Rhodri Marsden: It's time to forget about piaffes and pirouettes for another four years

I've learned so much that will now be placed in mental cold storage

Rhodri Marsden
Monday 13 August 2012 00:10 BST

Some of the knowledge loitering in my head is only intermittently useful.

Alongside the obscure biographical details of W.C. Fields that I trot out whenever his films are shown, and the smattering of Hungarian that allows me to order food in Budapest without provoking muffled laughter, there's obscure sporting ephemera. Over the last couple of weeks my hippocampus has been forced to dredge up Olympic-sized chunks of this information which, if I'm honest, I'm not going to require again until 2016 when I'm staying up late eating Wotsits and watching live coverage from Rio. Events like shooting, mountain biking and synchronised diving deserve way more than my quadrennial attention, but it takes breathless international media coverage of a stupendous Olympic ceremony for me to sit up and show interest.

Once I'm in Olympic mode, however, I instinctively head for the sports that are rarely televised; even Sky, with its four channels of wall-to-wall sporting diversions, devotes way more airtime to sexy Australian aerobics or theatrical American wrestling than it ever will to fencing or table tennis. So tuning in to the taekwondo was like catching up with an old friend who'd been away on business for four years; its peculiar idiosyncrasies quickly came flooding back, e.g. I'm supposed to cheer when someone boots their opponent in the head, but mutter in disappointment if they kick them in the face. A subtle distinction, but a crucial one.

I remembered that weightlifting isn't just about people picking up heavy stuff while grunting; it's also about tactics, strategy and poker-style face-offs, as athletes nominate the weights they're planning to lift and then cunningly change their mind at the last minute. I've learned new terms that are now set for four years of mental cold storage: the repechage in the rowing, the whoops in the BMXing, the passage, piaffe and pirouette in the wonderfully baffling dressage. But knowing what those three Ps mean didn't help me assess equestrian skill; I watched the event while thinking "Is this a medal winner? I've no idea."

And the court moppers – oh, the court moppers; that games within the Games, where efficient clearing of sweat from the badminton or volleyball court is rewarded with the opportunity to mop up sweat in the final. By the end of the 2016 Games I aim to become an armchair expert on court mopping technique, with the perhaps forlorn hope that it'll be an official Olympic sport by 2020.

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