Thursday, August 09, 2012

Job in a million

“WANTED: Enthusiastic moped rider. Must be able to stay perfectly upright at gradually increasing speeds and keep self-composure while being followed closely by a horde of burly cyclists (male or female).

“Moped, white, will be provided, but the successful candidate must supply their own uniform of peaked black motorbike helmet and overalls. Ability to keep a straight face while looking like a total plonker would be a distinct advantage.

“Competitive package for the right candidate. Immediate start, two-week contract. Apply to LOCOG, c/o Lord Coe, Stratford, London, England GB.”

That, if there’s any justice in the world, is the advert that ought to have appeared in the specialist cycling press in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics.

While some people made sure that the stadia were built on time, some were topping up the water in the diving pool and others ordered truckloads of sand for the beach volleyball, it was one person’s responsibility to seek out the ideal candidate for that most challenging of Olympic tasks: the pacer in the Keirin.

What’s the Keirin, you may well ask, and why does it need a pacer?

Hush, grasshopper, and all will be revealed. The Keirin is a very unusual bike race in which the competitors follow a guy on a motorbike (the pacer) for several laps as he gets faster and faster before pulling off the track and letting the real cyclists sprint to glory over the last couple of laps.

Your initial reaction when you see a Keirin race is that the chap out in front must be cheating: he’s using a motor while all the others are only allowed to pedal.

But then you realise that this is all some inscrutable oriental ritual – the Keirin does, after all, originate in Japan – and that the race is a fascinating combination of tactics and chance.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Did it really happen? Did a moped-rider looking like a extra from Thomas the Tank Engine really lead a cluster of aerodynamic-helmeted, Lycra-shorted athletes round and round the Velodrome?

Yes, he really did. But then the Olympics was always a magnet for the bonkers and the bizarre.

In the 1908 London Olympics (yes, the ones when GB won even more medals than this year) they had motor-boat racing. Five British boats with sturdy-sounding names like Gyrinus, Quicksilver and Sea Dog battled it out with one French entrant, the rather less sturdy-sounding Camille.

And of course we won, even though the Wolseley-Siddely ran aground in a gale.

Even today we have such oddities as dressage (otherwise known as horse disco) and synchronised swimming (otherwise known as treading water with style).

But of course the most bizarre – and heartening – thing about the Olympics for us Dixons was that we made it to Cardiff for the men’s football match between Team GB and South Korea, watched our local heroes go out in a performance that only occasionally went beyond the lacklustre, and still had the most amazing Olympic experience a family could ever enjoy.

If only there could be a next time...

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