Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stories from the Back of the Pack

Every last-place finish has a story. Here are a few from the Beijing Games:

Brazilian cyclist Luciano Pagliarini was suffering from kidney stones.

British diver Blake Aldridge blamed his synchronized diving partner, 14-year-old Tom Daley, for their last-place finish after Daley "popped off" on Aldridge for talking to his mother on his cellphone during the competition.

South African kayaker Sibonso Cele capsized his canoe and missed a gate in his first run, but put in a clean run the second time around.

Hiroshi Hoketsu's horse was apparently discombobulated by a passing airplane.

Italian cyclist Roberto Chiappa was relegated for elbowing Japan's Kiyofumi Nagai during the race.

Homa Hosseini, last in women's single sculls, is one of several groundbreaking female athletes from Iran.

Colin Jenkins acted as fellow Canadian (and eventual silver medallist) Simon Whitfield's "bodyguard" in the men's triathlon.

If you haven't heard any of these stories, I'm not surprised. Last-place finishers only make the news in their home countries, their hometown papers expressing their sympathy while their national media whines about lost medals. Sometimes not even then.

The only times a last-place finish generates international attention is when it's relevant to a national team's chances ("We would have lost except for ...") or truly spectacular in its own right. Usually that's the kind of media coverage no one wants.

It's part of a larger problem: media coverage can be so overwhelmingly focused on the home team that the big picture is missed. Events in which your country has no chance are ignored. Gold medallists from other countries are only shown to explain why your country's competitor came in 12th (this actually happened with the CBC's coverage of the men's hammer throw). And you'll almost never hear someone else's anthem played at the podium.

I was surprised to spend so much time blogging about the ugly nationalistic side of the Olympics in this round of DFL. The 2008 version of this blog has been the angry DFL, wherein I fulminate against the media, national Olympic committees, the IOC, and the general public for their obsession with medals and their tendency to blame athletes for failing to bring back the shiny knick-knacks and making their whole country look bad.

Each edition of DFL has been different: the 2004 version was the funny DFL, in which I navigated a narrow course between cracking wise and not doing so at the athletes' expense; the 2006 version was the earnest DFL, where I focused on injury, grit and character, and how hard it was to get to the Games. By the end of this run, I'm running out of things to say. Apart from reporting the results, I find myself more or less filling in the corners.

And fewer of you are reading it each time. Only half as many of you have visited this time around as you did during the 2006 Torino Games, and one-tenth as many as during the 2004 Athens Games. I'm not bothered; I ought to have done something to, you know, promote this site if I were. The fact that the media ignored DFL this time around -- which made my life a little less crazy, despite some health problems I've had during this run -- means two things: one, my point has been made -- though if the case of Stany the Stingray is any indication, the media has largely ignored that point. And two, my 15 minutes are up. I'm content.

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  • At 6:46 PM, August 24, 2008 , Anonymous Aussie said...

    Excellent article...thanks. I also like the human interest sides. Honestly, I will die if I hear Phelps name one more time. Ppl like the names you mentioned, especially the females from the middle east,a nd ppl like Natalie du Toit of South Africa to me are the real champions.

  • At 12:10 PM, August 25, 2008 , Anonymous Laura Dickerson said...

    Once I had heard of this blog, I checked it twice a day and recommended it to other people. I'm looking forward to your coverage of Vancouver.

  • At 5:55 AM, August 26, 2008 , Anonymous Lloyd said...

    So, I suppose you could say that DFL Beijing 2008 came last?

    I found myself on vacation during these Olympics so missed almost everything apart from news of new world records. That in itself is quite depressing on a number of levels.

    Unfortunately I think DFL 2012 will be the angriest yet - for the last three years (and especially during the Olympic handover) I saw my home country once again rear its "ugly nationalistic side" and I have a feeling it's going to be around for another 4 years from today.

    I'm almost cringing with embarrassment at 2012 already.

  • At 6:49 AM, August 26, 2008 , Blogger mcwetboy said...

    I feel the same vis-à-vis my country and 2010.

  • At 10:36 AM, August 26, 2008 , Blogger czeltic girl said...

    I wasn't aware of DFL until this Olympics. So not that it's any consolation, but while your overall numbers were down, you gained at least one new reader. See you at the Winter Games' DFL.

  • At 3:50 PM, August 27, 2008 , Blogger Eleni said...

    I was reading your blog in 2004 religiously. But during these Olympics, I have to admit I forgot completely about it. Until now, that is :-)
    Thank you for continuing this blog.


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