OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Olympic bodies beyond compare

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The Independent Online
TOMORROW it'll all be over. The last medals will have been won. The last drug test will have been failed. The last Briton will have come 19th. Des's tan, for many the quintessential symbol of the Games, will have started inexorably to fade, and hundreds of commentators and summarisers will be able to stop pretending that they know the first thing about judo, archery or roller hockey. Only the free holidays and enormous lunches for members of the IOC committee will continue, reassuring us all that, for some people at least, the Olympic flame never dies.

Still it has been good fun to watch, and although it'll be far too soon if I ever hear Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe again, many memories of this strange and clearly barmy occasion will doubtless linger. Who could beat the grace and beauty of the women's high diving competition, with the Barcelona skyline as backdrop and the drivellings of Hamilton 'Hammy' Bland wiped out by the all-powerful mute button? And the reaction of the crowd when Khalid Skah finally picked up his gold medal for the 10,000 metres was truly heartwarming. What has made the most indelible impression on me, though, is the sheer variety of bodies we've seen in the past two weeks. Big bodies, short bodies, wiry bodies, huge muscly bodies - we've seen virtually everything. The only thing we haven't seen, in fact, is a normal body like yours or mine. It's remarkable what you can do to the human frame with years of intensive training, carefully planned diets and absolutely no performance-enhancing drugs at all, good Lord no.

How about those tiny female gymnasts - gaunt, stunted, with terrible outbreaks of muscle in the unlikeliest places? Dunked in make-up, which only made them look even younger and more vulnerable, they exchanged blown kisses like elderly Hollywood matrons, and blubbed if they scored less than 9.95. There wasn't anything wrong with them that a dozen cream cakes wouldn't have put right, but they were a pitiful sight none the less.

Then there were the 52kg weightlifters - more tiny people except that these terrifying little creatures could lift two and a half times their body weight. As their vast, disproportionate musculatures stretched and strained, and their eyes glinted with Napoleonic fervour, I instantly thought of the words of Randy Newman's masterpiece, 'Short People': 'They got little baby legs/They stand so low/You got to pick them up just to say hello.'

Many of the athletes, meanwhile, now have such well developed thighs that normal walking has become almost impossible. To avoid sustaining serious burns every time they break into a trot, they now move by means of an ungainly lope, not unlike the Sidewinder in Thunderbirds. The real steroid munchers go even further, and develop necks so thick you can see the veins throbbing when they talk. One or two of the sprinters this year looked uncannily like special effects.

Still, there was no odder sight in the entire Games than that of the gold medal winners in the coxed pairs, sobbing their way along to the national anthem as they vainly tried to recall the words.

The two huge Searle brothers, broad-chested and grinning toothily - and then right a bit, down a bit, down a bit more, and there was cox Garry Herbert, so small and angular he could almost have been a different species.

Only one category of humanity, in fact, was under-represented at the games: fat people. True, there were a few reasonably well upholstered members of the IOC committee, who occasionally took time off from lunch to hand over a few medals, but otherwise there wasn't a wobblebottom to be seen. What these Games have proved beyond doubt is that however oddly shaped you may be, there's an Olympic event for you. So why was there nothing for fat people? Here, at last, is a genuine gap that needs to be filled, and I urge Juan Antonio Samaranch and his toadies to sort this out immediately. After all, the Olympics are for everyone - tall, short, able-bodied, disabled, wiry, musclebound - or vastly overweight.

Step forward, Eric Bristow, 1996 Olympic darts gold medallist . . .

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