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Vienna | 12.8.2008 | 11:11 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Dancing Bee-keepers and Tugged Speedos
  First of all congratulations to Mirna Jukic who won bronze in the 100 metres breast-stroke this morning. She became the first Austrian woman to win a medal in the pool since 1912 with a surging last 25 metres that seemed to put commentator Robert Seger within inches of a cardiac arrest.

I like excitable commentary, by the way. Football commentary in England is always breathless, even when precious little is happening on the field, but all sports commentators are also sports fans, and it can be a tight-rope walk.

When watching England play football, even in a blue press seat, I can't always claim to be entirely fair to the referee. 'Blind stumpy-legged bastard' is not the sort terminology welcomed by the FIFA guidelines in the accredited seats.

In a tense beach volley ball match this morning featuring the Austrians Clemens Doppler and Peter Gartmayer, patriotic excitement briefly got the better of one of my hard-working colleagues in Beijing. A Brazilian opponent misplaced his smash at the business end of the second set: "Aus! Der Ball ist Aus! Gott sei Dank!" cried the commentator Boris Jirka.

I think if we evoke the Lord Almighty in the sporting arena, it should really be for something positive!
Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
  But here's an important question for you: what's the best sport to watch on the goggle-box in this first week?

First of all, I want to reject the suggestion of two of my friends from Innsbruck, let's call them Beavis and, well, Butthead, who say it's actually the aforementioned 69kg weightlifting competition.

Why? Because the commentator on Eurosport keeps praising the lifters for such things as nice snatch and their good jerks, at which B&B giggle their little smutty socks off as though they were playing minor parts in American Pie. Beavis also likes the fact you can win at judo by sitting on someone's head. Well no, you naughty little boys, I shan't mention your silly little innuendos on this serious forum of comment and criticism. Not here!

Merchants of Honey
  Nor do I think the best sport is fencing, but many thanks to Jonny Depp for the suggestion.

Aesthetically, of course, it's an absolute winner and deserves better coverage than it gets. The sport looks like the dance of the bee-keepers, with the added bonus that the helmets that the fighters (Do we say fighters? Jousters, you reckon? Really?) wear light up red when they are stabbed.

It's Pirates of the Carribean, meets Star Wars, meets the Merchants of Honey. A perfect cocktail.

But, like Wayne Rooney, fencing has more going for it that mere good looks. It has the theatricality of the bull-fight, with the advantage that no horned bovines are publically hacked up, and it has the dramatics of a penalty shoot-out.

It's silent on stage and the bee-keepers are spotlighted ghostly white against the darkened background. They arrogantly strut around and try to distract their opponents with cynical mind games such as removing their flashing helmets and tossing their raven hair around.

And then, in a split of second, its over: some poor girl has been run through with foil, and a glamourous Italian, who looks like she trains in the ancient landing of some Venice palazzo, has won. It's the same every 4 years. La noblesse!

And then the disco music starts again and we are back into a drabber more tacky world.

Water Polo
  No, fencing is good but it is not the best sport. And neither is canoeing: that's just the best venue.

The best sport is water polo.

(at this point you may disagree - I have the spirit of Voltaire on all subjects where the powerful tobacco lobby isn't involved.)

What was I saying?

Water polo. I assure you is the most exhausting, and rough game I've ever played (once!). Before I was laughed out of the pool for launching an attack down the right-wing swimming the breast-stroke my granny taught me, I had a good twenty minutes to be grappled under the water, to be wrestled head-over-heels backwards and to have my speedos tugged downwards - which some might find homo-erotic, but I found just plain rude.

In water polo, you have to tread water continuously, but to catch a ball you have to find the strength to throw yourself waist high out of the water, then you must catch your breath quickly enough to decide how to rid yourself of the ball before some muscular Aussie legally dunks you under the water, giving you an unwelcome drink of chlorine and stealing the hard won fruit of your labours.

I didn't have the opportunity to try it, but I believe shooting for goal is rather wicked and fulfilling. You have to leap up again and then you can skim the ball across the water; and if you don't hit the net you'll probably hit the opponent's goalie, which can also be satisfying, I'm told.

And don't for a minute think that the 'fairer sex' is any fairer in this game!

I came out of the pool, hitching up my speedos, with the distinct impression that rugby was for softies.

Armchair Fan
  None of this has encouraged me to play again, of course. I am, after all, not insane. But it has made me a massive armchair fan. I even went to beautiful Eger in Hungary (partly) to watch a live match. It was thankfully nothing like the politically charged 1956 semi final between Hungary and USSR, when the Olympic pool reputedly turned red from the blood spilt, but it was absorbing, frantic action.

And, thanks to the clever cameras, at the Olympics you can see what goes on under the water!
Another Science Question
  These Olympics are peppering my inquisitive mind with ever more questions of science. For example, how is it possible to have weightlifting events for men weighing less than 69 kilograms?

Without keeping his body weight up to a healthy 70 kilos and above by the regular ingestion of wholesome pies, surely no man could have the strength to lift his own duvet-cover in the morning? Any doctor would tell you that.

All photos: 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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