TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Archery hits the bullseye, while swimming fails to make much of a splash
It’s the greatest show on the planet, we’re told, but sometimes it’s hard to get as enthusiastic as the exuberant television presenters who come over all quivery at the thought of the world’s No. 1 in men’s table tennis picking up his paddle. Of course, they’ve copious amounts of notes in front of them which have been carefully put together by legions of researchers to make sure they don’t look silly when the red light comes on.
The first week of an Olympics is always a little strange because everyone’s waiting for the athletics which don’t get underway until Week Two. And, let’s be honest, the track and field is what it’s all about. After all, the ancient Greeks didn’t go in for beach volleyball or BMX in a big way. Though if the famous Greek messenger Pheidippides had possessed a Raleigh Burner to deliver the news that the Persians had been defeated at the Battle of Marathon, the course of Olympic history might have been very different.
So while the broadcasters waited for the big track stars to make their debuts, swimming took centre stage. Now maybe it’s a cultural thing, but watching swimmers going up and down the pool leaves me a bit cold. Is it because they look the same? Okay, some of them have blue caps, others have white caps, but aside from this fairly minimal difference, they all look the same once they get in the water. This is one of the difficulties of the Olympics: the best spectator sports don’t take the Games all that seriously, while the sports that do are, dare I say it, a little bit boring. I tried badminton many, many years ago and enjoyed it, but it’s not all that great to watch on the telly. As for three day eventing, I’m not quite sure what the dressage is about, except, perhaps, to make the horse look sillier than the toffs poncing around in their top hats.
Judo also baffled me. There wasn’t much in the way of scoring when our own judoka (well, you do pick up a few terms after a week of being glued to the Games) from Belfast, Lisa Kearney, took on top ten ranked Chinese competitor Wu Shugen. They just seemed to jump on each other and then fix the belts around their pyjamas a bit afterwards.
Funnily enough, it was the archery which had me riveted to the screen. Maybe it was because the scoring is relatively simple and the event I watched – the Italian men’s team taking the gold against the US with their last arrow – was actually quite thrilling. Each archer had the potential to screw things up royally for their team-mates. It was sport at its cruellest, which is the way it should be.