Olympics for the unsporty, uninformed and uninterested

3:33 pm on 19 August 2016

By Veronica Schmidt - @veronicaschm1dt

Egg and spoon race

Did the last competitive sporting event you watched look like this? Photo: 123RF

Have as much interest in sport as goldfish have in umbrellas? Usually only watch competitive sport if it involves your offspring carrying an egg-and-spoon? Then the past few weeks of unavoidable Olympic coverage will have been truly baffling and raised many, many questions.

But never fear, you are about to acquire the information you need to function in society without having to disgrace yourself by asking for it.

After a shameful few weeks posing amateur questions and suffering through incredulous guffaws and uncharitable groans, one highly-unsporty, chastened RNZ journalist shares some of what she's learned.

Cool Runnings

RNZ can confirm that bend running is a real term and is not the sequel to Cool Runnings. Photo: AFP

Do runners prefer certain lanes because they are superstitious or because they are creatures of habit?

It's tempting to think elite athletes are like us mortals. While we won't step on a crack in the pavement and always buy the cereal with the little coconut shavings, they don't like lane one and always want lane four. But, in fact, runners like and dislike lanes for far superior reasons.

Lane one is dreaded by 200m and 400m runners because they must manage tight bends while their competitors cruise along in much straighter lanes. Bend running (which RNZ can confirm is a real term and is not the sequel to Cool Runnings) slows down an athlete. This is due to a range of physics-related factors, such as centripetal force, which were taught in science but no-one remembers because everyone was staring out the window, waiting until it was time to light the bunsen burner.

Lane eight has a different drawback. In races when starting marks are staggered, an athlete in lane eight is said to be "running blind" because they start ahead and can't see what their competition is doing.

The middle lanes, on the other hand, are like the caramel and country fudge in a packet of Roses - everyone wants them. In the centre of things, you have the best view of the competition.

Do the sprinters call bagsies to decide which lanes they run in?

Thumb on forehead claiming bagsises.

RNZ can confirm athletes do not secure their lanes by calling bagsies. Photo: RNZ

No, there's no bagsies, no shotguns, no dibs - it's more like playing Lotto, at least in the first rounds, where the lanes are drawn by lot.

For the quarter and semi-finals and for the final, the athletes are ranked according to their times in the last round. The fastest sprinter and the second, third and fourth fastest go in a lot to determine who runs in lanes three, four, five and six. There is another lot for the fifth and sixth-ranked to decide who goes in lanes seven and eight. The slowest athletes (who can only run at the speed of sound, not the speed of light) go in a draw for lanes one and two.

There is no power ball in any of the lots.

Do you have to have a sleek, high, long ponytail to play in the Black Sticks women's hockey team?

It's not compulsory but is certainly favoured.

Black Sticks women

Sticking it to other hair dos. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Was the cycling omnium invented by Hasbro?


Cyclists can neither put a hotel on Mayfair nor collect $200 when they pass go. Photo: 123RF

The omnium is indeed very much like a complex, rule-rich board game. The multi-discipline event has six (six!) different races, run over two days. Each has it's own unique lung-bursting, thigh cramping characteristics, of which the points race is the most befuddling. In this, the last event of the omnium, cyclists can earn points for a sprint every ten laps and earn points for lapping the field or gaining a lap, but, after thorough investigation, RNZ can report that the cyclists do not collect $200 when they pass go.

Did that sprinter dive over the finish line because she saw a Pokemon?

For the first 399m of the 400m, Shaunae Miller looked like a runner, but in the last metre she did a very convincing impression of a diver.

She did not do this to add dramatic flair to her race, to try her hand at diving or because she had spotted a Pokemon. To win, the athlete must have her torso, rather than head, legs or any other rippling, muscular body part, over the line before her competitors.

What Miller did was a glorious combination of dedication, desperation and determination.

The Bahamas' Shaunae Miller crosses the finish line to win the 400m final at Rio on 15 August (Brazil time).

This is what determination looks like. Photo: AFP

Do hurdlers lose points for hitting the hurdles, like, you know, the horses do in the jumping?

No, there are no points in hurdles - it's simply a race to the finish line. However, hitting the hurdles isn't a great idea for these reasons: If a runner knocks a hurdle into another runner's lane, he or she is disqualified. If a runner knocks the hurdle over on purpose, he or she is disqualified. If a runner knocks into a hurdle, it would really bloody hurt.

Are the swimmers feeling more body confident?

It's taken you six years to notice that full-body polyurethane swimsuits have disappeared, hasn't it? Never mind, we're not here to judge. The suits, which reduce drag on the body, vanished in 2010 after swimmers furiously broke many world records. There was uproar that the suits bestowed unfair advantages and they were banned.

How do the nether regions of women cyclists fare with all that bike seat action?

Bike seat

A naan bread-shaped torture apparatus. Photo: 123RF

It's more than just their calves and thighs that hurt after a ride. Saddle soreness has been such a problem for British cyclists that some have had swelling so bad they needed surgery, according to The Guardian.

Ahead of Rio, British Cycling put together a panel of experts to deal with the problem. They recruited techies, to diddle with seat designs, tribologists, who specialise in analysing friction, reconstructive surgeons, who were experts in dealing with pressure sores, and a consultant in vulval health. The riders, according to The Guardian, are much more comfortable now.

As for the men? According to The Guardian, they suffer but won't admit it.

*Veronica Schmidt is an RNZ journalist and watches as much sport as a turnip.