Letters From London

Born To Be Freestyle

Born To Be Freestyle

The perils of taking the Olympics literally.

By Ellie Gibson • August 1, 2012

Many of us on the Gameological crew like the Olympics. Eurogamer’s Ellie Gibson, on the other hand, does not care for them (or so she claims). Naturally, then, we’ve invited her to be the site’s sole correspondent for the London 2012 Olympics. She does live there, after all. During the two weeks of competition, Ellie will be providing periodic updates to her running diary of the Games, in a feature we’re calling Letters From London.

Tuesday, July 31—Men’s swimming, 200-meter freestyle final; men’s beach volleyball

For about the last 587 years, London’s higher authorities have been issuing dire warnings that the Olympics is going to bring our transport system to its knees. These ominous prophecies have manifested in many ways, from posters slapped on every flat surface in the city to travel-update emails that I don’t remember signing up for. They arrive in my inbox twice a day, always saying the same thing. (“Don’t leave the house,” basically.)

Most offensive of all have been the recorded messages blasting out from loudspeakers at every train station in the land. These feature London mayor Boris Johnson, who has taken it upon himself to become our very own transport-fixated Cassandra. “There is going to be huge pressure on the transport network,” his ridiculous voice booms out. “Don’t get caught out. Get online and plan your journey.” As if a quick go on Google will reveal the whereabouts of an enchanted portal that can magically transport you to any location within the M25.

My husband, Pete, works in an office on the other side of London. Even on a good, Olympicless day, it takes him an hour to get home. So I was not surprised when he returned last night in a furious rage. “Outrageous. Absolutely bloody outrageous,” he stormed. Oh no, I thought. Queues at the ticket barriers? Packed-out train carriages? Crowds of Continental Europeans clogging up the platforms with their baguettes and existential literature?

“No!” he said. “None of the above! London Bridge station was practically empty. I didn’t have any problems getting home at all!”

No wonder he was infuriated. If there’s one thing Londoners hate more than a clogged-up transport system, it’s not being able to complain about the state of the clogged-up transport system. We’ve been looking forward to having an excuse for getting to work at 11 a.m. for months, and now this.

I decided to calm Pete down by putting the swimming on. He was a keen competitive swimmer as a teenager and even had dreams of becoming an Olympian himself, before he discovered girls, and not waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day to get cold, wet, and a verruca.

The actual races were pretty dull. I preferred the bit where the swimmers entered the arena and gave their embarrassed little waves as their names were announced. Taehwan Park, Helge Meeuw, Gemma Spofforth… They all sounded like anagrams. It was like watching an episode of Countdown set in a leisure centre.

The 100-meter women’s backstroke was incredibly nerve-wracking, but only because none of the competitors ever checked to see where they were going, and I was convinced someone would hit the back wall. The men’s 200-meter freestyle sounded more exciting—I wondered if one of the men might have invented some crazy new stroke. But they all just did front crawl.

“Why don’t they call it the 200-meter front crawl, then?” I asked Pete. A lengthy discussion about competitive swimming techniques and the intricacies of Olympic regulations followed. This culminated in me saying, “So why don’t they call it the 200-meter front crawl?” and Pete saying, “Because that’s not what it’s called.”

When the swimming finished, we watched Poland take on the U.S.A. at beach volleyball. The Polish players were easily identifiable by the way they wore their baseball caps the right way round. The American players were also simple to spot, what with the wraparound shades they were sporting at 9:30 on a rainy night in London, and the way their hats were emblazoned with the letters U, S, and A in the biggest font possible.

The commentator was a bit rubbish. He kept spouting confusing technical terms like “free zone” and “hand cannon”. He was also very excitable, throwing around words like “Incredible!” and “Unbelievable!” after every point. I found it quite plausible that a man had hit a ball over a net and another man had not been able to hit it back.

The whole thing went on for what seemed like another 587 years. The Poles won. The Americans looked murderous. The commentator said, “This means Poland are almost certainly going to be in the top two, which almost guarantees them a place in the last 16.”

The last SIXTEEN? What did he mean, ALMOST? I decided I didn’t have time for this and turned off the TV. I had to be up early to hide Pete’s shoes. That ought to get his day off to the right start.

(Front-page photo and swimmers photo: The UK Department For Culture, Media, And Sport)

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91 Responses to “Born To Be Freestyle”

  1. Sandwichands says:

    Becareful, you have used the word “Olympics”.  You should use the generic “Quadrennial celebration of sporting events for international advertising and marketing” to reduce your legal liability.

  2. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    We teach our kids that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game.

    But then we also are teaching them “Here’s the medal tally ranking countries in order of how many events they have won. Brought to you by McDonalds.

    Fuck the olympics, is what I’m saying here.

