The Plastic Hippo

August 23, 2016

Medalling with worlds

Filed under: History,Media,Sport,World — theplastichippo @ 3:10 am
Tags: , , , ,

1936 Olympics medal

For a global sporting event to be considered successful, it must be preceded by dire predictions of unfinished facilities, dangerous infrastructure, drug scandals, blatant corruption and civil unrest. The Games of the XXXI Olympiad delivered on all those requirements and surpassed previous Olympiads by throwing in the threat of a particularly nasty tropical disease. The first half of Rio 2016 will be remembered as the games that had everything.

The actual sport was, as ever, mesmerising and those of us who are bad at sport simply marvelled at the skill, sacrifice and determination displayed by athletes at the top of their game. For those of us who have difficulty in understanding the rules or, indeed, understanding what defines a sport as a sport, we have the BBC who once again played an absolute blinder. Far from being a dangerous thing, a little knowledge is all you need for a complete understanding of sport, life and the human condition. Given the required time, access to a television and the internet and approximately two weeks supply of alcohol and tasty snacks, it is possible to become something of an expert in all things Olympian.

With a tiny investment of time, little effort and hardly any practice, even the most bed sore couch potato can have the arcane mysteries of sport revealed in glorious hi def slow mo. The complexities of Handball, Water Polo and the Modern Pentathlon can be unravelled by a quick visit to the BBC Sport website. Dressage, erroneously described as dancing horses, is at last being taken seriously and although newcomers to sailing as a spectator sport might not yet be able to spot the difference the difference between a 470 and a 49er, we can now be certain that the conscious decision to swim 1500m, then cycle 40k and then run 10k is called a Triathlon and is not called attempted suicide – unlike BMX which seems to feature surly youths attempting to commit suicide by riding their little sister`s bikes across Telly Tubby Land.

Given the excellent BBC inserts that briefly explain the rules and tactics of so-called minority sports, a grateful nation of armchair athletes now fully understand why an electric moped is required in the Keirin bicycle race, electric socks are essential in Taekwondo and an electric helmet that lights up is what every discerning fencing dualist needs to wear. At this point it would be churlish and repetitive to suggest that the Derny bike is carrying pizza or that screaming “kick her in the head” is anything other than a legitimate coaching instruction. Furthermore, the adoption of electronic contact sensors results in fencers looking like a more animated C3PO and makes a complicated scoring system more complicated. Perhaps for Tokyo 2020 the sport`s governing body should consider sharpening the epees, removing the tin foil and bee keeping helmets to allow the contest to be settled by a simple count of penetration wounds and in the event of a tie, the level of blood loss. A chandelier made from a wagon wheel, floor to ceiling curtains and an enormous staircase could only improve the competition.

The BBC successfully produced 3,000 hours of broadcast sport across all platforms featuring sports not usually associated with a mass audience and only slipped into triumphalism once it became clear that competitors from Great Britain and Northern Ireland were proving to be rather good at winning medals. The strategy employed by the BBC to secure viewer and listener ratings especially for the so-called minority sports was nothing short of brilliant. Pairing up a former competitor who was not very good at the sport and a professional commentator with limited knowledge of the sport made for excellent entertainment during the dull bits. With contradictions between the obvious and the esoteric, the constant bickering between the couple commenting on the diving was sublime.

The experts predicted easy wins but told the tense audience that success would only be achieved by the race/throw/game/ride/bout/swim/jump of his/her life. We were treated to instant post-event questioning with all the sensitivity of a javelin striking a throat. Athletes, clearly on the point of breathless death were asked; “Now that you have won for Britain, will you win again in 2020?” Or, more cruelly; “After four years of intense training, how do you feel about missing out on a medal by one tenth of a second?” The reaction from most of the defeated British athletes represented the noble and stoical tradition of plucky losers taking pride in taking part but something worrying manifested itself in the reaction of some medal winners.

Obviously we had the delighted surprised excitement that could bring tears to the eyes of even the most cynical tub of lard expert with the remote control but the seemingly uncontrolled weeping of Silver and Bronze winners apologising to the nation for not coming first was disconcerting at best. One growled that she did not attend the games for Bronze and another offered tearful apologies to the viewers who stayed up late to watch the winning of only Silver. Some wept bitter tears after letting “everybody” down. In contrast, some of the Gold winners displayed a cool nonchalance bordering on the arrogant. Some pointed to themselves and yelled “number one” into the camera and others kissed either the national flag or the sponsors` logo on the vest. This might explain why “Team GB” has emerged as, according to the British media, something of an Olympic superpower.

Our elevation to second in the medal table behind the mighty United States and superior to the mighty China follows a fairly disastrous 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when “Team GB” secured one gold medal. In the dying days of John Major`s government, the decision was taken to fund sport as a National Lottery good cause. So John Major is responsible for 2016 success. Not quite; Tony Blair continued the funding but only to sports that stood an earthly chance of winning a medal leaving the rest to wallow in Saturday morning mud and self-pity. This is a very good thing if a nation measures its sporting success in Olympic Gold. Allowing talented athletes a chance to train full time with the best coaches in the best training facilities means the UK can compete with the brutal collegiate US system and the barbaric eugenics of some more secretive nations. Interestingly, the International Olympic Committee backed down from banning Russia completely despite conclusive evidence of state sponsored doping yet the International Paralympic Committee displayed the courage to ban the cheating nation completely. Within 24 hours, the success of the second half of the Rio games was threatened not by unfinished facilities, dangerous infrastructure, drug scandals, blatant corruption, civil unrest or a nasty tropical disease but by an absence of money and, unbelievably, interest. As the scale and profitability of Olympic sport expands, the importance of winning Gold at any cost and by whatever means becomes the over-riding imperative. With disturbing levels of obesity, school playing fields being sold off for development that none can afford and sport disappearing from the school curriculum, concentrating the money on elite athletes is the most cost effective way of sticking it to Jonnie Foreigner. The rest of us can watch it on TV.

Each Olympiad throws up new heroes, new villains and even new adaptations of language. It seems that “we” were desperately unlucky to only semi and not final and next time “we” must aim to podium as medalling is what elite sport is all about. Our next chances will be at the Europeans and the Worlds. Some have suggested that the UK`s 67 medals are evidence that we as a nation can stand alone and strong outside of the European Union and that being an immigrant is okay if you are a guy named Mo but not if you are a guy named Mohamed. As the 747 approaches Heathrow conveying the UK`s finest home with a haul of medals, calls for honours cannot go unheeded. There will be Sirs and Dames a plenty and possibly a bus pass for Nick Skelton. His horse might be awarded an OBE.

The UK won four Gold medals during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games – so did Jessie Owens.



  1. You raise some interesting issues.

    The young people who made up Team GB performed and behaved brilliantly. They were an absolute credit so should be applauded, particularly as they mostly came from a locally controlled comprehensive education system that has bitten the dust.

    Speaking of which, if the present Government has learned any lessons, the re-introduction of Grammar Schools is surely just around the corner. Early selection, generous funding, applied science and testing are sure to produce even better results in Tokyo.

    The rest of us can look forward to an ordinary life in run-down parks, privately owned, profit driven leisure centres and school facilities that close at 4pm.

    Comment by The Realist — August 23, 2016 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

  2. The success must be down to those socialist utopian sports days where nobody wins, nobody loses, yet every child gets a prize.
    I didn’t notice Venezuela in the medals table but I’m sure they were there.

    Comment by Rob — August 23, 2016 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

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