THURSDAY DIARY; Try to imagine Imran Khan stopping mid run-up and mouthing `forget it' at the umpire

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Something like two dozen sports are supposedly represented at the Atlanta Olympics - so why is it that, whenever I tune in, it's always weight-lifting? No matter what the time of day, there's always some colossal Ukrainian or gargantuan Greek adapting that curious toilet position in front of 225kg of circular metal and looking worried.

On Saturday's pre-lottery TV, the screen was full of leotards. Sunday morning television brought nothing but portly crop-dusters from collective farms grunting and bulging and being embraced by their trainers. I was in a wine bar on Monday night where the TV set in the corner featured yet another wily Kalmuk dusting his palms with what appeared to be a kilo of cocaine and preparing to burst veins for the glory of the former Soviet Union. At noon on Tuesday, when you'd imagine most of Atlanta would be sluggardly a-bed, one more Greek could be seen doing that disgusting tummy- belt adjustment that seems to be crucial to one's concentration.

Weight-lifters are on the box all the time. You start to wonder if it's a more important branch of the sporting world than you'd realised. Could it be that every other Olympic sport is merely a distraction - that all the flap attending the 100m, the 400m and that nancyish hop-skip-and-jump routine is just a means of passing the time before returning to the real sporting business of watching chaps trying to hoist a house-load of avoirdupois with their arms without exploding?

The poet Christopher Reid once compared a weight-lifter to a human telephone. It's a brilliant image which took the sight of a wobbling, two-ton barbel being hoisted aloft, and re-imagined it as a receiver bouncing ("Somebody answer it!") on a shrilling cradle.

But for me the attraction of the spectacle lies elsewhere - in that weird moment of existential crisis, when weight-lifters give up trying. If they can't shift the weight, they don't just put the thing back on the ground, they jump back from it, or shy away from it, or throw it away in disgust. It's a moment of Oh-for-God's-sake rejection that you'll find in no other sport.

Can you imagine Imran Khan screeching to a halt in the middle of his run-up and mouthing "Forget it" at the umpire? Or Pete Sampras in mid- serve, suddenly thinking "The hell with this", leaving the ball hanging in mid-air and wandering off? Weight-lifting displays a marvellous can't- do protest in a relentlessly can-do world. More power to the swollen pecs.

Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions Dept. JK Galbraith, the legendary Canadian economist, breezed into town the other day and took tea at the Ritz with his publishers, Sinclair-Stevenson. Now 88, the elongated sage with the sweet tooth (his luxury choice on Desert Island Discs was a supply of maple syrup from his Vermont farm) held forth about single currencies and President Clinton and so forth and, as he prepared to leave, was approached by a fan.

"Professor Galbraith," he breathed, "Such an admirer ... great honour ... would you mind ... my wife, you know."

The Professor signed his autograph with a flourish. But the chap needed something more, to tell his chums at the Rotary Club.

"Tell me, Professor," he asked, "how can we bring down interest rates?"

Galbraith looked at him. "We can start," he said gravely, "by spending less money at the Ritz."

Lovers of all things Caribbean, from flying fish escovitch to laughably corrupt politics, should tune in to Radio 5 Live's Special Assignment on Sunday for the first of four investigations into the islands' politico- economic affairs. They're produced by Marina Salandy-Brown, the Trinidadian fireball who used to pilot Melvyn Bragg's Start the Week radio show; but behind the programmes' smooth, rippling, azure-blue etc surface, there lurks a tale of Homeric misfortune.

Ms Salandy Brown flew to the Carib Sea in April with her work cut out: she had arranged to interview half a dozen heads of state on 12 islands, helped by the entrepreneurial skills of a local fixer called Jeremy, who was to present the programmes; the two broadcasters faced the ordeal of a 2,000-mile round trip on a tiny BBC budget.

Things began to go wrong shortly after Ms Salandy-Brown touched down in Port of Spain. First she realised she had left behind her jet bracelet traditionally worn in the islands to ward off the evil eye. Bad mistake. Her helpmeet/presenter Jeremy began to complain of pains in his bones; by the first day of recording, he'd gone down with dengue fever and been ordered to bed for three weeks - the entire duration of the assignment. Then someone tried to hot-wire her car while she was talking to the authorities. And Salandy-Brown discovered that being a female media hustler in the Caribbean carries little clout, as the political bigwigs began to pull out of their promised interviews.

Stranded far from home, with her presenter comatose, she faced the prospect of having to fill four pre-booked programmes with nothing more than recordings of the locals singing De Big Bamboo. She was in despair. What was a girl to do?

She found a bar and told her sad tale to a sympathetic local who thought he might be able to help: he was called Jones P. Madeira. Oh please, thought Salandy-Brown, spare me the joke names. (What was he, a calypso singer?) Amazingly, he turned out to be a national hero, a BBC-trained television executive who had mediated between Kalashnikov-toting revolutionaries and the nervous populace in the coup of 1990. (Perhaps from an impulse of gratitude, the people had also voted Jones P. the best-dressed man in Trinidad.)

At his approach, heads of state fawned and genuflected. Recalcitrant politicians came over all loquacious in his company. With Mr Madeira by her side, Salandy-Brown found herself being offered cocktails under ambassadorial banyan trees and shown round the local parliament offices. The programme was saved. It was, she said, like hanging out with Nelson Mandela ...

Sweet story. Happy ending. When you listen to her on Radio 5 Live you may notice the sound of someone who can't believe her luck.