Friday, August 27, 2004

The Adlympic Experience

I finally managed to watch an entire Olympic event last night. It wasn't one of the major events, like the crucial play-off between Australia and the US in the women's water polo to determine who got to take home a job lot of bronze paperweights and who got sent packing with a clip behind the ear and an admonition to try harder next time; it was a later game between a couple of those minor European countries. The kind of countries that are full of people who bang on and on about their long history and rich cultural heritage because basically they're no good at the things that really matter in this world like sport and free-trade negotiations.

Seven's coverage of the game had a promising beginning; Tony Squires deftly introduced the cross to the Aquatic Centre where Mike McCann and Debbie Watson took up the commentary. There was a bit of a hitch getting the game telecast started; first they had to get a small presentation ceremony out of the way. This took a couple of minutes, then the referee blew his whistle for the swim off. Greece took possession of the ball and the game was on.

Something mildly dramatic happened (I forget what) and in the lull that followed, as the teams repositioned themselves for the next passage of play, someone decided it was the perfect time for a word from our sponsors. I estimate that Greece scored the first goal of the game while that rock group were onstage in that outback pub singing "We Are One but We are Many" on behalf of Telstra. Within a couple of minutes, three more goals had been scored and Mike announced:

Greece take the lead, three goals to one.

I think this might be one of those subtle points of water polo; you're not really winning until you're at least two goals in front; if there's only a one point difference the game's more or less drawn. Especially if you're scoring goals when the ads are on and the TV audience can't actually see them happen.

With the Greeks in the lead, Italy very naturally found "themselves with a bit of work to do", managed to equalise again after two more beautiful goals (all the goals were beautiful, except for one or two which were either magnificent or spectacular). But Italy's work wasn't over; as Mike said:

The Greeks are on absolute fire here.

There were some amazing things going on in that swimming pool, let me tell you. But the game wasn't just a scientific marvel; it was a sporting marvel as well:

No one would have anticipated these two countries playing for the gold medal and not only are they playing for it but the Greeks are leading the Italians...

I was starting to feel the tension a little myself, but Seven very thoughtfully inserted a soothing series of advertisements for: Hi Fi Supermarket; the video and DVD of Mel Gibson's The Passsion of the Christ; that new Nivea shower oil that makes it impossible for idiots to tell whether they're touching a woman's skin or her underwear; the Mitsubish Magna; and all the new crap Seven will be showing once the Olympics are over. While those were showing, Italy scored another goal but I have no idea whether it was beautiful, magnificent, spectacular or merely perfect.

The play went on, and with it, the commentary:

There goes another one [shot at goal] which just about beat the keeper but she knew it was just a touch wide... [Debbie]

What a game - worthy of a gold medal match... [Mike]

It was good to know that even though Greece and Italy don't really rate in world water polo, both teams had managed to rise to the occasion and produce the sort of game we're entitled to see when an Olympic gold medal is in contention. I only saw the last quarter of the US/Australia game so I can't really say whether it was worthy of a bronze medal match or not. It may well have been, but it doesn't seem politic to say so. However that may be, there was one revealing moment which showed that the lessons of the Sally Robbins affair are starting to sink home, at least in some media circles: we saw "Jo Fox taking a break for Australia". It's good to see that the commentators have picked up on the need to give public recognition to those who also serve their country by putting a one hundred and ten percent effort into being comfortable and relaxed for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back in the less than crucial play-off to decide who whether it would be gold, gold gold for Italy, or gold, gold, gold for Greece, the score reached 6-5 in Greece's favour and once again it was time for a word from: LG, official sponsors of bloody annoying interruptions; Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ; New Idea; Ingham Chicken Nuggets; Adidas and Qantas, the airline that still calls Australia home. Both teams may have been slacking off a little, because the score was still 6-5 when the ads finished. A twenty second exclusion for a major foul and Mike announced:

Now it's Italy with a man up...

So it seems I missed the substitution of the entire Italian men's water polo team for the women's team thanks to the ad-break. It might have been this that sent the Greek coach into the hissy fit that got him yellow-carded. How the referee managed to miss this substitution, which left in charge of a women versus cross-dressers match, is beyond me. Perhaps there's some arcane set of Olympic rules for water-polo which allow this sort of thing (perhaps on equal opportunity principles) in the same way as it's possible, under the rules of Olympic boxing, for one of those kid's punching toys (the ones that always roll back from a punch) to gain points and even win a match, just by being hit very often about the head.

Italy equalised with 2 minutes and 28 seconds of the quarter left, which provided the perfect opportunity for Samsung and Herbal Essences to slip in a quick word. Italy managed to get a man up a second time before the end of the quarter, but the scores remained tied when the quarter finished and we heard some words from Extra Thick Sorbent, Live NRG, Hungry Jack's, Extra Thick Sorbent and a couple of Seven's other Olympic partners. While those cute little kids in the junior football team were giving themselves concussion on the banner made from Extra Thick Sorbent, the score went to 7-6 in Greece's favour.
Shortly after the instant replay of there was another twenty second exclsuion which, Mike noted, put:

Arriucca in the sin bin for Italy...

That's the great thing about the Olympic ideal; there are so many ways you can bring credit to yourself and your country. If your game is a bit off on the day, you can take a break for your country as Jo Fox did in the Australia/US match or you can get yourself sent off for your country as Arriucca did in the Italy/Greece game. When you consider the possibilities, the notion of just going out and playing your best looks a little pedestrian; when you take a break, you have to make it your best break and when you get sent off, you have to make it your best send off.

The scores were equalised again with a goal that, according to Mike:

was there for the taking and it was taken by Micelli...

With the game drawn, two three minute periods of extra time were added to decide the outcome, but first there was a short pause, which Seven used to remind us that: Qantas still calls Australia home; Australian Oranges are full of good stuff like vitamin C and folate; Seven will be running a season of "Disney Classics", starting with Mary Poppins next Friday; Thrifty Link is a good place to buy Father's Day presents as long as your dad isn't Red Symons; and Ryan Bailey went for gold for Australia in the kierin and got it (this Seven High Performance moment brought to you by Holden). Then it was back to the game.

For once the players got their timing right: Greece scored the first goal of extra time after the ads had finished. It was difficult not to share Mike's excitement at the Greek team's brilliant new tactic of trying to win by scoring more goals:

What a way to start! What a way to start! It's Greece in front!

Once again, Italy equalised and then took the lead; by now fatigue was taking its toll on the players. As Mike observed:

These players must be absolutely dead on their feet at the moment...

It was pretty clear that fatigue wasn't just telling on the players; it was getting to Mike as well. Realising that he had strayed into one of those "and here, unless I'm very much mistaken, and I am very much mistaken" moments, Mike attempted to recover with a remark to the effect that well their feet must be dead too because of course the players aren't allowed to stand on the bottom of the pool but must tread water at all times. You could tell that Mike was dead under his hair at this moment.

But the Greeks, who had been on absolute fire in the first quarter were well and truly burnt out; the Italians held on to win the game and it was all over bar the philosophising. Mike rallied long enough to provide a few critical insights:

There will be some disappointment, some despair for the Greeks ... A case of so close but so far for the Greeks ... but in time they'll be very proud of their silver medal...

Indeed so. And the United States' women's water polo team will be very proud (but not quite as proud as the Greeks, because that would be unseemly) of their bronze medals. And the Australian team have probably got something to be proud of as well, but it wasn't mentioned in any of the commentary so I can't tell you what it is.


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