JUDITH IRELAND August 04, 2012
Emily Seebohm breaks down in tears as she speaks with Grant Hackett following her silver medal in 100m backstroke. Photo: Steve Christo
The Olympics are supposed to be a time of huge and mighty goodwill. Marking the best of what humans can do. Sure, this involves their tragedies as well as their triumphs. But what triumphant tragedies! When else can you sit on the couch and watch television for hour upon hour and feel so physically active?
And yet, as we reach the halfway mark of London 2012, if there was one word to sum up the past week of sports watching it would be: irritating. Being an Olympics sad sack is like hating on Floriade and Anzac biscuits, I know. But after watching that Coles ad (the one with the girl running around the dirt track) for the 20 millionth time, I wanted to eat a ball of hair. And I didn't even care if the hair was mine. We are being subjected to some epically atrocious Olympics coverage in free-to-air land.
Not only is there the torture of the ads on higher rotation than the latest Justin Bieber song, there is Channel Nine's insistence that they promote all their ''after the Olympics'' shows.
We couldn't relax and enjoy the Games for even 0.01 of a second before the hyper hype for a mini-series about Kerry Packer and cricket and a reality competition where farmers hunt for wives.
To be fair, the hype isn't restricted to the future gems of Channel Nine programming. The Olympics and the prospect of gold and glory have seen people forget to take their hubris pills en masse. Time and time again. During the heats of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay, the commentators talked about how the French team (who ended up winning gold) really needed to get a wriggle on. And how the Aussie dudes were absolutely the team to beat. Even though the Australian team turned in a fairly lacklustre performance in the heat, no one entertained the thought that maybe they weren't a dead cert.
After the relay disappointment came the montages and the breathy build-up to the 100m individual freestyle. That and the frequent use of the term ''redemption''. When James Magnussen won silver, the commentators immediately started wondering whether he would ''go one better'' in the 50m. The guy didn't even make the final.
Beyond the Missile, Stephanie Rice, Leisel Jones and Emily Seebohm have all been subjected to build-ups bigger than Ben-Hur on steroids. It says it all that Seebohm's parents were interviewed before she swam the final.
Of course, some of the athletes don't help the situation by talking very confidently about their chances. But at least they have the excuse of positive psychology - geeing themselves up for the big gig. The commentary more broadly has been characterised by a distinct lack of expertise, consisting largely of observations that the Aussie crew/swimmer/cyclist really ''has some work to do here''.
There has been frustratingly little explanation of the technical or strategic aspects of what's happening (why did the British team try to ''lead from behind'' in the men's cycling road race? How do people navigate the canoe course beyond pure luck?) to a keen but civilian audience.
There is also the highly unpalatable media practice of shoving a microphone under an athlete's snout as soon as they finish - even if they are clearly distressed about how they performed. We want gold but we also want the full car crash when that doesn't happen.
And when people don't live up to expectations, there is a 180-degree swivel to disingenuous back patting. That is, maybe these elite athletes who train full time for the Olympics shouldn't have such high standards. As one ABC journalist mused yesterday: ''Why isn't silver good enough for so many of our athletes?''
No wonder there have been reports of people sneaking online to tap into the BBC and Canada's CBC coverage of the Games. Or that people have been taking to Facebook with gusto for a little Olympics ventilation. A page called ''Channel 9 Olympics coverage sucks'' had scored more then 12,300 ''likes'' as of yesterday afternoon. Another punter who messaged the network, asking it to show sports other than ''swimming, repeats of swimming, interviews of swimming, analysis of swimming, previews of swimming'', clocked up more than 105,000 ''likes.''
If irritation were an Olympic sport, you wouldn't need hype to tell you who'd be on the dais, generating footage for that gold medal montage.
Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.