Published Tuesday 07 August 2012

Aren’t the Olympics magic!
For proof of that, just think about Valerie Adams and the shot put.
Even with the Mt Tongariro eruption, Adams’ defeat in the Olympic final yesterday was the biggest story going and certainly hogged television time in New Zealand.
Adams has been a world athletics superstar for years now – a triple world champion, Olympic gold medallist, double Commonwealth Games gold medallist. Before the London Olympics, she hadn’t been beaten for more than two years.
At every stop on the world track and field circuit, she is feted as the champion she is.
But few New Zealanders could give a toss most of the time. Nothing against Adams, but people are busy working, worrying about their mortgages, playing their own sport, enjoying their own lives.
They’re proud of Adams, of course, but only in a distant way.
However, come the Olympics and things change dramatically.
Suddenly there’s huge interest in Adams’ form. What was her qualifying distance? How did her great rival, Nadezdha Ostapchuk, look? Yes, that’s right – people who would never dream of following the women’s shot put scouted the opposition and focused on a Belarusian with a virtually unpronounceable surname.
All this just because it’s the Olympics.
It’s the same with every sport.
Eric Murray and Hamish Bond could walk down the Queen St in Auckland or Lambton Quay in Wellington and hardly a head would turn. But come the Olympics and they are national celebrities. The same with Mahe Drysdale, Joseph Sullivan, Nathan Cohen and the rest of our Olympic heroes.
People who for four years hardly give a thought to sport suddenly become close followers of the omnium, talk knowledgeably about reverse stick shots, watch the 400m individual medley intently, work out the score permutations of the heptathlon.
For a fortnight, the Olympics are the major topic of discussion at the water-cooler.
Newspapers love the Olympics. Their circulation receives a sizeable boost for the Olympics fortnight.
Radio talkback callers offer opinions – with varying levels of expertise - on subjects they think about for two weeks every four years.
Television can’t screen enough Olympics. Not just events involving New Zealanders, either, but gymnastics, diving and so on.
It all goes to emphasise the magnitude of the Olympics. Not for nothing is it known as the greatest show on earth.
With 14,500 athletes, representing 204 countries (the United Nations has 193 members), it is an immense event.
It’s good that New Zealanders “get” the Olympics, that they understand what a feat it is for an athlete to make an Olympic final, let alone win a medal.
I never feel any athletes at the Olympics have failed unless they’re caught cheating, or they deliberately lose. There are a few of those, though not many.
For everyone else, they’re striving to do their best in the face of the hottest competition on the planet.
It’s the ultimate sporting test, but it’s all on such a grand scale that it goes beyond sport and captures all the fringe followers as well.