Looking back over the course of the year so far it’s amazing to consider how much a part sport has played in shaping our family’s spare time.
It’s an excuse for getting together, for sharing, and let’s be frank, for enjoying food and drink.
Last weekend, for example, Saturday was spent watching three rugby matches back to back, and also building a barbecue in my mate’s back garden.
The Sunday was spent watching the Scottish League Cup Final in the house, but least said about that one the better.
If you bear that context in mind, my food and drink diaries for last weekend don’t look quite so bad.
Tomorrow is The Boat Race. A lot of folk take the piss, and can’t understand why I like it as a spectacle sport.
So let me try to explain.
The 2004 Athens Olympics Mens x4 final is a great example- I remember it pretty clearly, and the 2000 Olympics before it when Steve Redgrave won his fifth consecutive gold medal.
Both were just amazing, but the 2004 race shades it for sheer drama. Have a look.
The best line in that video is the one at the end where Matthew Pinsent feels he has to defend the fact he was a bit emotional after winning his fourth gold medal.
He says: “I am not embarrassed by it, there are very few people who know what it feels like.”
I suspect I may not get to watch today’s Boat Race as I have the small matter of a very special little boy and his equally special little cousin’s shared birthday party at a trampoline centre to consider, but if I get the chance I will most surely tune in.
I’ll watch it and I will be slack-jawed with admiration for those hooray Henrys and their silly wellies because it is the one sport that I can even have a modicum of understanding of the effort involved through my own experience.
Now…before anyone misinterprets that and thinks I’m claiming I could somehow hold a candle to these men, what I mean is this: I will never understand and relate to football, rugby, swimming or whatever on the same personal level because I have no yardsticks, no parameters of having played those sports myself except as a young ‘un, by which to judge the efforts of the professional sportsmen.
I love those sports as a spectator, and I love the artistry of pretty much any games played well, but I could not place myself in their shoes.
With rowing, even though I have never been on the water in any real sense (once or twice on a canal – i was pants), I can still compute that to row 2000m in just a shade over 6 minutes as Matthew Pinsent and his team-mates did in Athens….is exceptional. Only ever once did I go underneath 7 minutes on a rowing machine and I nearly chucked my guts, and that is a pretty decent time for a big lad.
So I understand that if those sportsmen are rowing at, say, 30 to 35 strokes a minute for 16 minutes tomorrow that is just lung-busting craziness compared to my 24/25 strokes a minute dawdle.
I’m not suggesting I could ever do it myself, but at least I have a frame of reference so that I can say, ‘holy shit, that really is just mind-blowingly fast’.
Let me try to illustrate the point even more – The Boat Race is, by all accounts, exactly 4 miles 374 yards long, or to be all metric about it, 6779 metres.
The crews tomorrow will probably complete it in a time of between 16 and 20 minutes.
Last year Cambridge won it in a time of 16.47, one of the fastest on record.
That equates to an average split time of 1.12 for every 500 metres rowed. I can relate to that only because I understand how insanely good that is.
My rowing machine, and the one in your local gym too, has a split timer on it. Try it for yourself and see if you could get your split down to 1.12 for even five or ten strokes.
Ok then, just five.
I could maybe, and I mean maybe, hold that 1.12 split for a minute at most…. if I psyched myself up for days beforehand.
For those men to do that for 16 minutes just freaks me out. I understand the enormity of their sportsmanship only by reflection of my own inferiority.
Likewise I understand the efforts of the Tour De France – three weeks cycling on average more than 100km a day at break-neck speed – I understand it because I get puffed doing 10km along a canal and think it is some achievement.
Put to one side the drugs issue, the athleticism of the riders of the Tour is so awe-inspiring, so above and beyond what you or I will ever do, that it commands respect.
I’m sure I’d appreciate Andy Murray’s efforts all the more if I’d maybe once picked up a racket and tried to knock a tennis ball round a court. I haven’t, so it does not compute.
So before you laugh at the toffs tomorrow, try it for yourself. Their eyes might be a little too close together, their wellies a little bit silly, but those lads are just brilliant.