"To casual observers of basketball, these late time-outs may seem rather pedantic," noted the commentator in a mildly embarrassed way, acknowledging one of the chief problems of the Olympics - that most of the audience is be woefully ill-prepared for the gruelling demands placed on their understanding. I haven't heard "pedantic" used in this way before - as a synonym for "baffling and tedious" - but then the commentators have to act as apologists for sports which all but disappear from the screen in between Olympics, feeding the ignorant enough titbits of information to keep you watching while not driving the real enthusiasts to distraction.
Some of the solutions are rather nifty - during the gymnastics you occasionally break away from watching a man helicoptering around the pommel horse for a computerised representation of a gymnast's-eye view - the loop-the- loop involved in the horizontal bar, with the girdered roof swooshing giddily overhead, left you clutching at the sofa, even more impressed by the competitor's ability to clutch at that robust straw. The gimmick is so captivating, in fact, that it makes you wonder why the BBC has been sluggish in introducing other technological aids to excitement - such as the on-screen doodles with which Sky explains football strategy. Even basketball might be comprehensible if you had a diagram which told you what to look out for, instead of which, you have to make do with the BBC's tried-and-tested valve technology: commentators going "Ooh, this is a pressure point now," and showing off their rather unhelpful homework. "It looks like she's got a waza-ari," said someone as the women's judo came to an untidy conclusion, a remark which got the commentator off the hook, but left the viewer firmly impaled.
To be fair, they also told you that competitors keep their fingernails short because if they don't, they stand a good chance of losing them entirely - a queasily arresting detail which made you look at all that scrappy pyjama-grabbing in a new light. I imagine there are similarly grisly confidences to be passed on about weightlifting - dark professional secrets of gristle explosion and cartilage shear - but if so, we didn't hear them, obliged to content ourselves with the vivid demonstration of what happens to the human frame when pressed from above with extremely heavy weights. Most of the competitors look as if they have had a safe dropped on them, but Naim Suleymanoglu, who took the gold medal in his class, is so alarmingly squat that he has you checking the vertical hold for a malfunction.
One of the official consolations for the sports-blind over the next few weeks is an extra episode of EastEnders (BBC1). For less regular viewers, including me, it might be a courtesy to add a commentator to this event, too - David Coleman, say, murmuring over the action: "Yes!... characteristic move from Grant there. He's got her pinned down with nowhere to go. But now, over to the Queen Vic, Walford's main indoor arena, where the final of the Women's Long Distance Adultery is in progress....Ooh, I say... Bianca is not going to be pleased with that at all."Reuse content