As a Brit, I rather like the Winter Olympics. It’s a no stress watch. There are zero expectations around any of the Team GBR athletes who might sneak the odd bronze, silver at best, and my eyes are opened to marvellous disciplines that I otherwise don’t recognise, have no chance of ever doing and have no natural inclination towards. Almost certainly, my viewing experience is exactly that of how most ‘normal’ people view sailing in the Summer Games.
As a people-watcher however, I get drawn in by the back stories. I am absolutely fascinated by the great Swiss downhill hero, Beat Feuz, who is anything but a model professional and likes to party. I always liked the Ferrari driving Alberto Tomba, ‘Tomba La Bomba’, who could do things on the moguls that were other-worldly whilst partying in the ski resorts like a Medici. Today he likes visiting car washes at the dead of night, I kid you not, and lives quietly in the Italian mountains. Sporting stories are always amplified by the human.
Do I have any clue about a Japan grab 1080 in the snowboard bowl or a hog-line hammer in the Curling? Nope not a clue. Do I know my Telemark landing from my K-Mark in the Nordic biathlon or a Kreisel track from a Labryinth in the Bobsleigh. No I really don’t. But for the brief attention span I proffer whilst watching, I am thoroughly entertained, engrossed and bought-in by expert commentators and old professionals who really do.
And when I trans-play this to the sport that I know, I see how utterly daft it is that we should expect the wider public to know their port from their starboard, their sheet from their rope or the nuances of water at the mark.
Watching the Winter Olympics as a complete outsider is chastening. It makes me think. It sort of makes sense of the whole debacle around installing the kiteboards ahead of the Finn. Or does it? Will the public latch onto the fabulous story of Daniela Moroz from the USA as the stand-out female kiteboarding athlete of our age? Will Theo de Ramecourt become a household name in France and around the globe? Or is it the discipline and the spectacle that sells Formula Kite? It could well be a combination of the lot. I hope so.
And does that story resonate globally and infiltrate digitally in the way say Giles Scott’s back-from-the-dead performance did or Hannah Mills becoming the most successful female sailor of all-time did? Will legends be borne out of the IOC and World Sailing’s dive down the rabbit-hole of youth engagement and produce the Elvstrom’s, Coutts, Ainslie’s, Doreste’s and Schumann’s of tomorrow? It’s a heck of a bet.
But who honestly cares what I think? I am not the target demographic of the Olympic movement. My time was an age of Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Linford Christie, (Daley Thompson even) and the Games captured me full square. If they did it then for my age, who am I to say that they are wrong in their angling at the current target market?
I’ve long campaigned that a single-handed foiler needs to be encouraged into our sailing roster as I still think the spectacle of boats flying out of the water is something truly spectacular to not only sailors but crucially the viewing public.
We persisted with the Finn for longer than we probably should have due to its history-making and rightly there was sadness when time was called and the politics of not standing against the 470 came back to haunt. We still insist and place hope on the Laser but even as a sailor of the boats myself, I’m acutely aware of the chilly environs of drinking in the Last Chance Saloon.
The Windsurfers have gone foiling. The Formula Kites are airborne. The Nacra’s are pretty fabulous above the deck and you can see which way the tide is flowing. As opinion-profferers we cling on to what we know when in reality what we really only know is old hat.
I remember the howls of derision as Grant Dalton launched the Gekko Cup boats with every man and his dog absolutely certain that they’d never work and could never be match-raced. We were all 180 degrees wrong and it’s the visionaries, like Dalton, that see things long before the rest of us have got our pants on. Perhaps that’s what is happening in the Olympics. Perhaps World Sailing in conjunction with the IOC have got it right and to hell with what the wider sport, niche as it is, thinks.
Flicking around the internet at Winter Olympic forums is a fascinating exercise. I thought sailing was political. We barely touch the sides of some of these sports. And their politics runs deep into the mainstream of global intrigue, of national identity, of State-backing, doping, genetics, big business, fraud and self-interest. It’s gobsmacking in parts. Sailing is a gentlemanly pursuit in comparison.
I’ll watch the Winter Olympics with no dog in the fight and that’s just how I like it. I’ll cheer on the uncheerable. I’ll celebrate the astonishing 8th place after the first round in the snowboard bowl and get enthused by the possibility (if everyone else falls) in the short track skating. I will wonder at the guts of the ski jumpers and support Switzerland in the downhill men’s Super-G. I’ll watch someone from Scotland late into the night in the Women’s Curling and only watch the Luge and the Bobsleigh for the crashes.
My teenager however will be looking for the ollies, nollies, shifties, fakies, nose-butters, bloody Draculas (look it up), Canadian bacons, cannonball UFOs, gorillas, melons, methods, tail grabs, squirrels, slobs, rusty trombones, mutes, suitcases, drunk drivers, beef carpaccios, pick-pockets and truck drivers in the snowboarding. And so he should. It’s a spectacle for youth.
If you don’t feel old now, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Let the Games begin.