This week the Doc marvels at how the Olympic Games gets people watching sports they might never have bothered with otherwise
It’s hardly an insight of blinding originality to say that when the Olympics are on, people enthusiastically watch sports they’d normally write letters to the local paper complaining about.
But for many who run sports it’s the most important thing about the Games. It’s a chance for them to compete for the next generation of athletes and fans.
For instance, Mrs Doc and the sport of weightlifting had totally failed to cross paths until London 2012, when she panic-bought some tickets to it.
“Bloody weightlifting,” she said when the adrenaline rush had subsided. “Doped-up Eastern Europeans humping metal around. I can see that at the building site across the road from the office.” She went all the same.
She was so excited by the experience that she took out a subscription to a weightlifting magazine and now squabbles over access to Eurosport so she can watch it. She glories in pointedly pointing out to me that every single athlete, including the 45kg women, can get the lid off a jar of jam without having to use a special little tool from Lakeland to break the vacuum.
This makes me wonder what everyone makes of cycling? Will people end up watching it because the only other option is sailing?
Well, some of what we do is excellent. Road cycling always looks fantastic at the Olympics, simply because it takes place in the wild. It’s not in yet another anodyne stadium, it ranges over the hills and mountains and, in the case of London 2012’s adventures in Surrey, past eight different branches of B&Q.
The track events always have an atmosphere so good you can feel it on TV, which is because there’s no way to design a velodrome that doesn’t make it intimate and close to the racing. The whole place shakes with energy.
But there are things that worry me. No other Olympic sport is as baffling. Try explaining to a new viewer that the first four hours of the men’s road race are only there to make people tired, and see how you get on, or why the rider of the derny in the keirin always seems to have come straight from the set of Last of the Summer Wine.
More from the Doc
Something else that concerns me is that cycling doesn’t look difficult. No one watches cycling and says, “Wow, just look at Laura Trott, balancing on two wheels, that’s just mental!” The attraction of sports like gymnastics is that they look really skilful. Cycling doesn’t.
Think what would happen if athletes swapped sports. A gymnast’s cycling would be, well, cycling. A little slow maybe, but otherwise fine. A cyclist’s high bar routine would consist of hanging limply for 10 seconds, then falling off. So would a rings routine, same for parallel bars.
The only contribution a cyclist could make in the gym would be to sit astride a pommel horse and complain that the saddle was 4mm too high and it didn’t have Di2.
Whitewater canoeing would be worse. We’d drown. Same for the 100m butterfly. The only aquatic sport where we’d be safe from drowning would be diving, because we’d rupture our internal organs with a mighty opening belly-flop, and have to be fished out of the pool with a net.
All of the regulars in these sports could turn up to a club time trial and almost certainly not finish last.
But at least we’re under no threat from triathlon. Even Mrs Doc’s favourite weightlifters can see that that’s just a nice bike ride, spoiled.