Published August 05, 2012
LONDON – Watching the greatest athletes on earth compete in a quadrennial bonanza of sport is nice, but it's evidently not enough to satisfy the goldfish-like attention span of 21st-century spectators.
At least that's what Olympic organizers seem to think.
A dazzling array of loud, exuberant entertainment is on display at venues all over London, enough to ensure there's never a dull moment between archery sets, tennis serves, vaults, slams, dunks and clean and jerks.
Sports purists may shudder at the tackiness and overproduction. The games, after all, are meant to be about Olympic ideals like courage, perseverance and fair play, not how loud crowds can cheer for a troupe of jump-rope performers, or a brass band belting out the theme from Monty Python's "Life of Brian."
But most fans seem to love it.
"It's absolutely marvelous," said Rebecca Hester, a British spectator pushing her way slowly out of a sloped field at Olympic Park where fans gather to watch sports from nearby venues on a huge screen, listen to live music and be entertained by a fast-talking emcee. "I love the whole atmosphere. Not just the sports, but everything."
And let's face it, the Olympics have always encompassed more than just competition, with host countries outdoing each other to put on the most extravagant opening and closing ceremonies. A seat at Olympic Stadium for Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle's rollicking, $42 million kickoff show July 27 went for upward of $3,100, the hottest ticket of the games.
And it hasn't stopped there. London organizers have arranged entertainment at every Olympic venue for all 26 sports, with each act tailored to the competition on display. There are Eastern European cheerleaders, English ballet dancers, U.S. pop singers, British marching bands, and acrobatic acts from around the world.
There's a game show-style soundtrack and countdown clock that ticks as competitors take their turn in weightlifting, and a video presentation explaining the somewhat mystifying sport of judo. A military brass band in crisp blue uniforms breaks into songs from James Bond movies at Lord's Cricket Ground between archery competitions.
At basketball, Ukrainian cheerleaders known as the Red Foxes dance and gyrate, and music blasts at every dead ball, much like at an NBA game. An emcee with apparently limited knowledge of hoops exclaims somewhat amusingly: "That was some excellent jumping and good shooting!"
"It's an American game, so that's to be expected," Mark Chivers, an English fan, said Saturday of the onslaught of entertainment. "Just a little bit too loud."
Even London Mayor Boris Johnson has been brought in to amuse the crowds, although it hasn't always worked out as planned.
The portly politician got stuck on a zip line Wednesday high above Victoria Park as thousands who had turned out to watch the Olympics on large screens gaped up at him. Fans laughed and took photos of the cord-bound mayor in a helmet and scrunched-up suit as workers endeavored to pull him to safety.
A spokeswoman for the mayor later quipped that "the judges are likely to mark him down for artistic interpretation," but the crowd went home convinced they had witnessed one of the highlights of the games.
Debbie Jevans, director of sport for Olympic organizers, said the razzmatazz at venues is all about "inspiring people to engage with sport." She said many emcees are used to explain what is going on to fans who may not fully understand the sport they are watching, and some events feature instructional videos and expert commentary piped in to earpieces that fans can purchase.
At some events, the blaring sideshow seems incongruous, even distracting to the athletes.
At tradition-steeped Wimbledon, the Pet Shop Boys put on a concert just before play on the first day of tennis, though things have since returned to stately form.
And at the imposing, 210-year-old Royal Artillery Barracks, where the shooting competition is taking place, music blasts out of speakers as competitors stand stone-faced, trying to focus as they await their turns.
The aim is to shoot at faraway targets or explode compressed discs hurtling through the air, and keeping nerves in check and a steady hand is the difference between losing and Olympic glory.
"Come on, let me hear you roar if he is from your country," an announcer screams, and the crowd usually obliges. It may be fun, but the earsplitting volume is surely a challenge for competitors in a sport where, as Italian shooter Niccolo Campriani put it, "Adrenaline is not your friend."
Perhaps the most show business-y venue of the games is beach volleyball, a sport some detractors dismiss as little more than entertainment anyway.
The sand courts outside the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing St. have seen conga lines, comedians and DJs, and endured many iterations of the zany Benny Hill theme song piped in over loudspeakers.
Fans don't seem to mind one bit.
"For a sport like this, you want it to be noisy," said Richard Barnett, an approving spectator from Sydney, Australia. "It's a party."
"That was brilliant," added Geoff Tibbert, a fan from Dorset. "Even though we were near the speakers."
Associated Press reporters Jimmy Golen, Barbara Surk and Nesha Starcevic contributed to this report.
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