Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: London jolts us out of narrow view of sports


The Olympics are a reminder of how one-dimensional we've become as sports watchers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Not all sports can be defended as sports. You could hold an archery competition in my living room and I'd still fall asleep.

But London has been an awakening. Track cycling, women's gymnastics (particularly the tortuous beam), men's weightlifting, track and field, track and field, track and field and even stuff I don't actually like all that much but keep watching. Brilliant.

It takes all sorts. Faced with an intriguing crowd of bulging biceps around the TV in my gym this week, I crawled between their legs to find out what was causing the fuss. Lo and behold, the bulging ones were entranced by women's weightlifting, which is shaped extremely differently to men's. Unlike most of the men, female weightlifters keep their bulging muscles under wraps, a lot of wraps, leaving you wondering where they get their strength from.

The Olympics are a smorgasbord with no accounting for tastes, especially in Russia where judging by their tracksuits, design and taste have actually gone backwards since the collapse of the Iron Curtain. This was previously thought impossible.

Then there is this. An acquaintance explained to me why archery is so amazing with such gusto that I felt like a target.

"I love watching the flight of the arrow," he enthused, so I gave him the added joy of watching me dart off.

Then again, I've enjoyed watching a new sport called Video Referral, although it keeps getting interrupted by blimmin hockey.

There is also the inconceivable business of continuing to watch things that are almost as bad as archery such as judo, which is an absolute waste of perfectly good pyjamas. A bloke came to work in an excited lather the other day, spouting the virtues of shooting, having seen an Italian shoot like Dirty Harry although Dirty's victims never disappeared in a little puff of pink smoke.

Variety is the spice of sporting life while the Olympics are on, which is not the way the sports world has developed.

The ratings-chasing media is partly responsible for the narrowing of sporting interest. The public is in some way responsible for ratings although not as much as the ratings agencies would like to make out. So, rugby rules in this country, to the detriment of just about everything apart from rugby league in a few good moments, and the summer favourite cricket, which is now played all year round. It doesn't help that our finest athletes are remote. Shot put queen Valerie Adams went into seclusion for months before the London Games, which rankled with the media although a desire not to annoy the grand lady of New Zealand sport muted the criticism. Slagging off Val might be a good idea at the time, but not when the boss later demands an interview with the Golden Girl. Adams has been so remote the New Zealand officials even forgot her.

Nice Nick Willis lives in America and unlike the old days, when we had multiple running greats competing overseas, there aren't many heroic media attempts to track him down or keep his career in the headlines.

This is due, more than partly, to the decline of athletics as a high-profile world sport. As the commentators for the women's marathon noted, Kimberley Smith runs under the radar. No need to worry, because there's always another rugby team naming or injury to fill the gaps.

In England, soccer's premier league has just about wiped out most other sports in terms of coverage. During the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when England plodded further than even they could believe, the English Premier League still dominated. This may be a generalisation, but professional men's team sport rules unless someone like Usain Bolt intervenes.

So the best of the Olympics - and not the stupid entrants like tennis - is a breath of fresh air if you can ignore all the patriotic flag waving rubbish that the athletes blindly buy into. If you believe all this nonsense, Australia was fine before the Olympics, but is now a nation in crisis because it hasn't won a few medals.

The drama is wonderful, however, as years of hard work is put to the ultimate test, often in a matter of split seconds. Events like the pole vault and high jump make fantastic television and favourites are being beaten, which adds to the drama. People you have barely heard of are champs and chumps under a spotlight they rarely experience. They cry real tears, without a prompting, concerned TV interviewer in sight.

Under this Olympic-sized pressure, 2008 gold medallist Adams was crushed by Nadzeya Ostapchuk from Belarus who threw superbly. The people of Belarus can now sleep easy, after having their integrity questioned from this side of the world.

The New Zealand scuttlebutt had it that Ostapchuk's pre-Olympic form was down to dodgy Belarus tapes. This was another Wayne Barnes moment, and Ostapchuk chucked this latest Kiwi sporting theory out the window, well and truly. The Belarus tape measuring industry has been exonerated.

Back on this side of the world, normal service will resume shortly, when we fret over any strange noises from Richie McCaw's joints.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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