Until sportsmen learn to fly, I'm not interested

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You may be watching the Olympics to see how Britain fares in synchronised diving or archery or hockey or volleyball (beach) or volleyball (indoor). I will be denying myself all of these pleasures. If I am to be found watching the Olympics at all (and I doubt that I will), it will be the swimming events, and for one reason only - to spot the new Flash Gordon.

You may be watching the Olympics to see how Britain fares in synchronised diving or archery or hockey or volleyball (beach) or volleyball (indoor). I will be denying myself all of these pleasures. If I am to be found watching the Olympics at all (and I doubt that I will), it will be the swimming events, and for one reason only - to spot the new Flash Gordon.

It was some time in the late 1930s that America's Buster Crabbe crawled his way to fame (literally) in some Olympic swimming event or other. No sooner had he picked up his gold medal, wrung out his trunks and found the key to his locker, than the phone rang. Hollywood was calling, and before you could say "400-metres butterfly", Buster found himself dressed in tights, with newly dyed blond hair, defending Earth against the evil aspirations of the planet Mongo, headed up by the despicable Ming the Merciless.

Ming the Merciless was aptly named. Throughout each of the 15-odd episodes that comprised the Flash Gordon serial, Ming consistently refused to show mercy to anyone. And Ming the Merciless had ambitions far beyond picking up a gold medal by running round a racetrack quicker than anyone else. What Ming was out to do was conquer the universe, and the only thing standing in his way was Flash Gordon, with his blonde hair, tights and a rocketship suspended from a piece of string.

I saw Flash Gordon, and other fantastic black-and-white cliff-hanger serials, when I was a child in Birmingham. I'd noticed, even then, that it was almost always us non-sporty types who thrilled to the exploits of muscle-bound men in tights and a cape. While my compatriots in the 1950s were concerned about the fluctuating fortunes of Aston Villa, Birmingham City or Wolverhampton Wanderers, my worries lay solely with how Batman would cope with his Batmobile going over a cliff. (He jumped to safety a scant few seconds beforehand, since you ask.)

I still believe this philosophy has something going for it. I mean, you may be enthralled by the exploits of Australia's Ian Thorpe, breaking his own world 400-metres freestyle swimming record. Big deal. What does he amount to when compared with Aquaman, who can not only breathe under water, but converse fluently with fish while he's doing it? Britain's hopes for a gold medal in tae kwon do may rest with 17-year-old Sarah Stevenson, but let's see how she'd get on when faced with the Incredible Hulk. Similarly, it may mean a lot to the rest of the world when some guy from Turkey lifts the equivalent of a double-decker bus above his head, but I recall a comic in which Superman stood on his hands. This meant nothing until a diligent scientist pointed out that the world had shifted out of its orbit by half an inch. Now, that's what I call weightlifting.

Ming the Merciless, as far as I know, achieved no Olympic distinction, unless, at that time, there were events involving a competitor's total inability to feel pity for others. I picture an event in which entrants were sent off to conquer whole galaxies; anyone stopping to help an old lady across the road faced instant disqualification. Similarly, if hordes of competitors in black cloaks, wielding deadly ray-guns, took time out from subjugating the mud people from Mars to organise a charity tombola, the world's sporting press would have had a field day.

Human aspirations in the sporting world are never good enough for a geeky, skinny bloke like me, who still believes that a man might fly. It doesn't matter how fast people may run, jump, throw things or swim. If they can't put on a mask and climb up and down walls dressed in a spider-suit, they mean nothing to me. Get Superman and his cohorts performing at Olympic level, and I'll be watching. And I won't be the only one. There are loads of us out here.

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