The wait is over. Today is the day when seven years of preparations are over and the official opening ceremony of the XXX Olympiad begins. The participants are in the Athletes Village, all getting ready for their moment to shine for their nations.
It’s weird, then, that football is the only event that started before today. The official decision behind this competition getting underway two days early is that it is a long one with many rounds, too many rounds to fit in to the normal two-week schedule. Surely there are three answers to this? Either make the football competition shorter, perhaps with less teams (although it is currently the same as the Euros and that seems to work well)? Maybe have men and women play on the same day so there’s no messing about (although they might get tired pretty quickly, particularly as this is “pre-season for a fair few of the competitors)? It seems that the best option would just be to extend the length of the Olympic Games!
At present, each occasion of the Summer Olympics lasts just two weeks. In this time, 26 sports, totalling 39 disciplines, cram in up to seven rounds of competition to ensure a winner can be found in the constraints. What’s so wrong with having an extra week, then? Not only does this give the athletes some respite between rounds, it allows spectators the chance to watch more sports throughout the day. These are the fifth Olympics I’ve given any attention to and, over the years, there are some events I honestly can’t remembering watching, despite wanting to. Coverage of sports like handball, (normal) volleyball and canoeing is painfully low, partly because there’s so much else going on at the same time. I guess the other reason is that nobody’s interested, but the media/audience spiral is a wicked one and each is to blame for lack of interest in these areas.
Fortunately, there has been some sort of semblance of Olympic participation over the last two days. It kicked off a bang with a delightfully exciting women’s competition, leading up to what should have been an even better men’s day out. I’m a big advocate of football being at the Olympics (alongside baseball, squash, Twenty20 cricket and rugby sevens, but you can’t win them all) but even I noticed what a downer yesterday’s action was compared to last month’s Euro 2012. A slip in quality was always likely, considering that the majority of the squads are made up of under-23 players. I was dismayed, horrified, then when many of the matches I watched were borefests – none more so than Great Britain versus Senegal.
It’s hard to expect a team that’s been together for about two weeks to deliver the goods against youth sides that have developed together for years, but the lack of togetherness reached ridiculous levels last night. Almost all of these players make a living in the English Premier League, probably the greatest football division on the planet. They should be used to how each other play, having to watch videos of them in preparation for their next clash. It just surprises me that they find it so hard to string passes together when gathered as a team. Our only real luck seemed to be punting down the right wing to Craig Bellamy and he seems far too old to reliably do this all match. Fortunately, he was probably our brightest player and took the golden opportunity to score well. It’s a great shame that the Manchester crowd decided to boo him early on in the match; partisan crowds don’t abuse their enemies during an England game (despite Bellamy being Welsh, but details) so why do when they’re representing Great Britain?
Team GB weren’t the only ones that surprised me. Spain, partly made up of Euro 2012 winners, looked toothless and played the kind of football that a lot of people grew to hate this summer. Their cautious, passing play was undone as Japan proved to be the superior team, gaining the only goal in the game and pushing the world champions to bottom in their group. Mexico, a team that seemed to beat everyone in their warm-up matches, had nothing to offer against a struggling South Korea side. The only excitement was in the Brazil game where, despite gaining a 3-0 lead, nearly threw it all away against a resurgent Egyptian team. The UAE weren’t bad either and deserved at least a point against the lacklustre Uruguayans. Luis Suarez, in particular, failed to shine.
There will be more football games this weekend, but nobody will care anymore as nearly every other event kicks off. These are the Olympics and most people are to see the “true” Olympic sports (athletics, swimming, etc etc). It’s quite nice they get that extra bit of exposure at the start but it means nothing if they can’t truly entertain us in that time. Maybe the men’s game should be like the women’s, allowing teams to pick the best in the world. In basketball, USA are expected to dominate because they’re bringing talent from the NBA and rightly so. Why can’t football do the same with stars from the EPL and La Liga? Until then, football isn’t even on a level par with archery, a sport that does bring the best of the best.
Speaking of archery (like I didn’t plan that), the archery competition begins today with ranking rounds in all four disciplines. This isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds, as nobody can be eliminated here. The only purpose of today’s action is to sort everyone into their seeds, with the top-ranked player taking on the lowest, and so on, beginning tomorrow. It’s not particularly exciting stuff after two days of football, but there you have it. Great Britain have a number of archers ready to challenge for the high places; Larry Godfrey is the strongest male, ranked tenth in the world and is the highest-ranked competitor on his target today. Despite Alison Williamson preparing for her sixth Olympics, it is compatriot Naomi Folkard who ranks higher in 14th. In the team events, the men have a strong chance of receiving a bye to the quarter-finals with a ranking of 5th, but the women are the least-fancied team in the whole competition at 17th, two ranks below Denmark.