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Vienna | 11.8.2008 | 13:17 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Wind, Jodhpurs and the Laws of Physics
  If you are having trouble sleeping these days, switch on your TV in the early hours.

The Olympics can produce plenty, plenty of rain (acid rain according to the green campaigners) and even thunder, but wind seems as hard to find as free protests. This has made the windsurfing event somewhat soporific and endearingly pitiful. The competitors off Qingdao were humping desperately at the masts at 7.20 this morning, as if they could propel themselves home purely by the power of the pelvis.

I guess it's like Hermann Maier finding the Olympic Downhill course has gone flat and he is going to have to pole his way home.

At that dressing-gown hour, the camera panned gently back to the high helicopter angle so I could watch pretty white-horses breaking on the surf as I sipped a cappuccino. It was a perfect moment of relaxation ruined only by the commentator banging on about the chances of Nico Delle-Karth and Niko Resch in the 'super quick' 49 sailing class. Why can't they just play that nice umpa-pumpa music that they have for the ski-resort cameras?
(c) Adi Weda/EPA
Diagonals and Fetlocks
  If you were lucky at that early hour, you might even have seen some real white horses, flown for hours from all quarters of the globe into the moist heat of Hong Kong, where they spent the week-end trotting bizarre patterns across a sand rectangle while their riders, attired in the style of 1920's music-hall starts and fiddling with long, vicious-looking whips, waved their top hats at the jury.

'Dressage' is the official name of the game, a part of the 3-day event (that lasts, bizarrely, 4 days), but 'sophisticated animal torture' is what the cynics call it.

I'm not among them.

I'm a somewhat involuntary aficionado, having grown up in the English country-side, where the only chance of getting a snog with the local girls was to feign an interest in 'fetlocks' and half parades . The jodhpur-brigade still didn't kiss me much sadly, there's no accounting for taste, but the knowledge and appreciation of the sport lasted longer than the acne.
(c) Harish Tyagi/EPA
The Most Dangerous Sport at the Games
  You see, once they had stopped prancing around in the sand, the horses and their riders embarked on the most dangerous day of the entire Games - today's cross country section. It was a roller-coaster ride of solid wooden fences the size of cars, one of which disguised as the Great Wall of China.

The rate of serious injury and death is higher in three day eventing (which bizarrely lasts 4 days) than in motor sport. Just yesterday at a minor event in England a twenty-three-year-old died instantly after she fell from her horse while tackling a jump at a minor event in Gloucestershire. It may be ridiculed by the urban sophisticates on the Naschmarkt, but this is not a sport to be sniffed at.

One of Britain's hopes, Mary King, has already broken her neck once. She is appearing in THE event, not the women's events: this is one of those rare sports where men and women compete on entirely equal terms. Progressive, isn't it?

It might seem a tad elitist - the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips is one of the most famous riders - but the rich need guts too, you know.
A Lesson from Gladiator
  There are all sorts of bravery; of course, as Joaquin Phoenix's evil emperor Commodus reminded us, and the courage to face up to a nation's expectations must be one of them.

Having appeared in more adverts than I've had hot breakfasts, Markus Rogan, Austria's premier swim-star is a watched man. He swam the second fastest 100m backstroke time of his life this morning, but it still wasn't quite enough to qualify for the final. The face that launched a thousand bank accounts was a distant 9th in the semi-finals. His reward: a morning off tomorrow.

Not so Mirna Jukic, who is not as well known to the product placers as Mr. Rogan but is evidently pretty damned quick. She recorded the third best time overall in the women's 100m breast-stroke and will be gunning for a medal at 4.45 tomorrow morning.

Insomniacs rejoice!
(c) Patrick Kraemer/EPA
Weight of Expectation
  The pressure on Rogan is huge, and he can redeem himself in his favoured event, the 200 metres backstroke, later this week.

The pressure on the Austrian stars is big, of course, but nothing compared to the crushing expectation weighing on Chinese athletes' shoulders.

In a country desperate to impress, no-one has told the Chinese about that old "It's the taking part that counts" myth that we have so successfully debunked in football.

Zhu Qinan was in floods of tears as he collected his silver medal for air pistol shooting today. They were not tears of pride though, they were tears of misery - he had been expected to win and silver was, for him, a disgrace. Fellow shooter Du Li legged it from the arena in tears on the first day when she missed out on the medals. It is ONLY air-gun shooting guys. The Chinese athletics team has already let it be known that the past achievements of Liu Xiang, gold-medal winning hurdler, will count for nothing if he doesn't get gold in the Bird's Nest next week.

Given the stiff competition into 110m hurdles from the Cuban Dayron Robles, whose name was linked to a campaign for peace in Tibet and improved human rights in China, Xiang might have to hurdle out of the country if he loses.
Liu Xiang / (c) Kai Foerstling/EPA
The Laws of Gravity
  I want to leave you with a query that has been niggling at me all day after watching the synchronized diving.

It's physics question for anyone whose science education went past their 16th birthday: if a skinny 14 year old boy, Tom Daley, jumps off a 10 metre plank at the same time a butch, muscular man, Blake Aldridge, why doesn't the heavier one hit the water faster?

Answers on a postcard, please.
(c) Georgios Kefalas/EPA
fm4 links
  Chris Cummins on Beijing 2008:

Forgotten Guilt, Beautiful Innocence
[Aug. 8] The most politicised Games in recent history are underway

Violence and Reconciliation
[Aug. 10] A vicious murder and a gesture of peace

Wind, Jodhpurs and the Laws of Physics
[Aug. 11] A television festival for insomniacs

Dancing Bee-keepers and Tugged Speedos
[Aug. 12] What's the best event to watch on the goggle-box?

An Ode to Crooked Teeth
[Aug. 13] And a war of words on the beach.

"Just Don't Be Journalists!"
[Aug. 14] A very bizarre press conference in Beijing.

Are Medal Tables Rubbish?
[Aug. 18] Journalists and politicians slaver of them, but the Olympic charter says they don't matter. Do they?
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