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Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents

2012 Olympics, Ancient Roman Style

August 3, 2012

Tags: Olympics

I don't know why, but watching sports really brings out the historian in me. Maybe it's because I edited all of “Mistress of Rome” with the Tour de France in the background, so the gladiatorial games and the cycling commentary started to mix in the strangest way. I half expected to hear Lance Armstrong roar “We who are about to die salute you!!” as he biked off an Alp.

In any case, here are seven random thoughts after watching way too much Olympic coverage . . .

1. Thank you, NBC, for making me sit through all the rowing before getting to women's gymnastics. Wouldn't this sport be a lot more interesting if we could do it ancient Rome style? Instead of a teeny coxswain calling directions to the rowers, you have a hulking muscleman flogging them with a piece of rope. And none of this keeping-to-your-own-lane stuff; I want to see those rowers yell “RAMMING SPEED!” and go smashing into each other like the war galleys in “Ben Hur.” Last boat afloat wins.

2. Men's volleyball. Bo-oring. For the dull sports we should really do this old school – as in, ancient Greek old school. The original Olympic athletes would all be competing in the nude. I really think this would spike the ratings on men's volleyball.

3. Men's swimming. They're really drumming up the Phelps-Lochte rivalry. Let's kick this up gladiatorial style and toss 'em in a ring to duke it out instead of a pool. Can't you see these two guys in those “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” loincloths, going at each other with nets and tridents? Me too.

4. Equestrian events! Here's one sport I do not want to go all ancient Rome. Sure, the chariot races were thrilling, but a lot of horses died on those hairpin turns in the Circus Maximus. I'd rather watch these gorgeous creatures jump six-foot hedges than crash into a pile of broken chariot wheels and shattered bones.

5. Track and field. Maybe it's all those gladiator fights I've had to write, but I always end up thinking idly, “Release a lion out of a trap door at the fifty-yard mark, and I bet we'd really see some speed records.”

6. Synchronized diving. I like diving, but synchronized diving is a little surreal. The divers are of course paired for similar builds, they walk in unison, they dive in unison, they look like they've been cloned. Put 'em back in ancient Rome and they'd be sold off the auction block for 500 sesterces apiece to serve wine in perfect unison to Emperor Nero.

7. Women's gymnastics at last! All congratulations to Gabby Douglas for her win, but part of me was secretly rooting for the icy little Russian. I like Russian gymnasts – in contrast to most American athletes who have been trained to twinkle for the camera, your average Russian girl approaches the vault or the bars with all the boundless personal charm of Torquemada. Smiles are saved strictly for the medal stand, and rival gymnasts are not to be hugged, they are to be mowed down like barbarian hordes. You get the feeling that Russian gymnasts would win the Hunger Games a lot more handily than our sparkly American girls. Still, Gabby Douglas was a little rock of an athlete, and she deserved both her golds.

Okay, back to work. There's only so much time you can spend dodging your deadline and hoping Ryan Lochte will be stripped of his medals just for being tacky enough to wear an American flag tooth grill.