Risks of Olympic proportions

pole -vaulter-william-pacheco
https://flic.kr/p/GPBj4 William Pacheco/creative commons

So we’re watching the re-run of the World’s Fastest Man beating the World’s Second Fastest Man in the 100 metre Olympic dash. My heart goes out to the also-rans. Trayvon Bromell of the US, despite coming last in a field of eight, covered the 100m final in 10.05 seconds. Goodness me, I thought. It takes me one minute and 21 seconds to drag the wheelie bin 97m from the car port to the roadside (admittedly uphill), huffing like an old grampus (old Scots saying thought to mean ‘like a fat fish out of water’).

Make no mistake, people, you need to be in peak condition if you want to complete at the Olympic level. She Who Swears at the Remotes was channel surfing, realising that the various iterations of Channel 7 are showing different Olympic events at the same time. Flick flick, she went. Some Australian guy, apparently swimming in the open sea, had opened up a one minute lead on the rest of the pack. It was heartening to see all the support vessels hovering nearby in case of cramp, loss of will to keep going, cossie-loss, shark attack, remnant arctic ice or other. Flick, flick.

Oh, there’s blokes spearing through the water in kayaks, or maybe they are canoes? Foresooth, here are two women spearing through the water in a kayak/canoe.

“Look at their shoulder muscles,” I marvelled, adjusting the heat pack on my compromised AC joint.

Now we’re on to pole vaulting, a sport we take a mild interest in because we know someone who competed in this event at Commonwealth Games level.

“Crikey, there’s so many ways of killing yourself associated with this sport,” She observed. I googled “pole vault accidents”.

Some YouTube contributors delight in posting clips of athletes failing or hurting themselves, including an incident at the Rio Olympics where a Japanese competitor’s penis dislodged the crossbar. This is akin to funniest home videos, a program with which I am not amused. Pole vaulters have died competing in this sport, or have ended up in wheelchairs. So the supposedly funny/shocking videos are insensitive to say the least.

According to Chris Hord, assistant pole vault coach at the University of North Florida, pole vaulting is the deadliest track and field event.

The sport is inherently dangerous because you run at full speed, almost 100-metre sprint with a 15- to 17-foot fibreglass pole in your hand, then you’re bending it, trying to get upside down to clear a bar in the air.”

Sunshine Coast physiotherapist and former Commonwealth Games pole vault competitor Andrew Stewart agrees.

“The worst part is if you accidently land on the tip of the pole, it will bend and throw you anywhere.”

Stewart competed from 1970 to 1984, culminating with a 5th in the 1984 Commonwealth Games event in Brisbane. His own experiences of pole vaulting as a dangerous sport included breaking a leg and spraining both ankles, in the days when landing pads were much smaller.

This 2012 study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine makes for sobering reading.

A few weeks back our choir director Kim Kirkman was encouraging the tenors to reach a high B by pretending we were throwing the discus. That took me back to compulsory school sports days where we were taught to throw javelins or discus by over-zealous sports teachers whose mission in life was apparently to distract boys (and maybe girls too) from thinking too much about the onset of puberty. Now that I think on it, perhaps all that javelin and discus tossing is to blame for my problematic shoulder joint, which responds to steroid injections and physiotherapy but the pain returns when I fall back into bad habits (like not doing the archery exercise, hunching over the keyboard like a man possessed).

But getting back to the men’s 100 metre sprint and other such events, the victors feeling obliged to do a victory lap wearing their nation’s flag like a cape. Mr Bolt, a man much-used to the attention of the media, struck a few poses, the images carried around the globe in an instant. Our journalists salivated over the Jamaican champ’s promise to return to Australia (he was last here in 2012).

Media sports coverage, such as it is

Just so you know, journalists work with some limitations when it comes to reporting on the Olympics. To actually attend as a media correspondent you need accreditation. The accrediting body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has a fair bit of muscle.

For example, they banned the use of animated GIFs during the Olympics. GIFs are short animated videos on loop which often pop up on social media. They are more often visual gags designed to shock or amuse, but oft-times capture immortal moments of triumph.

As Business Insider reported, it appears the Olympic ban is not being observed in certain segments of the social media with many GIFs to be found on tumblr and twitter.

