Wednesday, July 04, 2012

London Olympic Games 2012

The Olympic Games in London are nearly upon us.
It’s something I really look forward to every four years. I think it all started back in November 1956 in Melbourne when the games came to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. I was a 10 year old then and well into sport, particularly Australian Rules football and cricket.
Then suddenly this huge international sporting event swept over the city. Melbourne (and Australia) had never seen anything like this before. Australia was pretty isolated back then. It took weeks by ship to get anywhere outside the country and overseas air travel was not the norm. It took days to get from Sydney to London with Qantas on the "Kangaroo Route" at a return cost equivalent to 130 weeks average pay.
Our family didn’t have money enough in those days to buy games tickets so we, and most everyone else, watched the events on TV which had been rushed into service for the first time in Australia. We would stand for hours in front of the local electrical goods store window watching the grainy black and white action on the tiny screen.
My father did manage however to take me to the marathon circuit to watch and cheer the runners puffing by.
Little did we know that when a young Ron Clarke (who worked for my father) ran into the stadium and lit the flame at the opening ceremony he would become one of the greatest long distance runners of all time setting seventeen world records but never to winning Olympic gold.

We all had our heroes. Mine were of course Australian, Betty Cuthbert, John Landy, Dawn Fraser and Chilla Porter. But who would forget the Russian Vladimir Kuts who ran the competition off their feet from the front in the 5000 and 10000m (and did a lap of honour around the stadium fence before second and third place finished), American sprinter Bobby Morrow and Irish 1500m runner Ron Delaney.
And there was blood in the pool when the Russians met the Hungarians in water polo with the latter taking out some revenge for the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising a month or so before.
Then there was the epic struggle in the high jump pit well into the dark between Chilla Porter and American Charles Dumas, with the Australian just failing to win gold.
It was then I decided I wanted to be a high jumper. In those days you did the scissors or the western roll to get over the bar and land in a rather hard sandpit. The Fosbury Flop was another 12 years away. The necessary equipment was built and set up in our back yard and I used to practice for hours.
It was obvious to all except me that any Olympic glory in that discipline was well out of reach.
But it turned out I could run with 100m and 200m being my pet events (well, in those days it was 100 and 220 yards). Never a world beater, I did well at high school and state level before surfing started to consume my sporting life.

 Still, every four years I have dropped everything and followed 'the Games'. Australia is one of the few countries to have attended all modern Olympics and we always did rather well for a country with such a small population. But with the Cold War raging and sporting prowess being a major component of that, we were left behind due to our rather naive notion of what amateur sport was. When we did not win one medal in the Montreal games, the government of the day was shaken out of its lethargy and the Australian Institute of Sport was formed to professionally train potential Olympians in all disciplines. This has worked out pretty well and we now usually end up in the top ten medal count..
Australia was lucky enough to get the games again in Sydney in 2000.
What a great two weeks that was. The city was abuzz and it was party time 24/7.
The opening ceremony was a magnificent affair and when the Australian men’s 4x100m swimming team blasted the odds on favourite Americans out of the pool a couple of nights later (“My biased opinion says that we will smash them (Australia's 4x100m team) like guitars”, USA swim team leader Gary Hall Jnr had said), we knew we were in for some great competition. Remembering the Australian team standing there on the pool's edge playing air guitar in front of the dismayed Americans always brings a smile.
From Eric Malonga (Eric the Eel) who was a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who nearly had to be rescued from drowning due to exhaustion in the pool during a 100m heat to Australia’s Cathy Freeman who won the 400m carrying the entire nation on her back, it was all very exciting.

So now we have 10,490 athletes from 205 countries gathering in London to vie for 302 gold medals in 26 sports at 34 venues.
Our satellite TV provider is giving us 8 channels of non stop viewing 24 hours a day for the duration. According to them this means 3200 hours,1100 of which will be live. All sports will be covered from heats to finals.
The time difference between London and Sydney is 9 hours so all the live action will be through our night and well into the early hours of the morning.
Lots of coffee and afternoon naps will be in order. The co driver has all her quilting and sewing projects lined up. Extra firewood has been cut.
As our two famous sporting commentators HG Nelson and Rampaging Roy Slaven say “too much sport is barely enough!”

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