Friday, 3 August 2012

An Olympic sport that is a triumph of realism

All sports are ultimately based on things that can really happen in ordinary life. 

Running is obviously vital, if only to help you get away from a criminal, or a policeman. Insofar as there’s always a difference. 

Swimming is to do with getting out of danger in water, and if you can do it with a smile and in perfect time with a friend, that just adds class to the experience.

And of course if ever you need to get away from a predator in the mountains, what could possibly be more convenient than to jam on skis and whip down a ramp someone has left lying around, to leap across to the other side of the valley?

But today I’ve got to know another sport, and this one more than any other I’ve come across, truly reflects the kind of experience any of us can encounter in day-to-day life. 

It’s called Keirin. I have to confess I initially thought it was a Japanese beer, but it turns out that it’s a cycling event. And it’s brilliant.

It’s starts out with a bunch of cyclists all filing out, in stately procession, behind a guy on a bike with an electric motor. You know, just the thing for a largish gentleman, with high handlebars. It probably doesn’t go ‘putt-putt’ but you feel it ought to.

Sedate. Restrained. Maddeningly realistic
He goes around the track a few times, slowly increasing the pace, with the riders following demurely, models of good behaviour all. Eventually, he gets out of the way and they shoot off like bats out of hell to try to win the race.

The thought that goes through my mind is ‘why do they bother with the bit with the doddery gentleman?’ They could start off several laps later in the race and just go flat out from there. But then I realised I’d missed the point.

The aim is to recreate real life. Anyone who’s cycled through a city knows the Keirin experience. Stuck behind somebody who’s lost but whose car is too wide to get past, even when it slows down to check door numbers of street names every few metres. You wander along behind waiting for him to get out of the way, but just when you can’t bear it any more and pull out to try to squeeze past, he speeds up leaving you stuck again. When he finally does move aside, you have to ride like a lunatic to try to make up for lost time.

It’s great to have an Olympic sport that so closely mirrors the complex emotions of real life. I just think that there are a couple of improvements that could be made.

First of all, instead of following a single bike, they should follow two buses. And not with electric motors but with diesel engines and badly adjusted exhausts. The rules would allow you to overtake but, having got past one, you'd be caught behind the next. Unknown to the riders, in randomly selected races a taxi would join the procession at the back and if ever a cyclist got past both buses, the cab should shoot through the field and pull in sharply in front, nearly knocking the rider down.

Finally, at some arbitrary point in the closing fast stages of the race, another taxi would suddenly pull out onto the track and take out a couple of cyclists within sight of the line.

Now that would put the Keirin way out in front of all other sports for pure realism.

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