A GIF which appeared, if I’m correct, before the IOC ban was announced, depicted a beggar lad alone in Rio’s slums overlooking a blazingly lit Olympic stadium and fireworks display. It briefly touched a nerve before being subsumed by the weight of status updates on Facebook.

The other media curiosity revealed at the Rio Olympics was the Washington Post’s use of robotic reporting technology. The Poynter Institute reported that Heliograf, using data and language templates, churns out medal tallies, event schedules and even results, the automated news briefs forming part of the Post’s Olympic blog.

FOMM reader Ms Hand alerted us to this under-reported technology breakthrough. We’re not surprised. Speech-to-text technology has existed for quite some time, of benefit to vision-impaired writers, scribes with temporary or permanent RSI or lawyers who can no longer afford secretaries to transcribe their daily dictation.

For all you know I could be talking aloud and one of those smart programmes is writing down what I say. Isn’t that right, Siri?

As a former newspaper scribe, I have mixed feelings about machines taking over what was once the detail work of junior journalists. Attending to sports results, racing form, TV guides and the like was the cadet journalist’s way to learning about deadlines, accuracy, punctuation and the consequences of making mistakes.

Meanwhile, back at the pole-vaulting pit, it takes skilful human beings to track down the vitally important Olympic stories like the Japanese pole vaulter who failed to qualify because his penis touched the bar. News Ltd scribe Dan Felson’s breathless, euphemism-laden piece (‘let down by his trouser-friend’) went global. Read it if you must.

Despite its ever-present risks of injury or injured pride, pole vaulting continues to attract devotees.

Sydney man Albert Gay, 73, set an Australian record this year at the Australian Masters Athletics event. The Macarthur Chronicle reported that Gay ‘leapt into the record books’ for his age group with a 3m attempt (the Olympic world record is 6.03 metres, set this week by Brazilian Thiago Braz Da Silva).

Gay said he took up athletics and pole vaulting when he retired, at 62.

“It tests your bravery,” he said. “You’ve got to be a little bit of an idiot to do it.”

SWSR adds: “I prefer to confine myself to channel surfing from the comfort of the recliner, where the only danger to be faced is the possibility of the Staffie unexpectedly launching himself into my lap.”


Time capsule tips

Photo of Colin Meads: Commons wiki/File:Colin_Meads_Sheep.jpg

From the misty annals of childhood comes a memory of the town fathers burying a time capsule, not to be opened for 100 years. They had asked the townsfolk for suggestions as to what the capsule should contain and our little urchin’s cabal suggested such items as an alarm clock (with two bells atop), a gob-stopper, that famous photo of All Black Colin Meads with a sheep under each arm, a train ticket and a can of pick-up-sticks. Somebody said we should get an episode of Life with Dexter and put that in too.

Digression alert: it is untrue that Meads (1960s rugby version of Paul Gallen), kept fit running up and down hills on his farm with a sheep under each arm.

Historians and archivists may scoff, but the practice of encapsulating the trivial lives of a cross-section of society for future generations is still in vogue. Time capsules are often buried beneath the foundations of a new building to mark a special occasion, a centenary, perhaps. The idea is to set a date in the future when they should be dug up and opened.

General interest in the concept increased after Westinghouse created one as part of its exhibit for the 1939 New York World Fair.

The 2.3 metre long, 360kg capsule, made of copper, chromium and silver alloy, contained items including a spool of thread and doll, a vial of food crop seeds, a microscope and a 15-minute newsreel. There were also microfilm spools containing such prosaic fare as a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

Wikipedia’s entry says Westinghouse buried a second capsule in 1965. Both are set to be opened in 6939, that is, 4,922 years from now.

Sometimes time capsules rise to the surface before the appointed time. When the statue of John Robert Godley, the founder of Christchurch, toppled to the ground during the 2011 earthquake, workers pawing through the rubble found two time capsules under the plinth. A glass bottle containing parchment and a long metal container were handed to the Christchurch museum.

Director Anthony Wright told the Daily Mail a third capsule was discovered beneath the base of the cross of the badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral. All three capsules were opened a month later and were found to contain items including old newspapers and photographs, a City of Christchurch handbook (1922-23), what appears to be a civic balance sheet, a few coins and a brass plate.

