George V. Reilly

Olympics: Razor-thin Margins

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have no use for organized sports. Watching baseball or basketball bores me. I seem to be con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly incapable of being a sports fan. I’m too much of a watchful outsider to want to throw myself into rooting for a team.

I actively despise American football. It reminds me far too much of the rugby of my youth. I spent 11 years at an Irish rugger-bugger school, so I come by it honestly. The ugly jock culture that permeates football repels me. The veneration of football in small-town America annoys me. The fans are obnoxious; the players, thugs.

I exaggerate, of course. There are plenty of agreeable people who (in­com­pre­hen­si­bly) like football, and other sports cultures are often obnoxious. But I was not pleased when Seattle went to the Super Bowl, and not dis­ap­point­ed when they lost.

My dislike of organized team sports doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cal­ly extend to individual sports. Not that I spend any time watching other sports.


I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week watching the Winter Olympics. The drama of Frode Estil, the Norwegian cross-country skier, who stumbled in the first second, leaving himself at the back of the field of 77, and pulled all the way back to win the silver. Shaun White flubbing an earlier round in the snow­board­ing half-pipe, and then going on to win the gold. Apolo Ohno touching a competitor’s skate and spinning out of control. Lindsay Jacobellis showing off in the final stretch of her snowboard cross, squan­der­ing the gold. Lindsey Kildow taking a really bad fall during training, then coming back a couple of days later to compete. Defrasne pulling past Bjo­ern­dalen in the last few seconds after 12.5km of skiing and shooting in the biathlon.

And of course the high drama of the pairs figure skating, where each of the three medals couples had a compelling personal story. The Russian couple, where the woman concussed herself after a bad fall a couple of years ago and the man took months to regain his confidence. The Chinese couple where the man had barely recovered from ripping his Achilles tendon last year. And the other Chinese couple, where the woman took a hard fall seconds into their routine and had to be helped off the ice. Five minutes later, they came back out and skated their hearts out, winning the silver.

I’m amazed at how many of the sports have results that are incredibly tightly clumped, even when they’re not competing at exactly the same time. The long-track skating: they skate in pairs, but all the top times are within a second or so of each other after thousands of metres. The point spread in the freestyle moguls. Likewise for the figure skating.

It’s especially true in the downhill skating. Darren Rahlves came in ninth in today’s event, a mere 0.72 seconds behind the winner. Think of it. Nine skiers hurtling down a hill one at a time at high speed for 90 seconds, and their times are less than three-quarter of a second apart. There’s no margin for error. None. The slightest misstep and you’re an also-ran.

Makes for great watching.

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