We’ve been visiting friends, taking a few days to wander down to England and back and visit some scenic spots along the way. Spent half the weekend with them watching the Olympics on their giant telly, after following it all week at home: Jess Ennis’s final 800 metres in the women’s heptathlon, Mo Farah’s 10,000 metre win, and Andy Murray’s straight-sets defeat of Roger Federer to win the men’s singles tennis gold.
It’s a while since I’ve seen much of the Olympics at all. I grew up watching Moscow, Los Angeles and Seoul with the family, but since then it’s been patchy: a bit of Barcelona on hotel TVs while travelling; not much of Atlanta because I was starting a new job; some of Sydney while I was in San Francisco; none of Athens or Beijing.
We were watching with an old Australian friend who has been in the UK as long as we have. He was bemoaning the relatively poor Aussie performance at the games, and saying we’d have to flash our British passports if we went outside. I can’t say I’d really been thinking that way, any more than it bothers me when Australia loses at cricket (which I also used to follow as a kid and don’t now). It was fun to see the Aussies win the women’s relay in the swimming last week, but mainly I’ve been following the British. This is less a case of being swept along in adopted-patriotic fervour in the wake of the opening ceremony, and more of being in Britain during an Olympics in Britain and watching it via the British Broadcasting Corporation, which makes following any other country’s fortunes a tricky business.
True, the Beeb has gone to great lengths to stream every event in parallel online and on TV, but for general viewers, who can be bothered? So I’ve just been watching the main coverage of the swimming, cycling and athletics. The BBC’s focus on British contestants has been rewarded by a string of British successes, which has certainly made for some verging-on-jingoistic viewing, but watching superlative performers realize their goals is stirring stuff whatever their nationality. And in the end, I’m really just watching it for entertainment rather than trying to divine some deeper truth about Britain’s place in the world or my place in Britain.
At least there are enough gaps in Team GB’s overall performance to leave space for other countries in the BBC coverage, which contrasts with my last experiences of watching the Olympics. In 2000 I actually wrote here about the oddness of watching the Sydney opening ceremony while in America, but what I especially remember is the American coverage of Barcelona in 1992. One “world” news bulletin I saw then consisted entirely of US victories at the Olympics, a bit of US election coverage, and a short colour piece about US troops in Iraq. I guess the US win so many medals in so many events in any one Olympics that there’s no time left to mention anyone else. And to be fair, Australian coverage used to be (and almost certainly still is) similarly one-sided, with any gaps taken care of by replaying that old clip of Norman May shouting “Gold! Gold to Australia! Gold!”
It would be a bit foolish to put much weight on any of it when the victories of either the UK or Australia bear as much relation to my own sporting prowess as those of Lithuania and Grenada.
One thing I forgot to mention is how refreshing it’s been to watch the Olympics in the same timezone, and what a difference that makes. The last time I was anywhere close was Seoul in 1988, which perhaps not coincidentally was the last time I followed them closely.
Added by Rory on 11 August 2012.