Olympic roundup

Contrarian amused himself yesterday by seeing how long a non-sports fan living in Canada without television and with the radio turned off could avoid learning the outcome of the Canada-US hockey game.

Answer: Until a 6:59 p.m. AST email bulletin from the New York Times.

Herewith some of the very few Olympic nuggets that actually tweaked my interest:

What a difference a second makes:

Olympic seconds

Amanda Cox of the New York Times uses a musical interactive graphic to illustrate the extent to which elite athletes cluster near the winning time in various events. When you “play” each event, a staccato musical tone represents each contestant crossing the finishing line.  In Men’s Downhill, the 14th finisher, Carlo Janka or Switzerland, crossed the finish line less than a second behind the winner, Didier Defago, also Swiss. Try it for yourself.

Olympic pictograms through the ages:

Also from the New York Times, Designer Steven Heller has assembled a fascinating video depicting the evolving style of pictographs used at each Olympic games:

Sports as opiate of the masses:

Those of us who believe the Olympics, from Canada’s repulsive “own-the-podium” campaign through the insipid opening ceremony up to and including the dramatic Cole-Harbourian finale, were a colossal mis-allocation of public resources toward people who are already over-celebrated and away from neglected priorities, generally learn to keep out mouths shut during the biannual orgy of self-congratulation. Not so Christopher Hitchens, writing in Newsweek:

[G]enial, welcoming, equable Canada, shortly to be the host of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is now the object of a stream of complaints from British and American sports officials, who say that their athletes are being denied full access to the venue’s ski runs, tracks, and skating rinks… Nah nah nah nah nah: it’s our mountain and you can’t ski on it, so there, or not until we’ve had the best of it. “We’re the only country to host two Olympic Games [Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988] and never have won a gold medal at our Games,” whined Cathy Priestner Allinger, an executive vice president of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. “It’s not a record we’re proud of.” But elbowing guests out of your way at your own party—of that you can be proud.

I didn’t have to read far to find the comment I knew would be made about this spiteful, petty conduct. A hurt-sounding Ron Rossi, who is executive director of something snow-oriented called USA Luge, spoke in wounded tones about a supposed “gentlemen’s agreement” extending back to Lake Placid in 1980, and said of the underhanded Canadian tactic: “I think it shows a lack of sportsmanship.”

On the contrary, Mr. Rossi, what we are seeing is the very essence of sportsmanship. Whether it’s the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want—as in Africa this year—or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars’ homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit,” after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.” As he went on to say:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.