Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Los Olimpicos

So I spent half of August glued to a television. A remarkable achievement any way you slice it, really, and one rather new to me.

Formerly, I subscribed to the anti-spectacular philosophy of Guy Debord, finding only emtiness and alienation in such mediatized pseudo-festivals of staged importance. Olympic Gold: a vacuous bore from start to finish delivered with an unrelenting nationalist narrative.

But I've outgrown all that critical snobbery - this August I soaked in every televised moment of athletic glory, transfixed by the cavalcade of human endeavour. From the 10m diving board to the indoor volleyball court, to the ladies' softball baseball diamond (w. Canada getting kicked around like everywhere else), to 4 X 100m relay, to marathon, to the British battling only themselves in the velodrome - I sponged it in morning and night, never tiring. I even figured out how to navigate the relentless commercial breaks on CBC, by ingeniously switching to Radio-Canada (the French version of our public broadcaster).

In fact, Radio-Canada was a huge relief, having a smaller market to play to they have a far less commercials so you could see the Olympics without constant interruption and improve your French comprehension simultaneously. As with all French television, a panel discussion was in effect half the time, complete with medaling Canadian athletes being interviewed in English with an instant re-capitulation en francais afterwards by the interviewer speaking to the camera. Which I loved.

It all began with a vain attempt to watch some cycling events ,which track-wise were almost totally ignored by both broadcasters as Lori-Ann Meunser and Kurt Harnett are long-retired. I missed the road events as I was holidaying or working, though accidentally caught a few minutes of the total downpour that was the women's race, while waiting for a commuter train. The track race that CBC did cover was the among the least interesting - team pursuit, where you see nothing more than identical, faceless men riding in single file for 43 seconds. (Worse still, some strange compressed angle shot was used to show both teams riding the front and back of the track at the same time, with the infield looking more like a bowling lane and everything out of focus.) In the drama of good television spectacle, some sports really work on television, others do not.

Gymnastics and beach (and even indoor) volleyball work really well, with lots of close-calls and individual skills (like bikinis) being displayed clearly, and plenty of time for replays. And shorter duration for a whole contest. Cycling has a tough time matching up in this medium. Even diving, though it was on enough to make me go outside, works better as there is a new diver every minute or less. Even something as totally obscure as showjumping works, as it is a tight competition with plenty of triumph-or-failure action and the oddness of people in jackets and ties competing as Olympians while riding horses.

The BMX races were good televisual sport. Thirty-five seconds start-to-finish makes for plenty of action, not to mention a huge 35 foot table jump right in the middle of the race. I compared notes with my self-proclaimed 'BMX scholar' buddy Wade, and even he thought it was good, noting that BMX racing is actually way older than mountain bike racing despite only seeing its first Olympics this year. Finally, a little respect for the 20" bicycle and its Latvian and French world (+ Olympic!) champions. Natually, the only Canadian to make either final crashed out brutally in the first six seconds.

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