So what’s it all about, then? As self-confessed time capsule nerd Matt Novak writes, time capsules rarely reveal anything of historical value. In many ways, time capsules are like small private museums which are locked up for 100 years or more and nobody is allowed to visit.

Time capsule in Seattle containing seeds. Photo by Eli Duke (flickr)

The exemplar of the genre so far is the 200-year old Boston time capsule, discovered in January by construction crews. The capsule was set into the cornerstone of a building by one of the nation’s founding fathers, Samuel Adams, and patriot silversmith Paul Revere. The contents of the capsule (coins, newspapers, photographs and a silver plaque inscribed by Revere), now belong to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The National Archives of Australia maintains a web page dedicated to serving people who are planning to bury a time capsule for posterity.

The NAA says careful choice of materials to be included in a time capsule will contribute to the longevity of both contents and capsule.

The latter is worth bearing in mind, given that witnesses to the Christchurch unearthing said one of the capsules ‘smelled like blue cheese.’

The International Time Capsule Society estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 time capsules worldwide.

The notion is popular with schools, particularly those with a strong sense of tradition. In celebration of its golden jubilee in 2007, Epping Boys High School of Sydney (whose alumni includes rock musician Iva Davies and barrister and TV presenter Geoffrey Robertson) invited Prime Minister John Howard to plant a new time capsule but also, as the Old Boys Union reported, open the one buried in 1982 (the silver jubilee). Alas, the school was closed for the holidays, so your intrepid reporter was unable to unearth a description of the capsule’s contents.

This set me to thinking just what should be inside a time capsule buried, for example, in the foundations of a massive new public housing eco village planned for, say, Wentworth.

It would have to be a big-arse capsule, because I’d be recommending items for posterity include the mechanical rabbit from Wentworth Park. If that is not possible, then at least include a Dapto Dogs racebook, so citizens 100 years hence can ponder the curious sport of dog racing.

The capsule should contain a large lump of brown coal (they won’t miss it, honest), so future generations can see why the planet went amiss.

She Who is Glass Half Full This Week says we ought to include some Aussie inventions: plastic money, the electronic pacemaker, the black box recorder, the cochlear implant…

Countering all this world-changing innovation, we need to show the substance abuse issues of the 21st century – a hemp shoulder bag filled with all the illicit drugs of the day, and for good measure a bottle of whatever young kids turn to when binge drinking, and a packet of fags, adorned with graphic images of tongue and lip cancer.

It might not work in a hundred years’ time, but we should include a smart phone, charger and spare battery, along with a hard-copy cheat sheet. And yes, what 2016 time capsule would be complete without a victorious Queensland State of Origin team photo, hunkering down, singing aye-yai-yippy-yippy in 17 different keys, making odd, triumphant finger gestures.

The NAA might warn us not to use ephemeral recording materials, but what else do we have? I’d suggest a special DVD edition of Q&A with Alan Jones, Steve Price, Andrew Bolt, Phillip Adams, John Pilger and Marcia Langton discussing indigenous land rights, refugees and free speech, with Tony Jones trying to keep them all on point.

One could have such fun filling a time capsule. Items bound to puzzle people in 2116 could include: a (new) disposable nappy, a coffee pod, a Go Card, a government-issue hearing aid, one of those ear-expanding discs some young people wear so they can look like primitive tribes from darkest Africa. We could employ a taxidermist to stuff a cane toad and a feral cat and include literature explaining their stories. I’d be tempted to Include copies of every newspaper editorial before (and after) the 2016 election, just to show that whatever passes for punditry 100 years from now was always thus.

It could be fun to somehow preserve a ‘best of Facebook photo album’ to show future generations what people did with their spare time. It would not take long to curate images of tattooed people, pierced people, nude bike riders, hipsters, cats and dogs doing odd but cute things, photos of what people had for lunch, independent bands nobody ever heard of (now or in 100 years’ time), absolute proof that the earth is flat, out of focus selfies, a video of a serious young dude performing a handfarting cover of a Pink Floyd song (this really is on YouTube. Ed) and 17 versions of the same sunset.

Oh, and let’s not forget to include a laminated copy of that Friday guy’s take on time capsules.