It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This much I know.
And yet I fear my tireless preparations for the biggest sporting event of the year are at risk of being derailed.
As I write, we are only a few days into the extravaganza of London 2012. Jessica Ennis has yet to break sweat, but I am facing the curse of all armchair sports fans – Olympic Burn-out Syndrome (OBS).
It’s a hammer blow. I have prepared for this moment for decades and now that it has arrived I fear the whole event may be jeopardised by OBS.
At 45 years of age, I am a relative veteran of Olympic TV viewing endurance. I got an early taste as a nipper in 1972, watching Mary Peters, who looked like a teacher, take gold in Munich. I followed that up with the drama of Montreal, marvelling as Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena, nicknamed El Caballo (The Horse), galloped to victory in both the 400m and 800m. The sight of the runner in full flight prompted legendary TV pundit David Coleman to exclaim: “And there goes Juantorena down the back straight, opening his legs and showing his class.”
Back then, I invested hours of sofa-time in watching sports about which I knew nothing – and in this regard, little has changed. I can’t speak for prepubescent girls but I’m sure it was standard practice for schoolboys to camp out in the living room throughout the Olympics, however geographically remote and boring they were.
I then followed the traditional route, building up stamina with a once every four years “beasting,” putting in entire days of uninterrupted viewing during what experts call the Transition Phase of Olympic TV training. Under the rules, the only permitted screen breaks were for toilet visits, which had to be finished in under four minutes, hence the phrase: “I’m going for a Roger Bannister.”
The only other exceptions were trips to the kitchen for hardcore carb-loading (target foods: Tunnock’s Snowballs, Omega 3-rich Scampi Fries) and sources of rehydration (water, Tizer or Heinz tomato soup).
My own Transition Phase swept through the Games in Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul (I can’t remember a thing about that one – did it actually happen?) and Barcelona. Taken together, the time spent watching these events amounted to several months and it continued through the 1990s and into the new millennium. Such commitment and self-sacrifice was inspired by a single dream – that one day, before I entered a care home, the Games would be hosted in Britain. And when that day arrived, I was going to be prepared for saturation sofa-surfing.
And then, technologically speaking, the goalposts changed. When budding sports fans of my generations started following the Olympics, they were shown in black and white. The action was broadcast on one channel and you were lucky for what you got and no mistaking. Broadcasts with colour pictures emerged sometime in the 1970s (we lived in Kent then, so we were near London and got colour several years before people in the North). If there was a scheduling clash on major events, the BBC spilled over coverage to BBC2.
Now the Olympic coverage is everywhere. You can watch just about every event live, non-stop, until you drop. There HD channels and red buttons to press, allowing you to access menus and sub-menus of fencing, handball and dressage. The Internet shows everything too. How are you meant to keep up with it all?
I now fear the London Games have come too late for me. I don’t know if it is OBS or old age, but I find it terribly hard to stay awake for several hours watching people sailing. I have huge sympathy with the divers, like Tom Daley, who take to the jacuzzi to refresh themselves after plunging off the high board. But if Daley & Co think their exploits are tiring, they want to try watching this stuff for hours on end. It’s exhausting being interactive, because you have to tweet about the action too, and update your Facebook status to “Watching Vladimir Plopov on the pommel horse.”