    • Mike Ferraro says:

      Except the Americans, unlike the rest of the world, teach “it’s the total number of medals that matters for rank, regardless of type”.  So if there’s an event where Russia wins gold and USA wins bronze, it was a tie.  If USA also gets the silver, then they are twice as good as Russia.

      Sounds like the IOC doesn’t believe in ranking at all, though they publish the medal table by total golds first, and everyone except the US rank that way. So according to the US, the US “won” the last two olympics, but nobody else thinks so.
      In conclusion, the USA’s best sport is Moving The Goalposts.

      • Jack Carrington says:

        If you do it on a gold medals per capita basis New Zealand comes out top.

        Are two silvers better than a gold? No? Three? Four? We need to get some game designers in to sort this out, maybe some kind of multiplier bonus system?

        • Mike Ferraro says:

          Sorted: Gold=5, Silver=3, Bronze=1.  Thus silver+bronze is barely not as a good as gold, side effect is two silvers indeed beat a gold.

          Which indeed wins the US the 2010 over Canada, but they lose to China in 2008.  Which looks to me like an accurate interpretation of the medal distribution.

      • doyourealize says:

        Haven’t you ever read any sports journalism? At least stateside? You decide who’s the best by first deciding who’s best, and then using whatever means you need to prove it. Digging through the evidence first and making an informed decision is a fool’s game!

        We already know America’s the best. What does it matter how we prove it?

        U! S! A!

        • ToddG says:

          Through no strong desire of my own, the Olympics have been playing on my household’s television quite frequently this week.  To amuse myself, I’ve been doing the “U! S! A!” chant so often (regardless of whether an American participant is winning the event being shown, or even present in it) that I can’t tell if I’m still doing it ironically anymore.

  3. Jack Carrington says:

    I’m pretty sure the IOC regularly read comment threads on Gameological so I have a suggestions to make. All swimming events should be freestyle. This would stop crazy medal hauls (talking to you Mr Phelps), if the same person can win at 8 different events maybe the events are not quite different enough.

    I appreciate that many specialists will their Olympic dreams shattered by my suggestion eliminating their pointless backward swimming skills. As an alternative they could introduce pointless styles to other events. I’d pay to see Usain Bolt in the 100m butterfly track and field even, hopping along with his feet together and swinging his arms in unison.

    If the IOC hired a couple of gamers we massively improve the games with a few rule changes.

  4. Effigy_Power says:

    I am sort of wondering why certain sports need commentators at all. Are people really too oblivious about the rules of “bang and then they run and the first person wins”?
    TV-channels send scores of commentators to these things only to repeat in long, pathos-infused sentences exactly what is happening on the screen. I get that there are some disciplines that require a bit of explanation or just someone with the overview to tell you what the hell is going on, but especially stuff like running, swimming fast, throwing stuff far or jumping off something really don’t need it.
    Even in high intensity sports with tons of players the commentators usually reach for anecdotes after the 3rd inning/1st quarter/2nd third and so on. I am not all that much interested in the third niece of that guy there who is also interested marginally in the sport at a later time maybe if she trains a lot and how cute that is.

    • doyourealize says:

      But then what would we complain about? Could you imagine just watching some people compete…and that’s it? We need to talk about how what that guy said was so stupid, and then we need to watch, after the event is over, someone talking about what they were talking about during the event. Then we need analysis of the conversation about what the guys were talking about during the event.

      This is important to the integrity of the Olympics!

    • Merve says:

      For events like track and field, I appreciate that the commentators try to give some context for what’s happening. Stuff like “Johnny Lightning-Legs is coming off a silver medal performance at the world championships” or “Mohammed Turbo-Knees was plagued by an ankle injury last year, so this event could be a comeback for him.” It’s helpful for people who don’t follow those events.

      But I’ll admit that when they start talking about an athlete’s three-legged golden retriever, I lose interest.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        The problem isn’t so much giving information, it’s that apparently vital desire to keep talking regardless of something to talking about.
        I remember watching a beach volleyball game (for nothing but athletic interest of course) and they came out and had to do something with the playing field, something about the sand. Instead of cutting to commercials or something, they had the commentator just talk for 15 minutes about nothing of consequence. Nothing was happening, but he kept talking as if it was.
        I think that’s what it may be like inside a lunatic asylum.

    • rvb1023 says:

       But without commentators, I wouldn’t understand the personal sacrifice made by my team’s participating member (obviously implying that every one at the Olympics didn’t make many sacrifices to get there to make our athlete feel more special) and then I wouldn’t know how sad I should be if he loses or how happy I should be if they win.

  5. missmoxie says:

    I love reading these posts. I feel like I’m understanding a foreign language without ever having learned it. And they’re hilarious.