Kyle Mackey-Laws August 11, 2012
I'm struggling to keep up with the London Olympics. I've found myself asking a hell of a lot of questions at the TV screen over the last two weeks.
Does anyone know how the scoring works in the sailing? Who decided the Australian swimmers should wear white caps? How did Michael Slater get a gig as a diving commentator? The questions kept piling up.
Who's that clown running around for the Volleyroos in a different coloured shirt? He can't be part of the team can he? For starters, he's about half a metre shorter than the rest of the team.
Well, he is part of our team. He's the Australian libero, as Volleyball ACT boss Alex Valentine explains.
''Basically he's a defensive specialist - generally short and agile,'' he says.
''Volleyball is filled with seven-foot monsters, and while they are great in the front court positions, when they rotate to the back of the court they are pretty useless. That's when you bring the libero on to replace them - his job is to get to as many serves as he can, get under the spikes and just be the defensive freaks.''
Valentine tells me liberos are one of the most important players on the court, but can't serve or be captain.
And while each side is restricted to six substitutions per set, this doesn't include the libero, who can go on and off the court as often as is needed. Which is why the libero wears the inverse colour to the rest of the side so the referee can easily distinguish the player from the rest of the team.
Great. I'm down with the volleyball now.
But then the cycling comes on, and to my horror there's a guy cheating. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.
How can the officials let a man dressed in black ride a moped around the velodrome while seven cyclists seemingly settle for silver?
But as Cycling ACT treasurer and man about the velodrome Peter Gough informs me, Postman Pat is there to do a job. He's the pacemaker in the keirin, slowly building up the speed before letting the riders loose with 2½ laps to go.
And not just anyone can get on the motorbike and lead out the Olympic final.
''Here in Australia we have a proper licensing structure,'' Gough says.
''You have to be a member of a club and then you go off and do training and a course and get a licence.
''They are people that have normally raced and then move into that. The person in the UK would be well practised in that and very experienced.''
All right then, that's the velodrome sorted. But just when I think I've got my head around the cycling, I'm confused again. You see, I thought I was watching the rowing, but there's a peloton the mighty Tour de France would be proud of riding along the banks of the course at Eton.
What am I watching? Is this a biathlon? No, it's just the huge numbers of coaches watching their crews race.
At the Olympics that will more often than not include high-performance directors, development officers, coaches, physiology staff as well as administration people.
And while there is no radio communication between the coaches and the crews, Rowing ACT administration and development officer James Hammond says there is a grey area on what can and can't be said from the sidelines.
''It's illegal to communicate with the teams in any way that would advance the team … there is a bit of a grey line in what can and can't be said now - you're allowed to support the team, but there can sometimes be a question over what is support,'' he explains.
Hammond says during the heats, coaches would cycle along with dictaphones, taking notes to relay back to the crews ahead of finals.
So I can now turn my attention to the boats, but sure enough I'm stuck again.
There's someone sitting at the back of the boat, barking orders at the eight rowers who are doing all the work.
It doesn't seem fair, I tell Hammond. He says that's the coxswain, a crucial position in the boat. They drive the crew - and the boat - down the length of the course, motivating and adapting as the race pans out.
They win gold just like the eight rowers, and hold the key to the crew's success.
''There needs to be some sort of adaptability, and that's where the coxswain comes into their own,'' Hammond says.
''They respond to the environment around them. For example, if a crew is in fourth place and just short of a bronze medal, if the coxswain stays quiet you could almost guarantee the crew would stay in that position. A coxswain's job is to motivate and enthuse the crew.''
Got it … I think.