I've gone two nights with very minimal Olympics watching. And due to a prior engagement tonight will be the same. (Actually last night Outrageous Fortune took precedent despite my protestations of "the Olympics only happen every four years!" Maybe I need to think about getting MySky)
So I was scouring the internet and trying to think of clever ideas. "I know", I thought, "I'll write about the history of the Madison" … thank you very much Mr Slack.
So here I present The Unofficial History of the Madison Cycling Race.
The race has it's roots in pre-colonial Rhodesia, where the locals would gather together for a month and the men, to show their virility to potential wives, would run in circles for days with a tag partner who would take over when the runner needed to eat or sleep.
Fast forward to prohibition-era Chicago: The Rhodesian foot-race had been adapted by Phineaus O'Connell, an Irish entrepreneur, and turned into a cycling race that was used in London as a way for poorer gentlemen to show their virility to potential wives, while entertaining richer gentlemen keen to see people die of exhaustion on bicycles.
Chicago's notorious bootleggers liked O'Connell's idea so much that they decided to use the event to mask their own illegal activities. Half the riders were replaced with prostitutes and drink stations filled with home-distilled gin. The mobsters also created a point system to enable betting, although the term "earning a lap" meant something different when the prostitutes were involved, and gentlemen were less likely to let their partner take over.
The modern event keeps to some of these traditions though the scoring system is now much more complex. Every team of two cyclists who manage to gain a lap on the pack are given "a lap". Points can also be gained by sprinting over the line every ten laps. While only one cyclist is allowed to ride the race at any given time you can tag your partner in to take over. If you accidentally launch the wrong partner into the race that person is then obliged to race for your country. Should any rider be knocked off their bike, they are allowed to fight the person who knocked them off, with every landed punch equalling one point. Lap 23 is the "running alp" where riders must leave their bikes on the track and run a lap to get back to them (this is a nod to the original Rhodesian version and is sometimes called the "Rhodesian Lap").
Unsurprisingly they removed my version from Wikipedia.
Back in reality I did manage to catch the kiwis in the synchronised swimming. I am always impressed by this sport and the (American?) commentator seemed to be impressed with Lisa and Nina Daniels (video here) considering the fact the New Zealand isn't really known for synchronisation, swimming or otherwise.
The strength of the synch-swimmers is amazing, and I am totally against anyone who thinks it's should be removed from the games.
Michael Burgess from TVNZ was at the sychro-swimming and had an interesting run-in with the old Soviet Bloc:
Our conversation went like this:
NZ: Excuse me, who are you waiting to talk to?
UKR: Why, why do you ask (accompanied by stern glare)?
NZ: Well, I just wanted to speak to the Czech or Ukrainian team...?
UKR: Yes, I am from that country, but I am not offering translation services!
She had a smile that Medusa would be proud to own and a voice that snarled.
I fumed silently and walked away.
It's also good to see that Britain is coming back down to earth even though they now sit third on the medal table.
Well done to Nick Willis for his bronze and also to Bevan Docherty. I am really pleased with all of the talk about our bronze medalists. Other than the occasional stupid question from TVNZ most people are really proud of medalists no matter what the colour. As the Dropkicks discuss this week, it's actually pretty hard to be the third best person in the world at something.
Just a quick note to Bevan Docherty though: Can you please wait until after the race before going and grabbing the flag? You are not Usain Bolt.
I was listening to ESPN's Pardon The Interruption the other day and they were discussing China's dominance of the medal table. The first time it was mentioned (before the Olympics started) the line was: American's don't care about the medal table, and the Chinese are "padding" the table in sports "nobody cares about". Y'know, like gymnastics.
This time the commentary was: American only cares about gold medals but China's got such a large population that they can, naturally, win all those medals. there was no discussion about why they haven't in the past or why other large populace countries like Japan or India haven't done better in the past.
Finally for today, here's a wonderful image of the Olympic flame from the BBC.