This time four years ago the London Olympics were getting underway. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony took place, with cameos from James Bond, Mr Bean, Paul McCartney and David Beckham, and the Queen officially opened the games. Watched by over 27 million UK viewers, which is about half the population, the opening ceremony showed how the games had captured the nation’s imagination. Four years on, it’s fair to say Rio 2016 hasn’t had quite the same impact.
There are a variety of reasons for the less intense buildup this time around; not least the simple fact that any event held 5,800 miles away in Rio, rather than only 500 miles away in London, is naturally less exciting and media friendly. After all, not only were the games themselves close in London, but the Olympic torch was even carried through the streets of Omagh and Enniskillen on its way there.
Added to this geographical detachment is the cloud of safety concerns that hang over the Rio Olympics; with fears over the Zika Virus, safety on the streets of Rio, and even the manufacturing of some of the facilities. Over half of the buildings in the athletes village are yet to pass full safety checks. Because of this, much of the build-up to Rio 2016 has been about who won’t be there. After long speculation about who Rory McIlroy would represent at the games, having chosen Ireland, the golfer then pulled out of the event altogether, citing fears of the Zika virus. Other big name golfers, including Jordan Spieth and Jason Day have done the same, while LeBron James is another worldwide sporting phenomenon who will not be in attendance. Even more significantly, Russia’s participation has been causing continued controversy thanks to the Russian doping scandal. At one stage it seemed that Russian athletes might receive a blanket ban from the International Olympic Committee, but it was instead ruled that their fates would be decided on a more case-by-case basis, and it waits to be seen how many will be allowed to compete.
When things get going, normal Olympic procedure will invariably kick in. We’ll learn the difference between slalom canoeing and sprint canoeing; google dressage again; and remember that Tom Daly is a diver, not a swimmer.
As always, however, other athletes have prioritised the Olympics, and many of the biggest sportsmen and women in Britain and from around the world will be seeking to emulate the success they had last time around. Mark Cavendish pulled out of the final stages of the Tour De France to concentrate on Rio, while diver Tom Daley has long since spoke of Rio 2016 as the prime target of his career. Jessica Ennis-Hill and Andy Murray will both be seeking similar success to that which they achieved in London four years ago, and Usain Bolt will undoubtedly steal plenty of headlines as he prepares to defend his respective titles.
With these highlights to look forward to, when things finally get going, normal Olympic procedure will invariably kick in. We’ll learn the difference between slalom canoeing and sprint canoeing; google dressage again; and remember that Tom Daly is a diver, not a swimmer. Rory McIlroy received criticism for questioning golfs importance at the Olympics; even suggesting that he won’t watch it, but instead watch ‘events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.’ Some will continue to question whether the absence and apparent disinterest of one of the biggest names in British sport takes away from the Olympics, but the truth is that neither this, nor the lack of media buildup to the event in general, really matters. Big names and big buildup aren’t needed, and neither is the culture of celebrity athletes that we became used to around London 2012. When the Olympics finally does kick-off, just as it should be, it will be the sport that is left to do the talking.