Chris Hewett: BMX has a whiff of school truancy and a misspent youth

The critic without a ticket: Leaving aside the Darth Vader fighting gear taekwondo has too many video referrals

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If truth be told, we are all a little weary now: even those of us who just about resisted the temptation to dress up in John Bull outfits and reach for our handkerchief-sized Union flags every time a Team GB athlete successfully negotiated a simple blowing of the nose are feeling the pace set by Usain Bolt and David Rudisha on the track, the New Zealand rowers in the men's pair and the Dutchmen on the hockey field, the shuttlecocking maestro Lin Dan and the whirlwind boxer Claressa Shields, who will make someone a wonderful wife, provided his name is Sugar Ray.

Yet we would still be there, smack-bang on Usain's shoulder, had the event schedulers made a better job of it. For much of yesterday, with the Games fast approaching their climax, the ticketless, television-dependent majority had little to entertain them but a peculiar mix of taekwondo, rhythmic gymnastics, sprint kayaking, long-distance swimming, rearranged sailing and low-rent BMX racing, the latter being the Olympic equivalent of The Jeremy Kyle Show. Suddenly, fatigue kicked in: a sense of ennui born of fundamental disinterest.

How in the name of all that is holy was BMX granted such elevated status? There must have been a meeting of minds at some point, perhaps along the lines of Alan Partridge's memorable discussion with his chief commissioning editor over a lunch of Blue Nun and smelly cheese. "I have some ideas for a new Olympic sport." "Let's hear them." "Arm-wrestling with Chas and Dave? Inner-city sumo? Monkey Tennis?" "Please stop." "Er, um… BMX?" "Now you're being silly, but I'll think about it."

If it possesses some of the key virtues that lay behind Britain's spiralling obsession with cycling – speed, tactical acumen, raw courage – the sport's poorest, least lovable cousin will never be anything other than a misfit at the elite end of international competition. How can it be otherwise, with its overpowering whiff of school truancy, its tacky-trashy air of a misspent youth? True, you might legitimately level the same accusation at eight-ball pool, but eight-ball pool is not, praise the Lord, an Olympic pursuit.

So which of these backwater, B-final sports, captured the imagination? Taekwondo came closest, not merely because of the gold medal performance delivered the previous evening by the elfin Jade Jones from Bodelwyddan – who among us realised before Thursday that Middle Earth had entered a team in these championships? – but also because the Turkish fighter Servet Tazegul won the men's 68kg category with a startling combination of precision, power and no little pizzazz.

Tazegul, a bronze medallist in Beijing four years ago, had many advantages, not least a name that did not immediately lend itself to a desperate one-liner from the commentators. Yesterday's contenders were not so fortunate. When Andrea St Bernard of Grenada took on Tatar Nur of Turkey in the preliminary round of the welterweight class, one of the BBC's talking heads ventured to suggest that she would fight with "dogged determination". Informed by his colleague that this was some way short of devastatingly funny, he dug himself a little deeper into his hole by saying: "OK, we'll say Tatar to that joke." Oh, my aching ribs.

For all its athletic merits, taekwondo is not quite the equal of judo to the untrained eye of the martial arts ignoramus. Leaving aside the cheap-looking Darth Vader fighting gear – maybe the coalition Government could save a few more bob by replacing the armed forces' existing kit with plastic chest guards before sending them off to war aboard HMS Lilo – there are far too many video referrals. We can only hope Stuart Broad sticks to seam bowling, for if he switches to this particular form of Korean combat, his contests will stretch into eternity.

Those of us who fear that the great game of cricket is being poisoned by technology took no pleasure in seeing Sarah Stevenson protest decisions, not once but twice, in the course of her taekwondo defeat by Paige McPherson of the United States. Stevenson's appeals were upheld, but it was difficult not to think that television rules quite enough of the world as it is, without seizing control of fighting sports necessarily rooted in an unquestioning acceptance of the referee's authority.

Now that boxing, always happy to sell whatever is left of its bruised and battered soul to the Great God Television, has turned its face from artistry in favour of the lungers and sluggers – the Cubans, barely beatable once upon a time, have been made painfully aware of this change over the course of their stay in London – how long will it be before the punch-tally system of deciding bouts leads to video referrals by the dozen?

Not that one of Cuba's reigning world champions, the bantamweight Lazaro Alvarez Estrada, could even begin to dispute the semi-final decision that went the way of the splendid Irish contender John Joe Nevin in yesterday's semi-final. Amateur boxing is, it seems, enjoying a resurgence in the British Isles, just as the American ringmen are disappearing off the face of this Olympic earth and some of the classier Cubans are struggling to come to terms with the current realities of life between the ropes.

Some, but not all. The light-welterweight Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo is said to be the best of his country's current contingent and, in beating his semi-final opponent by an unusually convincing margin, he lived up to the billing. Not that we saw him do it. Just as the he entered the ring, the BBC switched to BMX. Brilliant.