Celebrations were held in London this week to mark the fact that only one year remains until the 2012 Olympic Games are upon us. Next summer will see the city play host to the world’s most eminent sporting event, with the best athletes from around the globe coming together to compete.
The modern Olympics have changed drastically since the first tournament was held in 1896, now basically consisting of massively expensive and ostentatious opening and closing ceremonies, with a few races thrown in here and there for good measure. Next year’s opening ceremony will be overseen by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. Perhaps the ceremony will be based on one of his films: an extravagant, futuristic celebration based on Sunshine? A Trainspotting-inspired journey through the darker recesses of urban British counterculture? Or maybe a return to the zombie-infested London of 28 Days Later, complete with Thriller-esque choreography? Whatever he decides to include, it seems the ceremony is in safe hands. Let’s just hope it doesn’t last for 127 Hours. Or star James Franco.
The Olympics used to be all about the events, and for the purists there is no better example of the famous adventurous Olympic spirit than the 1900 Games held in Paris. The Games were held for over five months, and along with the usual sports like athletics, football and gymnastics, certain events were trialled over the course of the Games that failed to become official Olympic sports. Among the stranger contests held this year were firefighting, hot air ballooning, delivery van racing and poodle clipping. The most bizarre, however, and certainly one that wouldn’t be allowed today, was live pigeon shooting. Nearly 300 pigeons were killed in the event, with the winner reaching a tally of 21. Pretty impressive considering Dastardly and Muttley couldn’t even get one.
Of course the 2012 Olympics will feature some ridiculous events too. Dressage, for instance, essentially involves a group of insanely rich toffs who are all related to each other trotting around on their horses. The medal is then awarded to whichever of them looks the most upper class. There is also the rhythmic gymnastics section, in which artificially shrunken pre-pubescents pretend to be cats and roll around with ribbons and balls and other feline accoutrements. Whoever comes fourth in gruelling events like the marathon each year must be really pissed to see one of these tiny cat-people come away with a gold medal after playing around on the floor for a while.
The Olympics these days is more about personalities than anything else. Firstly there’s athletics superstar Usain Bolt, the chicken nugget-powered fastest man in the world over 90 metres, at which point he slows down and moonwalks the rest of the race just to mock his inferior opponents. Secondly, adopted American son and über-celebrity David Beckham, who has stated he wants to play for the British football team in 2012. Maybe if they win they’ll finally give over about 1966. Let’s just hope it doesn’t go to penalties. And thirdly, eh, that Canadian curling guy. Yeah, him.
Aside from these few colourful characters, the inevitable bone-crunching falls in gymnastics, and the excitement of watching the hammer and the javelin in the hope that someone gets nailed in the head, there is very little of interest in the Olympics. A West African will run really fast and win the race. A Bulgarian bloke called Artem with no neck will lift slightly heavier things than anyone else and win a medal. And whatever Belgian cyclist has pumped himself so full of drugs that his heart beats about 700 times per minute but not so full of drugs that his calves explode, will win the cycling events. All very predictable and not very exciting.
What the Olympics needs is a breath of fresh air, something to reinvigorate it and make it compelling viewing once more. While going back to some of the events of the 1900 Games is probably not the way to go, there may be some inspiration to be gleaned from going back even further, to the Ancient Olympic Games.
Traditionally the last event of the Ancient Games was the ‘Hoplite race’, in which competitors had to compete in full body armour, including helmet and shield. This would certainly make the 800 metres a bit more interesting. Or the Olympic boxers could take their example from the Greek competitors who weighted their leather gloves with metal. Hitting a man when he was down was perfectly legal, however if you went too far and killed him, he was automatically declared the winner. Bit of a Pyrrhic victory really. One tradition that isn’t likely to be revived, however, is the nakedness of all competitors in the Ancient Games. Although it would probably make beach volleyball even more popular with male viewers.
Maybe all the Olympics needs is a new image. Its motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. How about ‘5 Rings to Rule Them All’, or ‘The Olympics – Drug Free Since, eh, the Last Olympics’. Although the way things are going, in a few years the motto will probably be ‘The Olympics – Silver Medals for Anyone Who Isn’t Chinese’.
The 2012 mascots are similarly disappointing. The puzzlingly named Wenlock and Mandeville sound like gay lovers from some rejected BBC period drama set in the stables of a stately home. They don’t even look particularly athletic, seeing that they are supposedly made of steel. The whole cycloptic thing they have going on can’t be much good for their depth perception either. They’d never get out of the blocks in the delivery van race, and as for poodle clipping, forget about it, they don’t even appear to have fingers.
Despite the somewhat faded grandeur of the modern Olympics, I will still no doubt be glued to the television for its duration. It only comes around every four years, and is the pinnacle of achievement for the athletes who have trained so hard and sacrificed so much to be there. Which is what makes it all the more enjoyable when they fail spectacularly. Now I’m off to find some pigeons. I reckon I can beat 21 before the day is out.