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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Mesmerised millions stop in their tracks

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Nick Willis leads the New Zealand team into Olympic Stadium.
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nick Willis leads the New Zealand team into Olympic Stadium. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Has it really been only a week since millions stopped in their tracks, mesmerised by the hilarious, eccentric and brilliant opening ceremony that Danny Boyle created for the Olympics and which suddenly made Britain seem rather interesting again.

I've got so used to the moving wallpaper of gymnast following gymnast and diver succeeding diver in the corner of my living room - interrupted only occasionally by a heartbreaking equestrian drama or a thrilling piece of rowing - that it feels as though the Olympics have always been with us, like weather forecasts.

Britain has spent $54 billion on the Olympics, $13 billion of it public money. New Zealand coughed up slightly less in getting our athletes to qualifying level.

Olympic participation is the athletic equivalent of opera - lavishly funded, pointless and highly enjoyable for those involved. But you really don't want to think about what our hard-earned golds cost in terms of dollars per medal.

Sometimes you have to put fun ahead of fiscal responsibility.

For any event that attracts a large amount of public attention there will always be a narcissist ready and able to twist it inside out and make it about their own concerns.

XoJane is a "women's lifestyle site", particularly popular with young females, one of whom brought it to my attention.

And for contributor Siam, the Olympics is all about her.

In a post headed "the Olympics are giving me body image issues", she laments that she is bombarded with pictures of sportspeople with great physiques and it's making her feel, you know ... stink.

She certainly has a problem but it's not her body, it's her cosmic scale paranoia.

She equates the images of super-toned sportsmen and women to the unrealistic images familiar from the fashion industry and says the former present just as unrealistic a model for her to aspire to as the latter.

Leaving aside that no one's actually asking her to aspire to anything, she has missed the point that athletes' bodies aren't the way they are for fun, let alone to meet some predetermined image of what an ideal body should be. They are like that to do a job.

Athletes' bodies are among the most precisely engineered pieces of machinery on Earth.

Each discipline has different physical requirements and the participants spend hours a day meeting those requirements.

Siam runs the risk of infecting impressionable readers with her own skewed view. One thing we know about unrealistic body images is that they are contagious.

A talent for pillage

In a world of continued gender inequality, women - and men - have a lot more important things to worry about than the fact that athletes are in good shape.

At the time of writing, Norway's medal tally consisted of one silver and one bronze.

I had the good luck to be in the land of the Vikings a couple of weeks ago and had the experience of being asked to pay $37 for 10 prawns on a skewer from a street stall. It's good to see the locals haven't lost their talent for pillage. If it were an Olympic event they'd be shoo-ins for the gold.

Ancient Greeks make Olympics look tame

Today's olympians do it hard but they have nothing on their ancient equivalents. The version of boxing in the original Greek Olympics permitted blows only to the head, with predictably bloody consequences. Combatants delivered blows with their fists wrapped in leather thongs that made them only slightly less lethal than knuckle-dusters. Among the most honoured was Eurydamas of Cyrene who swallowed his teeth as they were knocked out, so his opponent would not have the satisfaction of knowing what he had done.

- Herald on Sunday

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