TELEVISION / Euphemism goes for gold

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TATIANA LYSSENKO is preparing to go on the asymmetric bars. She stands quite still, her face hawkish imperious but with drowsy-elk eyes. Through the leotard skin you see the twiglet rib-cage and the petal pouches where the breasts should be. Somewhere in the hall, 'Pennsylvania 6- 5000' is playing on the wind-up gramophone they've been using for the floor exercises since the Crimean War. Like the other girls in the Unified team, Lyssenko looks as though she has had nine painful lives and one anguished death. Perhaps that's why she flies so well once she's up there: she's really a ghost, a vaultergeist. I try to write down what I am seeing, but Lyssenko defies description the way she defies gravity. Still, Mitch the commentator doesn't falter: 'Whip up the hips through the bottom]' This is not the last time in Olympic Grandstand (BBC1 and 2) that the commentators will fail to match the words to the pictures.

'The Barcelona Games,' said Jose Carreras, 'is an incredible window to show how we is.' Well, they is terrific. At the stirring opening ceremony, international kitsch was foiled by native wit and style. The pictures were so gorgeous you almost managed to forget David Coleman. As the 'Olympic Family' took a turn round the track, a combination of Clive Anderson and Lord Carrington was required to do justice to the representatives of George Bush's new world disorder. But instead we got Coleman: 'Gabon there, a small West African country.' As the camera lingered on a man with a gold ice- cream cone sticking out of a black fez, in he chimed: 'Indonesia, striking their own fashion note.'

Only Murray Walker can rival Coleman for yodelled excitement ('Oh, oh, oh, and it's an eeeeeenorrrmous one'), and I wouldn't have anyone else risking a tonsillectomy for Liz McColgan on Friday. But Coleman was floundering here. Australia's uniform was a big secret, he told us solemnly. As they strode out into the arena, it became clear why. 'The most colourful we've seen so far, and certainly unexpected.' The Brits lived down to expectations in a job-lot of suits for managers in D H Evans haberdashery. 'Navy] Panamas]' David was beside himself, the only person prepared to get that close.

The 'We're all one beautiful world' pageant could not obscure some ugly local truths. The teams came out in French alphabetical order as the Castilians and Catalans couldn't agree. The Bangladeshis hadn't been able to afford the air fare and had to accept charity. First time round, the camera missed the Estonians, who were sandwiched between the Unified and US teams. Their flag was carried by a lofty 70-year-old, staring proudly ahead. The world's top decathlete in 1948 and 1952, he was never selected for the Games - branded a public enemy by the Soviet Union, now a shambles of 12 different flags. 'What an irie,' said David, for once choosing the right word but swallowing it. An irony, certainly.

In the first few days, the commentators were admirably subdued. Of course, until Chris Boardman put on his Darth Vader helmet and cycle clips, there was plenty to be subdued about. But an abiding patriotism still prevented the truth being told about the British Interest. Up at the swimming pool, Andy Jameson and Hamilton Bland cheerily recorded in most heats that the BI was 'eighth'. Samantha Foggo, lying eighth, Matthew O'Connor in eighth, Sharron Davies eighth. A quick look at the lanes showed you there were only eight. Whatever happened to last? Most British swimmers were so eighth they risked joining the next race. But manager Paul Bush was keeping his chin up: 'We've got to look positively. They're not terribly used to swimming that fast in the morning.'

At Lake Banyoles, no apology was needed for Redgrave and Pinsent, two giants spooning a lift on the back of a glass-fibre dragonfly. Rowing makes dull television, and no camera angle could do justice to this pair's power. Other Brits did less well. The ladies eight was fourth (last) and fading when the commentator said: 'Yes, Great Britain have decided to keep their powder dry for another day.' I counted three occasions on which being thrashed was cited as a tactic.

Elsewhere, there was one great improvement worth cheering. The Olympic camera, like the human body on the asymmetric bars, has found its way into unbelievable positions. Over the heads of the vaulters and the divers, under the tumbling turns of the butterfliers; closing in for a sloooow replay of the weightlifter's face as he bursts under his burden, then cutting away to his rival, who sits backstage and shuts his eyes as he hears the cheers that tell him he must lift again. No need for words.

Back in the studio Desmond Lynam, sublime silver fox, was steering the great ship Coverage with one hand while the other stroked the viewer's brow. Don't be fooled by that ease: Des has the tower of Babel plugged into one ear but, like an air-traffic controller, he knows what information is important at any time. He also knows when we've had enough ('Right, we're sick of this drugs story').

Each Olympics arrives with its freight of memory: Bob Beamon hanging over the sandpit in the thin, still air of '68, Carl Lewis busting the tape. And so we sit, eager for new legends, watching people shake a passing fist at mortality. If we can't make our time stand still, we'll bloody well make it run. When Boardman won his gold, he said something odd: 'It's like somebody died.' You knew what he meant, but really it's like somebody lived. For a few seconds he had made a difference.

Brits were putting on a poor show elsewhere in Spain, with Eldorado (BBC1) continuing to make Neighbours look like Turgenev. After a month in the recreated country, viewing figures have dropped to five million. The spooky, unpopulated look of the place is reminiscent of a John Wyndham novel, and there must surely be some hope that the vines will start wrapping themselves round the actors. Meanwhile, it is the technical incompetence that dazzles. On Monday, Miss King was gawping at the fiftysomething lovers. She takes three steps forward and lets her mouth drop open. Cut to the lovers. Cut back to Miss King who, curiously having resumed her original position, takes three steps forward and lets her mouth drop open. I know the BBC is fond of repeats, but not within the same scene, surely?

The documentary series Secret History (C4) must be making a lot of people uncomfortable. This week, Hidden Holocaust told the story of one-and-a- half million Armenians murdered by the Turks in 1915. With the Ottoman Empire crumbling, the Turks decided to do a spot of 'ethnic cleansing'. The Armenians were the country's elite: crumpled sepia photographs show soulful men with Frank Zappa moustaches and women with long, haunted Virginia Woolf faces. There is plenty of evidence for what happened next: evicted from their homes, they were marched towards Syria. The men were murdered along the way; the women and children who made it to the desert, were thrown into caves where they were set on fire.

The Turkish government has never acknowledged responsibility. 'This is the big lie of the century,' a representative said. 'Some of those who were asked to leave the area, sure they suffered, no doubt.' Twenty years later, across the continent, another ethnic group was asked to leave the area. Hitler scorned suggestions that he wouldn't get away with it. 'Who remembers the Armenians, now?' he said. Thanks to programmes like this, a few more of us do.

Comments