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The Olympic Learning Curve

by Emma August

The Olympics are racing by faster, higher and stronger than ever before (as per) and it’s been one muscle-bound learning curve for me, right from the interminable athletes’ parade at the opening ceremony. Yes, another bloody Games blog. Just a quick one though and besides, the more Olympicked–out you become the more you’ll appreciate the approaching return to normality.

Twelve things I’ve learnt from the 29th Olympiad…

San Marino is a country. There it is, hiding inside Italy. There are four San Marinese entered in the 2008 Games. That’s roughly 0.013% percent of the country’s population, compared to 0.005% for NZ and 0.0002% for host country China. If 0.013% of China’s citizens competed that would make for team of 442,000. Just a thought.

The vast majority of sports photographers and journalists are male. This may explain why I have only recently discovered that men play beach volleyball too, it’s just that the bikini-clad women’s games are more somehow more interesting.

Judoka is a word. Female judokas wear vests under their pyjama tops, male judokas do not. However, this does not balance the bikinis vs. tank tops and baggy shorts disparity in beach volleyball.

Chinese people have little interest in cycle racing despite bike riding being the only form of exercise millions of them do. Why are there no champion Chinese cyclists?

Chinese people have a great deal of interest in table tennis both as a hobby and as a spectator sport. Why are there so many Chinese champion ping pongers?

‘Sold out’ does not actually mean there are no empty seats in the stands.

A gymnast’s identity card proves nothing, as any underage drinker and not so young celeb knows.

Men compete in all Olympic events except the girly ones - rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Women compete in all Olympic events including the manly ones – wrestling, boxing and weightlifting. Is it time for men’s lib?

The average Olympic athlete is more attractive than the average Olympic spectator (no snide comments about lady weightlifters please). Appearance matters a lot in middle class China but I was still startled to hear my female colleague say she hoped Shawn Johnson would win the gymnastics floor exercise because “she’s so pretty” to a chorus of agreement. “What about the Chinese girls?” I asked. “Yes, I know but Shawn’s so pretty.” Someone needs re-educating.

Yngling is also a word. It’s a sailing boat class and means ‘youngster’ in Norwegian. Yngling doubles my Norwegian vocabulary from fjord.
It takes a lifetime of hard slog to become an Olympian but no time at all to become an armchair expert on any sport. Except perhaps for judo, which I still don’t get at all.

Yes means no. Yes, you can demonstrate in designated “protest parks” says China. Go for it! Wave those free Tibet banners, chant pro-democracy slogans, cheer on the Uyghur separatists and rant against social injustice all you like. The announcement that special sites would be set aside for demonstrations was trumpeted by state media in July with headlines like, Beijing protest parks wait for Games' demonstrations. (I like the use of “heretic sects” towards the bottom. No prizes for translating that into Falun Gong.) With just a couple of days left until the closing ceremony, the wait continues.

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