Saturday, August 23, 2008

The human cost of the Olympics

What are the Olympics worth? I've been reading a few analysis and opinion pieces on this subject and have found that gold medals are bloody expensive.

Britain spent £235m of lottery money on its gold medal bid over the last four years and came home with 19 golds. You do the sums. And because it's lottery money, it doesn't matter that Britain is heading into a recession. People here love their gambling.

Australia spent less than half that, but it was government money, and finished up with 14 golds. Worse than Athens and Sydney, but not actually that bad.

So on that count, Australia is ahead and the Aussies (of which I am still one) should hold their heads up with pride. Good onya, youse all done good. The rest of the country can get off its collective arse now and actually participate in sport.

But the Brits (of which I am also one, but not as much) did much better than they have previously, unless you go back to the silliness of the 1908 London Games where they won 56 golds. Britain is not renowned as a sporting nation so the populace has been doubly amazed. Jolly good, our gallant British lads showed those bounders from the Antipodes for once.

Specifically in cycling, they cleaned up, winning 8 of the 18 golds on offer. This was despite BMX top fave Shanaze Reade's inability to keep her conveyance in a vaguely upright position, which cost her gold. Rule number one of bike racing: don't fall off.

Drilling down further, Britain's cycling golds only cost £2.19m each whereas Australia's cycling golds, being nonexistent and all, cost somewhere in the vicinity of an infinite number of dollars. A lot more than that if you use the Zimbabwean currency.

I admire the Brits approach. They concentrated on track cycling (luckily Nicole Cooke had enough talent on her own to win gold on the road) because there were a lot of medals to be won at better odds than in the road, BMX and mountain biking, and significant improvement could be gained through technology. Of course they had great riders, but I'd argue that Australia's and France's trackies have similar ability on paper. Pretty much no-one else cares about track cycling except maybe the Germans so we can ignore the rest of the world.

Fast bikes and fast kit gave the British team a material and mental edge over everyone else. It always helps when you know you've got the quickest bikes. They spent years developing their stealth machines and went outside the industry to do it.

But Australia, with the exception of Anna Meares, didn't even come close to matching the Brits or anyone else. Beaten by the Danes and the Kiwis in the bloody team pursuit bro. Shame. Everlasting shame.

There wasn't too much wrong with their kit because it looked fast, so it must have been. Therefore and with a little inside info, I conclude that the coaches basically botched it and most of them should be sacked.

Not that it actually matters, because there are better things to spend money on than on winning gold medals. Like a big weather magnet to move all the rain from the western end of the UK to the bits of NSW and Queensland that actually need it. That's what I want to see for 2012.

It took me a while to mention the weather in this blog, but that's because I went for a ride today on completely dry roads. 172km in 5:20 - about 20min quicker than I did for a similar ride on this day last year, but I guess I was on my TT bike. It's the last long ride I'll do this year, 'cos I've got races coming up again, starting with the Swindon Hardriders event next Sunday.

In other news, I found a much cheaper flight with better dates to Oz thanks to Lucy Power and her Trailfinders tip. And I got conned into switching energy providers by the Home Advisory Service. It should actually save me a bit of cash, because I'm overpaying with EDF, even accounting for the recent exorbitant rises in fuel prices. Problem was, the HAS kept trying to convince me to sign up for their premium service so I could save quids on other areas like my nonexistent mortgage, but computer said no.

Then another mob called me up to do a random survey. "One minute, just one minute of your valuable time sir." Five minutes later, I was trying to explain to them that "I don't think so" means the same as "No", "Negatory", "Not on your bloody life" and "You're dreamin".

I hate these companies more than anything else on the planet so I've unplugged the phone. Anyone who actually wants to talk to me knows my mobile anyway, so it doesn't matter.

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