Friday 3 August 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

It’s a sad time in any man’s life when he realizes he’ll never represent his country at his chosen sport. Or any sport for that matter. However inept he might be, I think that every man likes to think that if he gave up everything and dedicated himself totally to a single goal for four years, he’d be able to get to the Olympics. However, I’m of an age now with some of the more ‘experienced’ athletes in London, which means that making it to Rio would be really pushing it.

Turning pro still isn’t completely out of the question, but it’d have to be at one of those ‘windmill’ sports. The ones that basically consist of standing still and flapping your arms as vigorously as possible. Trouble is, baseball and golf aren’t Olympic sports nowadays. I guess there’s always the sitting down sports as well, those guys go on forever, but boats and horses ain’t exactly cheap.

In addition to flagging up my harrowing loss of youth and the inexorable crawl towards the grave, the Olympics bugger up my sense of time in other ways. Due to the way I’ve flitted between Japan and the UK over the past decade or so, the last time I was in anything like the same time-zone as the summer games was Barcelona.

Barcelona was 1992, lest you forgot. That’s two decades of experiencing the Olympics primarily through the medium of breakfast television. Like watching King Lear as reconceptualised by the Chuckle Brothers. It’s either that or random late nights watching rowing or diving. For 206 weeks out of every 208, I really couldn’t give a toss about rowing or diving, but somehow that’s what I find myself watching at two in the morning - some kind of alternate Open University from the 5th dimension.* Only OU professors generally make more sense to me than dressage.

It’s even worse this time, because it’s in London. This is the third time the city’s hosted the games, so the UK’s unlikely to get them again in my lifetime. More than the inevitable onset of decrepitude, I think that this is what’s spinning my head a little. This was probably the best chance I was ever going to get at being involved in something on this scale, and it feels like it’s passing me by somewhat.

My brother works in sports administration and has a secondment from his job to the athletes’ village, which doesn’t help matters. I’m delighted for him, he could have made it as a professional before injuries intervened  (genuinely, this time) and this is exactly what he should be doing. But it’s hard not to feel a touch envious as he sends back all these pictures of him hob-nobbing with the cream of Britain’s sporting talent.

Actually, that’s a lie. He’s not sent me any pictures, so all I’m getting is second hand reports of text messages through Mum. Pull you finger out, would you mate?

Not that it’s a complete write off at this end, though. We were discussing it while watching the opening ceremony highlights.

“Who did you brother say he had dinner with the other day?”

When your wife asks you this question, there’s something very pleasing in being able to just point at the screen and say,


Name dropping still counts by proxy, right?

As with others who’ve made their lives in Japan, I’m experiencing some split loyalties as well. Nothing that bad, I still want the British athletes to win, but it’s heartening when the Japanese ones do as well. I would, however, have preferred it if the Japanese gymnastics team had kept their thoughts to themselves. I thought expressing contrary opinions was frowned upon in these parts?

There’s one guy who must be feeling all those conflictions at once, and then some. The reversibly monikered Genki Dean is half Japanese and half British, and I imagine his dad’s even more torn than most. Although probably not, now I think about it. He's more likely to be one of the proudest people on the planet right now. Not least because, with his son as an Olympic javelin thrower, he’s got one half of his attempt at nominative determinism bang on the money. Now all he needs is for Dean jr to pursue a stellar career in academic administration and the prophecy will be complete.

Talking of dads, I especially liked Hiromi Miyake’s efforts in the weightlifting. Another one to add to my list of Japanese sportswomen as crush objects, though I felt her father could have backed off a little and let her enjoy her moment in the sun a bit more. Must be in the blood.

Those are kgs, and the bar weighs 20, remember.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the insistent pull of home, despite very little in the way of tangible reasons for that pull. I’d been sitting on that post for a while, but our cranially distinct PM decided to voice his opinion on the matter and it seemed like as good a time as any to stick it up. So I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic for the Mother Country for a bit of time now, despite realising full well that  a lot of that nostalgia and those supposed connections are philosophically suspect. And now this; not just home, but London. It is, frankly, a mass of contradictions.

