Olympic buildup hype 'annoying'

20:14, Aug 02 2012

The first Olympics I remember as a child were the 1976 Games.

I think I had a wall chart from the Listener or from a Weetbix packet that you were meant to record on who won what medals. The only medal winner I actually remember was John Walker who was at the peak of his running career at the time.

It was not until many years later that I understood the intensity of the politics playing out in the background all because we were there.

Our obsession with rugby had caused dozens of African countries to boycott the Games, possibly paving the way for Walker's win.

However, if I had known, I doubt it would have made any difference to my enjoyment of the spectacle. To a young boy it was exciting, exotic and a little incomprehensible.

Unfortunately for me, the sense of wonder has worn off.


I have found the hype during the buildup a bit annoying and intrusive but that seems to be the way of things nowadays.

While the London Olympic committee, no doubt, faces absolute financial ruin and criticism of every kind for their logistical failures, the rest of the world is bombarded with weeks of irritating sponsorship buildup that is impossible to escape. By the time the Games actually started I was well over the whole thing and, once again, carrying around a load of cynicism.

I am pretty sure 1976 was the year we got the second channel in the South Island, so my first exposure to the Olympics was in a world of one TV channel and predominantly black and white television sets. It was a one-off event, just like an early morning rugby test and there was only one media window to view it unlike today where we can surf cable TV and the internet, get tweeted or download a podcast to view the world's paramount sporting spectacular from every possible angle.

And that means a plethora of irritating opinions from every man and his dog.

We have developed a media custom of forcing the athletes to declare whether they believe they are realistic medal prospects or not.

Surely many of them realise the odds are slim and it would require a series of spectacular events, or misfortunes for other athletes, to allow some of our Kiwi athletes to bring home a medal but they still rate their chances high. Unwavering self-confidence and the belief in triumph is probably a necessary personality trait for the elite athlete but it is the modern media machine that forces them to state this on the world stage.

I don't think this can be good for the competitors as, at the end of the day, the hype and the unceasing coverage is more a reflection of Big Brother television culture than enjoying competition between the world's best athletes. But for those who have not been jaded by the overwhelming corporatisation of the event, the Olympics are much more enchanting.

Our children watched the opening ceremony and were absolutely mesmerised by the spectacle. The fantasy of Harry Potter monsters bouncing about the stadium, Mary Poppins dropping in and Mr Bean on the piano certainly played on our 4-year-old's imagination.

It was so wondrous that he is now convinced that he was watching the Oompaloompics, Willy Wonka-style, and he asks about it every evening after creche.

I suspect, in his digitally addled mind, he actually sees the swimming races taking place in a river of chocolate, the shot put as giant jaffa throwing and Oompaloompas in white coats officiating events and organising the lolly scrambles. Meanwhile, our 6-year-old, who has just completed her first tap dancing competitions, watched the gymnastics and could not believe her eyes.

She saw the girls leaping and double somersaulting on the beam, spinning and cavorting in the floor event, and she turned to her mother and asked: 'Mama, are they magic?'

I guess that puts it in perspective as these guys are not magic but they are, for all intents and purposes, superhuman. They can do things that the rest of us simply cannot, regardless of how much we may want to.

I am sure that the secret fears and super hopes of athletes have always been there but we, the general public, were less likely to be privy to them. Now we cannot escape them.

At the time of writing, we have the princely total of two bronze medals but one journalist still couldn't help himself, suggesting that the floodgates were about to open and it sounded pretty pathetic. We may or may not achieve a grand medal tally but for each of those athletes attending the event it will, no doubt, be as magical to them as it was to a 6-year-old girl watching it for the first time.

The Press