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.”


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