Without wishing to get too pretentious and sentimental about it, London has been an important background character for a large part of my adult life. Not even background, more one of those friends you form a strong attachment to, despite their many flaws, and despite knowing that you’re both eventually going to move on.

For all that London can be a shithole, it is also one of the few genuinely Global Cities. Brits living outside the capital view everyone there as being smugly convinced of their own superiority, and of seeing the parts of the country outside the M25 as being some kind of barren and blasted culture-free wasteland. And they’re right about that. Londoners, for their part, feel that there’s nowhere in the country, and very few places in the world, that can come close to the city’s mix of vibrancy, opportunity, and diversity. And they’re right about that, too.

This was once the hub of an empire spanning a quarter of the world, remember, and while there’s a very real sense of faded glories, there are still few places that can touch it for its combination of historic, economic and cultural influence. The never less than forthright Dr Watson described it as “that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.” (I’ve always liked to think of Piccadilly circus as the plughole. Circus, of course, having nothing to do with clowns and jugglers but coming from the Latin for ‘circle’. Though since the works in the 80s it’s not even that any more).

It’s a glorious mixture of the sacred and the profane. The high and the low. Not least in the manner in which these Olympics were awarded and the trauma that immediately followed. It’s been seven years since then, and it feels like I should be there for the summation of this particular section of my friend's journey. Like I was there when she met the love of her life, but I can’t make it to the wedding.

Still, she’s putting on the reception with some style, eh?

*Width, height, depth, time, sweaty grunting.


  1. Have enjoyed the games so far, and London has been a classy host.

    I don't get too excited about athletes from my country. Saw Michael Phelps regularly at the Bellagio earlier this year and remember thinking as I stood next to him waiting to squeeze my way back to the poker table 'Here's one of the greatest olympians of all time. Meh.'

    Was glad to see Uchimura kick ass for the gold, but the announcers going on about how beautiful Japanese gymnastics is really gave me the shits...

    1. I used to watch Sumo in Hawaii via cable T.V. cuz the Hawaiians were doing damage and the last matches between Taka and Akebono sound like the ...every other event from variety show obstacle courses to ping pong matches to epic sumo battles.

      I had to turn of the T.V. cuz the fucking announcer was screaming like ping pong points were walk off homeruns in game 7's......fucking amazing.

      Glad I didn't realize this backin the Sumo days.

    2. Billy - I've met a few pro athletes and they're a lot like any other profession; some are very grounded and some are dicks.

      I think, especially for the bigger sports, it's easy for punters to forget that for many pros it's just a job. Which kind of punctures the magic a bit, I know. Errm...

      Five golds for Team GB yesterday! Woohoo!

    3. Chris - The best way to deal with shitty TV commentary for live events used to be to turn down the TV and listen to the radio. But now (in the UK at least) even the radio commentators spout nothing but incoherent, bombastic horseshit.

      Apparently some digital services offer a 'crowd noise only' option, which really appeals, I have to say. And even then it'd be hard to get too excited about the ping pong.

  2. During the last Olympics, my son's stupid friend Ben bet that he'd make the Taekwondo team for the Olympics after this one. Note: stupid Ben has never even done Taekwondo, ever! He just thought it'd be easy to make the Australian team. My son stands to win about $500. It's true, dudes always think they have a shot at it.

    1. Consider yourself lucky he only has one stupid friend. That said, there's always stories like this, which makes me regret the passing of time even more...

  3. Ummm, woman here who has had fantasies about being an Olympic athlete, and I have never, ever, been good at sport. Does this mean I am in touch with my masculine side... hmm.

    I think London gets bonus points for the monarch pretending to jump out of a helicopter. Can't imagine the Emperor being involved in something like that in Tokyo. Nice touch.

    1. Heh. It's not an exclusive male fantasy, to be sure, but I do think it's more universal in guys than women. Still, being in touch with all your sides can only be a good thing, eh?

      I doubt many brits could have imagined Liz bombing out of a chopper either. Makes you wonder what Japan'd do if they did get 2020. Hell, then I might finally be in the same country, for once.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.