IF YOU were expecting this month’s viewing to be dominated by anything other than the Olympics and site preparations and pre-race events and news about the Olympics, well, do send us a picture of your cave.
But it’s not all sport itself, you know: there are also programmes about sport and some are pretty interesting, whether you’re already camping out in expectation of every event or just planning to watch the synchronised swimming for a laugh, before unwrapping a nice box set.
In fact, it would be hard to make a dull programme about Usain Bolt since, all hype aside, the man is an athletic marvel. While the narrator of The Fastest Man Alive cautiously claims that if he achieves three more golds at these games, he’ll become one of the greatest Olympians ever, for most people he probably doesn’t even need any further qualifications.
The thing about athletes, about any very highly performing sports people, is that they’re usually not very good at talking about what they do, because they don’t need to be. Their days are governed by strict routines, by repetition and practice – again and again and again and long past when lesser folk would give up, again – which leaves them little room for developing fascinating opinions. In fact, thinking too much about what they do outside of training sessions might well throw them off.
So there are no massive revelations from Bolt in this profile. He emerges as a fairly nice, fairly ordinary guy who loves his mum, hanging out with his friends and, of course, running. But given his immense fame and the way he’s been made into a national symbol in Jamaica, the fact that he hasn’t cracked up is in itself quite interesting. It seems to be down to loving local support and a dedicated training regime.
His house in Kingston, Jamaica, is not as big as you might imagine, but it does have a nice, petite swimming pool and what appears to be a resident DJ. He shares it with some mates, which sounds like a recipe for non-stop partying but apparently – if this documentary is to be believed – their idea of a fun night is playing dominoes. Perhaps after his legs give out, he can become the new face of that game and relaunch it as cool? Or maybe not.
Watching him run without the visual distractions of other competitors, spectators, advertising hoardings and so on, just running round a track, is almost hypnotic. You can’t even gauge how fast he’s going, in isolation, but the power and effort going into it are visible. And his coach seems to spend half his time brushing bits of the track off Bolt’s back, as he frequently collapses onto it, exhausted, before getting up and going again. How does he make himself do it? How do any of these athletes?
The closest he gets to really explaining it is mildly pointing out that “A lot of people see you run and they say, it looks so easy, it looks effortless. But before you get to that point, [there is] day in and day out sacrifice, just dying, there are times when you run and you just want to stop yourself and give up and go to hell with this, I just wanna go home. There are days when you wake up and you know you have an intensive training day and you think, I don’t wanna go today but you have to. It’s so hard and a lot of people don’t know.”
Imagine if you did all that and you didn’t win, but that was OK because you understand that’s the way it goes and someone else was better. And then you found out that, actually, they’d just slept in and taken some illegal performance-boosting substance instead. You would feel a tad annoyed. Actually, though, the other seven runners in The Race That Shocked The World who passed the finish line after Ben Johnson at the infamous 1988 Seoul Olympics 100m men’s final are not all as angry as you might expect. There’s some bitterness, but mostly an understanding that given the pressures and the confused situation in the sporting world at the time over drug matters (several members of the US team had tested positive in trials but been allowed to compete and rules over ‘herbal’ remedies were a grey area), it was perhaps inevitable. Four of them subsequently had their own run-ins with race authorities over drugs.
It’s a dramatic documentary, with unsettling implications for this year’s events – have they really learned all the lessons to prevent it happening again? – but no one, naturally, ever dares question how much it really matters.
If we ever thought that London dominated British broadcasting before, the Olympics has been an almighty excuse to prove that we had no idea, with seemingly endless capital-centric programming flooding the screens in recent months. But oddball short documentary The Odyssey is worth overcoming the eye-rolling for, combining panoramic aerial views of the city with quirky comments from people involved in, or just living near, the preparations for the games over the last seven years. Positive without being overly flag-waving, including the downsides as well as the official line, it actually succeeds in making you think that despite the hype, scandals, money and politics involved, the games might even be … quite good.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
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