These Olympics have become all rather time consuming, I am very surprised to confess.
I started out as a confirmed agnostic, and then accepted the invitation from friends to attend a couple of events early last week, so I would have my own Olympic experience, even though neither was at the newly constructed Park in Stratford. My enjoyment of them was, I feel in the proper spirit of the Games, of being not about the sport but about the taking part.
I’ve also one of the volunteer games-makers staying with me for the duration, and so I’ve been taking a bit more of an interest in the television coverage than I might otherwise have. I realised on Saturday night, when I was watching the athletics on my own and was on the edge of the sofa cheering Mo Farah across the line in the 10,000m, that I might have become a bit addicted to it all.
My interest lies in the people and their stories and the manner of their telling. The stories are fantastic, full of dedication, self denial and focussed bloody mindedness; the drama is in the split seconds or millimetres that separate euphoric victory from dismal defeat.
And for a lover of language, the essential, concentrated twiddle twaddle cliché that is the currency of sports commentating is a fascinating mixture of both tortured dross and pure gold. One interesting development in 2012 , and one that sets my teeth on edge each time I hear it, is that ‘podium’ and ‘medal’ appear to have become verbs. There is hope that this or that person ‘will medal’, and when they do, everyone is very pleased that they ‘have podiumed’. I’ve not yet worked out of they are full synonyms, but I’m going to hold out against their usage.
Clichés abound, so I have become particularly appreciative of the commentators who manage to avoid them. At the moment, my conclusion is that retired athletes don’t have a very wide vocabulary, Michael Johnson and John McEnroe excepted. Everything is unbelievable and incredible, which suggests a poverty of imagination which I find hard to believe is the pre-requisite for athletic success.
To avoid the risk of banality overload, the BBC have mixed in some literate presenters with the former competitors. So far my favourite demonstration of what each brings linguistically was in one little snippet from the swimming pool. I can’t recall the precise context, but in discussing the tactics one participant might consider in order to do better, Clare Balding, the journalist commentator, suggested that the athlete needed to approach the problem’ tangentially’; Mark Foster, retired swimmer commentator, said they should ‘think outside the box’. Yup, Mark, there’s nothing like saying the same thing again but nowhere near so well.
As well as dawn to dusk sports coverage, even the BBC news is dominated by Olympic reporting, when we are given the benefit of a summary from a news journalist. After the screaming and shouting commentary of Usain Bolt’s victory in the 100m, which was ‘unbelievably fast’, Tim Franks gave us a slightly different simile to encapsulate the ‘slow start’: ‘Bolt started with all the nimbleness of a wardrobe’.
On the up side, I’ve been feeling so guilty about all this television watching, I finally got around to cleaning the oven; the box of heavy duty cleaner has been beside the cooker, where I put it to try to shame myself into action, for several weeks. Perhaps not quite the ‘Legacy’ the Olympic committee had in mind……
By common consent at the moment, one of the highlights of the TV coverage so far, has been the endearing joy of Bert Le Clos when his son won a medal in the swimming pool. (I hope non UK readers can see this.)