Dave Barry: What I learned about badminton, beer and Dorking

08/12/2012 12:00 AM

08/10/2012 9:40 PM

Dave Barry has been filing dispatches from the London Olympics. Here are some excerpts:

SATURDAY, JULY 28

The Olympics officially got under way with the much-anticipated opening ceremony, titled "Isles of Wonder," which, as the name suggests, was a spectacular three-hour tribute to Hawaii.

No, seriously, it was a tribute to Great Britain, starting with the past, when this was a rural society – depicted in the show by 120 actual farm animals, including sheep, horses and cows – then moving forward through Britain's many great historic achievements, such as the Beatles.

The complex and imaginative show went off without a hitch, except for one unfortunate incident when four of the sheep were shot by members of the Kazakhstani Olympic archery team, who apparently misunderstood the nature of the event.

SUNDAY, JULY 29

The cyclists continued on a course that covered 156 miles, traveling through the English countryside and towns south of London, including the town of Dorking, which is home to the world-famous Dorking Cockerel. In case you are unfamiliar with the world-famous Dorking Cockerel, it is a 10-foot-high sculpture of a chicken that was erected in a major Dorking roundabout as a way of expressing the theme: "Dorking – We Have a Really Big Chicken."

The Dorking Cockerel has gotten into the Olympic spirit: Recently, a huge gold medal was placed around its neck by a group of guerilla knitters. I swear I am not making this up. According to the local newspaper, which is named the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, the medal was created and hung on the cockerel by "the Knit 'n' Knatter group, which meets regularly at the Fluff-a-Torium shop in West Street." This is the same group, the paper said, that "previously claimed responsibility for the colourful scarves placed on the statue for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations."

Those people are completely out of control.

MONDAY, JULY 30

I went to see the Olympic beach volleyball competition, which is being held, fittingly, in the heart of Whitehall at the Horse Guards Parade.

I say "fittingly" because the Horse Guards have a beach volleyball tradition dating back more than five centuries, to the reign of King Cedric the Lonely. In those days the Horse Guards played an early form of the game called "volleybaa," which involved batting a live sheep back and forth across a net. The game ended when one of the teams executed a "spike," which – try not to visualize this – involved an actual spike. Then the Horse Guards would clean themselves off and go back to guarding the horses, which was an important job in those days, because King Cedric was very lonely indeed.

Modern beach volleyball, of course, does not involve a sheep. It involves women wearing extremely small bikinis. A ball is also sometimes involved, but nobody pays attention to it.

There is a related Olympic event called "men's beach volleyball," but it is far less popular, because it has an archaic rule requiring that the competitors be men.

TUESDAY, JULY 31

I went over to Olympic Park, a huge sports complex featuring a spectacular array of sights and activities, such as people selling beer from backpacks.

It's wonderful. Instead of having to walk, manually, to a place that sells beer, you can just stand still, or even lie down, and eventually a person will come along wearing a backpack that says, quote, "BEER."

The backpack people are grateful when you buy beer from them, because it means they have less weight to carry around. Rest assured that I did what I could to lighten their load. That is what the Olympic movement is all about.

In addition to beer, Olympic Park also has sporting events, including one I went to see called "team handball." You may never have heard of team handball, but it happens to be a sport played around the world by an estimated total of – believe it or not – nearly 23 people. Sometimes I suspect that when the players from one nation – let's say Spain – finish their match, they run off the court, change uniforms, and run back onto the court as the French team.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 1

A scandal has erupted here in the most cutthroat and vicious of all Olympic sports, a sport whose very name contains the word "bad," not to mention the word "minton": badminton.

Badminton is of course the sport you used to play on your lawn in the summer when your dad got sick and tired of you sitting around watching TV all day, so he went to the drugstore and invested $8.99 in a badminton set.

He then spent an hour unraveling and setting up the net, which was made from what appeared to be used dental floss, after which you and your siblings spent approximately five minutes swinging randomly at the little birdie with the drugstore rackets, which were designed, for safety, to break upon impact with any object larger than an air molecule.

Then either (a) the birdie landed on the roof, or (b) the net collapsed and crumpled into a defensive floss wad the size of a walnut that could never be unraveled again without the aid of neurosurgeons. Then you went back inside and resumed sitting around watching TV for the duration of the summer.

FRIDAY, AUG. 3

I went out to see the Olympic archery competition, which is being held at Lord's Cricket Ground. Cricket is, of course, the quintessentially English sport, having been played by royalty since the early 14th century. (That match is currently tied, 487-487.)

Lord's Cricket Ground is steeped in tradition. Every morning, a crew of ground-steepers goes around and steeps the hell out of it. And well they should, for Lord's is the home of the Marylebone Cricket Club, which was founded in 1787 and is the most venerable institution in cricket. If you'd like to become a member, simply write a letter to the club stating your interest, then feed it to a goat, because, trust me, the Marylebone Cricket Club is way too classy to admit the likes of you.

SATURDAY, AUG. 4

To the list of legendary athletes who have won Olympic gold medals under great pressure – names such as Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh – we can now add another name, a name that will stand as a symbol of a person who, when the chips were down, the irons were in the fire, the backs were against the wall, the wolves were at the door, push had come to shove and there was no tomorrow, stepped up to the plate and gave 110 percent, sucking it up, reaching deep down inside, seizing the baton of effort and banging it upon the gong of competition with a ringing sound that will echo down the hallowed halls of sporting history and into the trophy case of athletic immortality.

That name is Dong Dong.

THURSDAY, AUG. 9

Which brings us, at last, to weightlifting. I watched the finals in the men's 105-kilogram division, in which stocky men from Eastern European nations sporting abundant back hair emit what sounds like the mating call of the male musk ox, then attempt to lift a weight roughly equal to the Lincoln Memorial. There are two parts to the competition: the "snatch" and the "clean and jerk." The gold medal went to a Ukranian named Oleksiy Torokhtiy, who snatched 185 and clean-and-jerked 227.

I was rooting for a guy from Poland with a great weightlifter name: Bartlomiej Bonk. Bonk was leading at the end of the snatch, but ultimately he had to settle for the bronze. Still, it was an entertaining competition, especially halfway through, when the p.a. announcer said (I am not making this up): "Ladies and gentlemen, let's have a round of applause for that incredible snatch."

Sometimes this job is too easy.

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