TERRY PRONE: The best advice for any situation: Close your eyes and pull like a dog

Close your eyes and pull like a dog. Fits so many situations, does it not, asks Terry Prone

IT’S pornographic, so it is. Nothing short of pornographic, the way the Chinese tennis table players at the Olympics caress their little balls before banging them across the table to their opponent. (No sniggering down the back just because you have a dirty mind.)

It doesn’t help that it’s the only thing you can actually see, during any of their rounds, because all the other actions happen so quickly on such a tiny table that they might just as well have no ball at all. But before they let fly, they do this borderline sexual ritual with them, and at the same time — on the other side of the table — their competitor strokes their bat as if they were smoothing the fur on a cat. Extremely disturbing, it is. And before the Chinese embassy gets on to the Editor accusing me of racism, I’m not suggesting anything bad about one nationality. It’s just that I haven’t managed to catch any table-tennis players from any other country at this foreplay, perhaps because China is so dominant in the sport.

When you’re not really into sport but live with someone obsessed by it, you have to go somewhere else in the house. This means that when you visit your partner, you get a skewed sense of what the Olympics is all about, because all you’re getting is odd bits . That’s if your significant other permits you to see them. One male friend told me this week that he had stopped his wife watching diving because she was spending so much time talking about the cute backsides of the male divers. I was going to ask if she prevented him from watching women in bikinis playing beach volleyball, but decided I knew enough about their marital trade offs. I’ve been surprised to see the female swimmers so heavily made up. It’s like a new version of those old movies where the plain girl in the office suddenly removes her horn-rimmed glasses and lets her hair loose and everybody goes “wow!”

It’s the boxing, though, that has me completely confused. First of all, in the Irish team, we had a guy who was expected to do really well who in fact did really badly and then said the reason he did badly was because he had no energy. He had no energy because he had been losing weight quickly in the fortnight before the Olympics, to fit into his category. Now, anyone with weight problems will sympathise, because we’ve all gone through the mad starvation to fit into a particular outfit on a particular day to ward off the body-shaming offered by our best friends. We know it’s bad for our health, but when has that stopped any of us doing anything? Ordinary people do it for vanity. Jockeys do it to make a living.

But this particular boxer, it seems blindingly obvious that he should have been concentrating on his health and losing weight a little earlier and more gradually than he did. Instead, it seems that the starvation was so intense over such as short period that he went into the ring with all the energy of a half-washed facecloth. And anyway — pardon if I ask — if this bloke is, as he said, naturally a couple of kilos heavier, why doesn’t he box in the heavier class?

Then there’s the other Irish boxer, who took an unnamed supplement containing an unnamed banned substance and got caught bang to rights over it. Fascinating, how the most frequently offered excuse in the early days after the revelation was stupidity on his part. The inconsistency in this line of argument, of course, is that the guy being portrayed as wrist-dragging dumb managed to acquire and ingest banned substances without any of the team noticing. Doesn’t sound that stupid to me. Sounds more like that other invalid excuse, “I was drunk at the time, Judge.” While it’s not an excuse, stupidity does seem to have been present in the dithering the boxer engaged in about the B Sample and appealing. Neither was ever going to work and media quickly moved on to the issue of whether or not he would be required to pay for his flight home. Nobody seemed to be sorry for him.

Tell you who I am sorry for, though. I’m sorry for Leonidas. Leonidas of Rhodes. Leonidas lived and died long before he could sue the makers of the chocolates for stealing his brand. Leonidas, in the statue believed to represent him, is missing bits, but that’s undertandable in a guy who competed in four separate Olympics, 2168 years ago. Twelve times, he won, taking home his last three gold medals in 152 B.C., when he was two years older than Michael Phelps is now.

In addition to swimming in races of about 200 and 400 metres, he also did pretty well in a shield-carrying race, which makes you wonder why that event was dropped, in the modern games, in favour of idiocies like synchronised swimming.

Leonidas’ record stood unbroken until this year, when Phelps surpassed him by winning a 13th individual gold medal.

Poor old Leonidas. Suddenly consigned to ancient history, his reputation shot by Phelps.

In fairness, if we’re going back and stripping Russians of medals won when we know they were doped to the biceps, shouldn’t we make Leonidas’ wins even more worthy, given that they happened at a time before high-performance training, ever-present coaches and a diet rooted in modern science. (I’ve seen a picture of Phelps’s breakfast and it would put you off food for a week, it’s so gross). Leonidas had none of those advantages — Ancient Greece didn’t go much for maple-syrup-soused stacks of pancakes — so his wins are surely more worthy than those of modern swimmers and shield carriers. The life expectancy at the time was 35. Now, OK, that was averaged out based on high infant mortality, which meant that if you survived to 40 years of age, your chances of getting to fifty were good, but he was still pushing on, in age terms, as well as lacking all the modern advantages. I doubt if he even had cupping, which probably made him more pleasing to watch than modern lads who enter the pool polka-dotted in circular blood swellings down the back like giraffes gone wrong. It’s just not fair that his records should be regarded as beatable by any modern athlete. He was a permanent hero.

But then, even watched in odd bits and pieces, the Olympics turn up heroes every time. People who win against the odds, like Simone Biles, who was raised by her grandparents because her mother was incapable of parenthood due to drug addiction. Simone, who is not two hands higher than a duck, can do gymnastic moves nobody else has even tried. Because someone encouraged her, back when she was eight, she has become an unbeatable star gymnast. And an inspiration to today’s eight year olds.

Of course, the ultimate inspiration has to be that one-liner from the O’Donovan brothers: Close your eyes and pull like a dog. Fits so many situations, does it not?

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