Thursday, September 21, 2000

Tony's Column - Badminton, Olympic Rings, Prices, Officials, Transport

This afternoon heralded my first sporting event at the Olympic Park site : Badminton in the imaginatively named “Pavilion 3”. Sitting between – you guessed it – Pavilions 2 and 4, Pavilion 3 seats 6,000 people. I would venture that a random selection of 6,000 people from around the world would yield fewer than a couple of hundred whose bodily dimensions could be comfortably accommodated by the seats in Pavilion 3. I have never been so aware of the nuisance protuberances I previously referred to as my elbows, nor indeed have I been so aware of and familiar with those of my fellow man. And, it was hot. But it was still fantastic … Read on.


Picture this. You’re playing in the Badminton Mixed Doubles at the Olympics. You’ve come into the tournament seeded seventh of the eight seeds and, with a series of strong performances, have reached the Gold Medal match where you are to meet the number one seeds and hot favourites from Indonesia. You’ve trained hard and played well to get this opportunity. You look up at the scoreboard after 9 minutes of the match and discover that the first of a maximum three sets is over. You’ve lost the set 15-1. You determine that you are indeed awake and that this nightmare is real. This was the scenario that faced the Chinese pairing of Jun Zhang and Ling Gao in the last match of this afternoon’s session. Over the course of the next hour, the 6,000 or so people sandwiched and toasting along with me in Pavilion 3 screamed, groaned and cheered in a variety of languages as they witnessed an astonishing come-from-behind win for the Chinese pair : 1-15, 15-13, 15-11.

There’s something about a match like this that appeals to all sports fans. We’ve seen similar heroics in our own traditional sports – in Davis Cup Tennis, in Test Cricket, in AFL and in Rugby League. I knew little about Badminton before I entered Pavilion 3 – don’t know much more now – and I’d never heard of Zhang and Gao or their opponents in this particular match, Kusharyanto and Timur. But I cared about the result. It still makes me smile. Oh - and I got to see three other matches besides.

For the record, Badminton is “the fastest of all the racquet sports” with shuttles having been timed traveling at speeds in excess of 260kmh. My Sun-Herald 17 Day Olympic Sports guide informs me that shuttlecocks comprise a cork tip surrounded by 16 goose feathers, “all from the same goose”. Quite how this single-goose requirement is policed is a subject for considerable speculation. In the four matches I witnessed today, a total of 72 shuttlecocks were used, conceivably all feathered from the same unfortunate goose. On average, a shuttlecock lasted fewer than 3 points and spent less than 3 minutes in play. If I were the supplying goose I’d be very unhappy about that.

Olympic Rings

Now we come to the participative part of today’s column. Grab yourself some pencils and, without seeking reference material, draw the Olympic rings, preferably in colour. Harder than you thought? Did you get the 5 colours right – in order from left to right? Which rings interlock with which other rings and which rings pass over which other rings? There’s a website with full instructions for drawing the Olympic rings at

Do you know the significance of the number five? Apparently it represents the five major continents. And the colours? Every national flag contains at least one of them.


The Federal Government’s inflation forecasts for this year included a spike for the effects of GST, but did not to my knowledge include any “Olympics” related effects. They should have. Here’s a smattering of the prices that people are paying for food and drink at the Games’ venues : 7” Hotdog : $4.50; Street’s Magnum : $3.50; Hot chips and a Mineral Water : $6.80. The price of bottled water has, for some, coloured their perceptions of the otherwise sensible exhortations from Games announcers to “drink 600ml of fluid every two hours”.

(While I’m on the topic of water, let me pass on a gem from my last Sydney Water statement. At the top of the bill was something like “Sydney Water. The Official suppliers to the Australian Swimming Team”. Oh really? For drinking purposes or for setting World Records in?)


These Games have produced some very un-Australian behaviours at sporting events, perhaps best demonstrated by crowd reactions to the announcement of the day’s officials. Without exception, these have been greeted with loud cheers, loudest of all when one of the officials is revealed to be from the Host Nation. Let’s hope this is merely an aberration and doesn’t catch on in local sports.


Now almost a week in to the Games, I’ve had an opportunity to try out both forms of transport – Bus and Train – at various times of the day. For me, the buses have been more comfortable, more frequent and have managed crowds more effectively. It’s extraordinary the range of places from which the buses have been brought. So far, I’ve seen buses from Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne and Country NSW and, of course, from suburban Sydney. And there’s thousands of them. Where did they all come from? Are there people all over Australia glancing fruitlessly at their watches waiting for the now 7-day overdue 7:15am to the local train station?

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