So, the 2012 summer Olympics in London have come and gone. I have not spent this much time in front of my television since the OJ Simpson trial. After only three days of watching, I was already shedding intellectual capacity at a rate two IQ points per hour.
This is to say nothing about my newfound swine-like proportions due to my sedentary state while stuffing my face with pork bangers and jelly tots.
It all started two weeks and 5kg ago during that bizarre opening ceremony. In retrospect, I should have known that the event was going downhill when Queen Whatchamacallit appeared on the screen with James Bond in tow. By the time Mr Bean got involved, we had already strayed into Boswell-Wilkie-on-steroids territory. By this stage, I would have not been surprised to see little people being shot out of cannons.
That weird spectacle signaled the commencement of the competition itself. The last time I had shown more than a cursory interest in the summer Olympics was 24 years ago during the 1988 Seoul edition. Remember when Canadian 100m sprinter Ben Johnson got himself so juiced up he had to literally park at the finish line fro Carl Lewis to catch up so the sham would look believable? Exciting stuff.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been interrogating my uncharacteristic interest in the Games. The best answer I’ve come up with is that I am perhaps beginning to appreciate what the Olympics are really about. For the longest time, I’ve assumed it was all just a flimsy excuse for us to revert to our default nature from the Dark Ages.
You know, overtly displaying our rabid nationalism and hostility towards each other. To quote the lyrics from Prince’s Sign o’ the Times , “ Some say a man aint happy unless a man truly dies”.
It is only during events such as the Olympics that we’re allowed to show our true colours by interspersing our “Go Chad!” chants with “Screw the Yankee!” But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Olympics is also the only time Western jingoistic hysteria about immigration from developing nations somewhat subsides. After all, as long as they are helping Great Britain move up the medal table, Mo Farah and Christine Ohuruogu are as British as marmalade and Yorkshire pudding.
Of course, after the Olympics, things go back to normal. If you think I am picking on the Brits, think again. We can all agree that even the Americans would embrace a weightlifter of Iranian origin who answers the name Ahmedinejad if they were assured of another gold medal.
This is not to say we’re any different. It’s not quite the same thing, but our own xenophobes who think Zimbabweans must return to Zimbabwe do not think this extends to Springbok rugby player Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira. It is very difficult to be hateful when winning is at stake.
As for the Games themselves, the highlights have been the gold medals from SA swimmers Chad le Clos, Cameron van de Burgh and the rowing team. Watching Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt shatter the Olympic 100m dash record without breaking a sweat was also amazing.
The hater in me couldn’t help but tweet Bolt and point out to him that he couldn’t outrun and average hippo cow. And hippos are pretty obese, hey. And the least said about the weightlifting or, as I like to call it “bushy armpit grazing”, the better. The Olympics would do well to introduce another event: weightlifters’ armpit shearing for the good of humankind.
It is pretty obvious that some sports developed from combat skills from our inglorious history of war. Boxing, fencing, judo are examples. It is also apparent that the javelin throw developed from when cowardly tribes would stand hundreds of metres apart, hurling spears at each other. Shaka zulu, who discarded the throwing spear for iklwa, the stabbing spear, would be disgusted at this Olympic event.
I didn’t think that the shotput was also a “war sport” until an epiphany hit me. In 19th century, Moshoeshoe’s Basotho used to hurl boulders at invading hordes from the vantage point of Thaba Bosiu. That was the good ole shotput right there. Of course, there was at least one unofficial sport taking place during the Games. With about 10 000 athletes participating, there were 100 000 condoms provided. Do the math.
Ultimately, I think I know why I’ve been so fascinated wit the Games. During the Olympics, the athletes tap into their human potential and reach their respective physical peaks. There’s a lesson in there for all of us. But for most of us perhaps, the “muscle” we need to optimise to perform at its peak is the one between our ears. Lord knows, most of us can’t really do much more with our poorly functioning bodies.
This columnist has been known to be drenched in sweat from the exertions o putting his socks on. Before I challenge a hippo to a race a la Bolt, perhaps I should try to out run the Domestic foul first. Baby steps.