Thursday, 18 February 2010

Winter Olmpics

I love the Summer Olympics: the teams; the flags; the national anthems; the countries: the medal ceremonies; the athletics; the hype; the drugs… It’s really quite a spectacle. When we were kids we had our own version around the local green. We played sprinting, middle distance running (which was like sprinting but slower), long distance running (which was walking and lying about the number of laps you’d done), long jump, high jump, skipping and hopping. We also had goal shooting, because the only boy who ever actually wanted to be a goal-keeper lived on our street.

And then there are the Winter Olympics, full of games that people from cold places play. These are just mad! They play ‘team sports’ like ice hockey, which is legalised violence; rugby league with sticks. My aunt and uncle who lived in Canada moved their entire home several thousands of miles because their son showed more than a passing interest in the sport.

There’s also curling, where a group of people wearing tea cosies on their heads slide stones down the ice while some demented rink-proud lunatic sweeps it vigorously with a broom. Odd, to say the least. When they’re not tidying it up, they’re skating round it with thighs the size of their torsos squeezed into lycra suits. One memorable year, everyone leaned a little too far into the corner and they all fell over. Leapfrogging them all – no mean feat in ice skates – was some rank outsider who’d previously been lapped. Steve Bradbury skated to victory in a performance akin to Dobbin the Pantomime Horse winning the Melbourne Cup. (He's from Australia - they don't call it the Lucky Country for nothing.)

Staying on the ice, these Olympic heroes and heroines have devised all sorts of peculiar things to do on it. They slide down chutes of it at break-neck speed either feet or head first individually on tea trays or in teams in bath tubs. These events are called luge and bobsleigh and, ominously enough, skeleton.

One the most intriguing events, is the ice dancing. Somewhat like skating with the stars, except that these people are actually good. Most people claim it is the winter equivalent of synchronised swimming and that no one watches it. Is that so? In Britain, Ravel’s Bolero is known as ‘The Torville and Dean Music’, and that was even after Bo Derek took her clothes off to it, which I would imagine takes some topping!

The South Park characters have a prior skating celebrity as a mentor, and two female American competitors had a rather ugly and public spat involving a sledgehammer and a film contract, although admittedly it went straight to video release. Competitors spin and glide their way around the ice in ridiculous flimsy sequinned costumes and the audience waits with baited breath until some poor little Russian falls on her bum and gets a crap score from the judges. She gets the public vote though because she still manages to smile bravely through her atrocious make-up.

When they’re not doing foolish things on ice, they’re doing them on snow. Ski-jumping for example. Why would you slide down an enormous ramp of snow with no poles and fly through the air hoping to land in a pile of cold wet stuff? And where are the practice jumps? The training ramps? Britain had a bloke who sort of fell rather than jumped off the end. He was called, obviously ironically, Eddie the Eagle. Eddie the Emu more like. He became a national idol.

My favourite event is the biathlon in which participants X-Country ski until their limbs turn to jelly and then they shoot things. Perhaps not the most obvious combination unless you are a member of the Norwegian army, or James Bond. These competitors are so exhausted that they fall over the finish line in a heap of heaving sweating lycra. An enticing visual image perhaps, but would you trust them with a gun?

I would like to suggest that we no longer neglect the fine display of the winter Olympics and that we host our own, back yard version. I accept that ice-rinks that form are unlikely to be more than muddy puddles, and skiing down the slide in the children’s playground may be frowned upon. So I recommend we stick to more mundane and familiar pursuits.

Wrapping up warm would be first on my list. The winner would be the person who managed to wear the most layers of clothing and still move. This would cause a spin-off in merchandising and thermal underwear would become quite fashionable. Although the Michelin Man would become a role model (or is that a roll model?), the competitor, if so desirous, could still sport sequinned attire or something diaphanous in chiffon.

Walking down icy steps is another potential event. There are all manner of possible categories; speed, style, vocal expression… A panel of judges could grant points for interpretation which are subjective enough for Canada to get away with never awarding the USA top marks. There could be a tandem event, a pursuit, or even a relay of contestants grasping at handrails and slithering their way down to a small bundle at the bottom of a flight of steps.

Ingenious ways of starting a car, de-icing the windscreen with a credit card, putting on snow chains and lighting a fire would all be possibilities. Drinking mulled wine would be a clear favourite, with hot chocolate supping for those in training. Of course, I welcome your suggestions for this auspicious event and invite you to send them all to:

The Back Yard Winter Olympics
Cold Comfort Farm
New Zealand

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