James McOnie has covered the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Summer Olympics in Beijing, and the Delhi Commonwealth Games. For the London Olympics, he and Andrew Mulligan will be Prime’s eyes and ears on the ground.
You’re supposed to be the guy who reports on the “weird and wonderful” in London, but with security tighter than a tight thing, how easy is that going to be? I don’t mind being padded down if that’s what you mean. Any physical intimacy at this stage of my life is welcomed. The Crowd Goes Wild will be closer to the athletes than ever before because this time we have proper accreditation so that also gives us to access to the free savouries and Powerade.
You’ve already reported from Beijing, Vancouver and Delhi – how crazy do cities get when a big games event rolls into town? Beijing is so big it just absorbed the Games, but I remember the locals getting pretty amped during the China vs China table tennis gold medal match. In Vancouver, the locals got rings fever and it was infectious. Delhi kicked a lot of people out of the area and killed the atmosphere, but New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie tried to make up for that with his multiple haka.
Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, we’re in the wrong time zone – what’s your advice for an enthusiastic Olympics-watching Kiwi? Do we need a training schedule too? New Zealand is in luck. The important rowing/kayaking finals are mostly on before midnight (NZ time), while Val and the swimmers (great band name!), the cyclists (lesser band name), and most of the big running finals are at breakfast time.
If you’re less than enthusiastic, how do you avoid the Olympics? There are a few DOC camping grounds that might be Olympics free. Or you could listen to RNZ Concert. Some people are reading The Hobbit but even that contains ring themes.
Aren’t the Olympics a bit ridiculous anyway – all that faffing about in Lycra – or are you a sucker for the Olympic ideal? You can say what you like about the Olympics but don’t you diss Lycra. It stretches across continents and all races and creeds. Imagine how fast Jesse Owens would’ve run in Lycra. Imagine the slow-motion scenes in Chariots of Fire if they wore Lycra. Okay, perhaps don’t imagine that ‘cos I just did and it’s graphic.
Have you heard that terrible Olympics song by Muse? What were they thinking? No, I like that song! The lyrics are really basic like Bob the Builder: “It’s a race and I’m gonna win, I’ll light the fuse and never lose.” Brilliant. The best bit is around three minutes in. Muse probably wrote it in one afternoon but that’s what the Olympics are all about: one afternoon to make it. Still, nothing will beat Freddie Mercury singing Barcelona.
Where will you be during the Opening Ceremony? Apparently there are going to be farm animals … I could have exclusive access to those animals because my friend works for the RSPCA who have sanctioned the animal involvement. On the street in Delhi I saw two monkeys on the back of a bike, and an elephant carrying branches so these farm animals will have to go hard out to impress me. But I’ve got an open mind apart from the fact that I don’t really like opening ceremonies.
Which events are going to be the stand-outs for New Zealand? Rowing, triathlon, women’s shot-put, cycling, hockey, kayaking, men’s 1500m, men’s javelin, women’s marathon, equestrian, sailing and possibly swimming.
What other events are you looking forward to? Women’s beach volleyball, men’s gymnastics? I’ll try to see Lebron and Kobe play basketball, but I like athletics. I’d be happy if there were more track and field events like running backwards and mixed relays with the odd hurdle thrown in. I’d also like to see people literally jump through hoops.
Which is the most boring event? Handball sounds dull. Shooting is pretty average. Some of them wear jeans. I mean, it’s the Olympics, at least get changed into some sports gear. Archery is cool now thanks to The Hunger Games. Handball is weird. It’s too stacked against the goalie who stands there while big blonde men jump in his direction and throw the ball at him at 100mph from point blank range.
Why should we even worry about winning gold? We have a great tradition to uphold. New Zealand is ranked sixth in Olympic gold medals per capita I think. Australia is 10th. Thanks to their ski jumping prowess, Finland is No 1, so they Finnish first. Boom! You can expect more wordplay like this during the Olympics.
Isn’t everyone basically just competing against the US? USA, China and Russia usually have their own battle going at the top of the medal table. But historically New Zealand has thrashed the pants off all three of those superpowers in the men’s 1500 metres, which some say is the main event. So big ups to Lovelock, Snell, Davies, Walker and Willis.
THE CROWD GOES WILD, Prime, 7.30pm every night from Saturday.