Club Swinging and Live Pigeon Shooting. That’s Live Pigeons – not Clay ones.
Oh, bring that one back please; that’d be right up our alley, we could have the final in George Square around about lunchtime.
Reviving some of these admittedly less glamorous – not to mention politically suspect – sports might be a controversial move, but think of the benefits. Not only would it be a genuine public spectacle, but it’d open up the type of people who could compete – genuine sporting types who were in it for the joy of competition rather than ego and personal financial reward.
Oh I know, the athletes pretend that the medal itself is the goal, but they’re fooling no one. Top track and field stars like Usain Bolt are multi-millionaires and you just know for a fact that if it wasn’t for the sponsorship, side deals and various financial inducements they wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, and certainly not for the prize of winning a gold medal which is worth about £500 (I looked it up.)
Even the look of the athletes says money these days – lycra and crop tops, the most expensive trainers you can buy – it’s an exclusive club, bankrolled by big business, investment and corporate influence.
Oh, for the days of genuine amateurs like Alf Tupper – ‘The Tough of the Track’, who usually spent the night before a big race welding the grandstand together, before – after a hasty breakfast of fish and chips – he ran the pants off the Public School Toffs who didn’t consider him worthy of consideration in the first place.
Physically exhausted, sleep deprived but happy, Alf always crossed the line wearing his trademark black sannies, baggy pants and a grimy vest, yelling out his customary victory exhortation of ‘I’ve run ‘em’.
I’d like to see Usain Bolt doing that. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t train on fish suppers.
And I bet he hasn’t a clue about welding, either.