Monday, August 06, 2012

Bye-bye, birdie.

I have not been paying a ton of attention to the Olympics.

With my sisters and nieces, I watched the opening ceremonies. The shrieking and OMG-ing you heard coming out of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, that evening may well have been us. We were hoping, to the end, that The Titanic and/or Elton John’s “Goodbye, England’s Rose” would be included in the show.

Alas, producer/director Danny Boyle had not tapped us for advice on his extravaganza. Pity.

The best part of opening night was, of course, the fashion critique during the parade of nations. (Germany, Ach du Scheiße, what were you thinking with that Care Bear color scheme.)

So let the games begin!

Which they did.

Admittedly, I have been keeping something of an eye on it. So I know about Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, local athletes Aly Raisman – sorry about the bronze, kiddo – and Kayla Harrison, and the near miss that the US men’s basketball team had with Lithuania.  As of this typing, I just watched Murray beat Federer for the men’s tennis gold. And on any given day, I have a rough sense of where “we” stand at the mo’ vs. China.

But I’m not glued to the TV, and I don’t observe the spoiler alerts.

Still, the story about the badminton scandal did manage to capture my attention.

Who even knew that something that had been casually played on many a summer’s evening in our back yard was actually an Olympic sport?

I assume that Olympic play is a tad more serious than our version, which had no real rules and no real scoring, and was played on a “court” that slanted down at about a 30 degree angle.

Still, it was always fun to pull the red and yellow Wilson box off the closet shelf and head out to the Back 40, a dog-leg off the main back yard, where we played. Or, rather, played at, badminton.

Even if you had no one to play with, you could always take out a racquet and see how many times you could bounce the birdie without dropping it.

Every year, we seemed to lose a birdie or two. Someone gnawed on the red-rubber tip. The nylon “feathers” got torn. The birdies lost their bounce. My father would go out and find some replacements. And we would resume our summer of  fun.

This was not, of course, our only summer sport.

The best of the rest was seeing how far you could hit a golf ball with a baseball bat. Answer: a lot farther than you can hit a baseball.

Alas, no one who played in our back yard became an Olympian in badminton or anything else.

But while we were pursuing other pursuits, serious badminton players were being groomed, most of them in Asia. And, for some reason, Denmark. (The US has never medaled in the sport.)

In this year’s Olympic edition, some of the women badminton-ers went so far as to throw their games in the preliminary round robin in an attempt to game who they would face as they advanced.

It’s not clear to me how you can prove that someone’s deliberately throwing a match, as opposed to just having a lousy, terrible, awful, miserable, rotten very bad badminton day. Especially, if I read things correctly, two of the teams disqualified for dogging it against each other.(After you, Gaston. No, after you, my dear Alphonse.)  But apparently the cognoscenti in the audience figured it out and starting booing during the take-a-dive matches. And the  Badminton World Foundation saw enough to make them disqualify two South Korean doubles teams, as well as teams from China and Indonesia.

It punished them for "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport" in matches Tuesday night. (Source: Huff Po.)

The International Olympic Committee approved the move:

"We applaud the federation for having taken swift and decisive action," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. "Such behavior is incompatible with the Olympic values."

Ah, yes. The vaunted Olympic values.

Maybe things have gotten better of late, but I do seem to remember that in the heyday of the Soviet empire, a lot of the subjective sports (e.g., gymnastics, figure skating) were pretty controversial, with the Eastern Bloc judges voting, more or less, as a bloc.  And I do believe that judging controversies continue to plague some of these subjective sports – especially figure skating. There’s something to be said for the sports where you head’s up win or lose. Like speed skating. Track and field. And, errrr, badminton.

I guess the Olympic torch of controversy has passed to badminton, of all things.

Well, at least it’s raised awareness about the sport.

And perhaps will inspire some backyard shuttlecockers to go for the gold.

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