Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Tony's Column - What's it like with the Games in town?

I've not attended any events over the past few days. Instead, I’ve caught a bit of the TV coverage and ventured out to see how Sydneysiders are coping with having the Olympic caravan in town.


It is now near-obligatory for any half-decent Sydney restaurant to provide patrons with sufficient TV sets to ensure comfortable viewing for all. In a largish Chinese restaurant I visited on the weekend, two sets were deemed necessary by the management, thoughtfully placed at opposite corners of the dining area. In another, smaller restaurant, I was one of the first to arrive and accordingly was offered by the waitress a choice of viewing positions for the single available TV set. I imagine this ceremony is being repeated all over Sydney. Thinking investors must now be kicking themselves if they failed to spot this golden opportunity to invest heavily in TV and screen manufacturers, suppliers and renters. The TV-in-restaurant trend has created new forms of etiquette. It is now perfectly acceptable to break off mid-conversation to watch, say, the Mens 4x100m relay, without fear that this will be considered in the least rude. Shushing the table to watch the 5th inning of the Canada v Italy Women’s Softball is probably stretching it though.


The TV craze has swept the shopping centres too. At the centre near where I’m staying, there’s a large screen in mid-mall on one of the floors. This seems to make good business sense : people stay longer in the complex because they don’t feel obliged to dash home to catch some favourite event on TV. But there’s also a TV inside the supermarket. Maybe the same business reasoning could be applied, but the TV is tucked away with the low turnover items and where no staff member without an Inspector Gadget neck could possibly see it. On multiple visits, I’m yet to see a single person watching.

TV coverage

Australia’s ability to cover major sporting events is unquestionable, so there was never any doubt about the quality of what would be served up. The presentation is slick and high quality, and the commentators knowledgeable (at least about the sports with which Aussies are familiar). But is there a little bias in the events that get airtime? For foreign athletes hopeful of having their performances televised, I’ve drawn up the following guidelines :

  • Participate in an event in which an Australian is competing and has at least an outside chance of a medal
  • Participate in an event that might be considered as “novel” in Australia and ensure that it takes place when nothing much else is happening
  • Compete as an Australian

There’s also a lot of material going to air that presumably is meant to seem live but which is actually delayed, sometimes significantly.

Fractions of a second

Watching the swimming got me to thinking about the significance of one-hundredth of a second. Why not do what they’ve done in Formula 1 and move to timing in increments of one-thousandths of a second, I thought? Well, how far does, say, a Men’s 100m Freestyler travel in one-hundredth of a second? Answer : about 2cm. In one-thousandth of a second? About 2mm, or the width of a well-cut finger nail. In contrast, a Formula 1 vehicle traveling at 300 kmh will travel about 0.8m in one-hundreth of a second and about 8cm in one-thousandth. So hundredths of a second make sense for swimming and thousandths for Formula 1. In a similar vein, it turns out that missing the start of the Men’s 100m sprint by one-tenth of a second equates to about 1.4m of travel at top-speed. No wonder that reflexes as well as speed are important attributes for success in this sport.

Medal Tally

How many Gold Medals will Australia win in Sydney? More than our PB of 13 in Melbourne? I think so - I’m predicting 16 Golds as Australia’s final tally. Quick trivia question : “Of the 32 disciplines being contested in the Sydney Games, what are the 20 in which Australia has never won Gold?”. Bonus question “What is the one sport in which Australia has won Gold that is not being contested at the Sydney Games?” Answers in next column. Extra bonus question : “Which will be higher – the number of Gold medals won by Australians or the number of athletes expelled from the Games for drug-taking?”


Perhaps I spoke too soon about Sydney’s transport prowess. Today brought first news of a moderately serious transport mishap, as Olympic traffic mingled with work-day traffic. Apparently, the Chinese women’s softball team were stuck in a bus in traffic and almost missed their match. Contrary to my Machiavellian suggestions of earlier this week, China were not scheduled to play Australia.

To end on a serious and positive note, I’d like to register my admiration for the in-pool and out-of-pool performances of Ian Thorpe. I heard him speak tonight about the honour of competing for his country and his respect for his fellow-competitors and I marvelled at his articulateness and humility. If he never does or says another thing in his life, he will still be rightfully remembered as one of the great Australians.

Today I get my second taste of live Olympic action. I’m off to Sydney’s Western outskirts to watch the evening baseball session.

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