Stuck on a zipline or drenched, London's mayor one to watch
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I don't generally bother watching the Olympics. I have tremendous respect for the athletes; I also have tremendous respect for opera singers, but I'd rather not sit through three hours of Wagner in German. Or three hours of anybody swimming. Or three minutes of badminton, especially if even the players can't be bothered.
Still, a few images from the Games have caught my eye: Gabby Douglas' bright eyes and fizzy smile, in a sport where most of the competitors look like the frightened teenagers they are; German vaulter Oksana Chusovitina, finishing fifth at the age of 37. The gold went to a woman who was mastering potty training when Ms. Chusovitina won her first Olympic medal.
And the mayor of London, helmet on head and Union Flags in hands, dangling over a crowd in Victoria Park when his zipline lost its zip.
I have ziplined. It's fun, even if you aren't comfortable with heights, because you're in a harness so secure it's strangling much of your lower body in ways that flatter no one.
You glide steadily, rather than plummeting wildly, and it quickly crosses your mind that while the cable and harness are unlikely to fail and dump you to the ground, it's just possible that you might lose momentum and end up stranded in midair.
That's exactly what happened to Mayor Boris Johnson. Not in the secluded quiet of a forested valley, but over a crowd in London with cameras rolling, "like an odd Christmas decoration," as one onlooker put it.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time; Mr. Johnson is usually described as "colorful" despite being a Tory, and he's always game to do something a little weird in public. He's been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the London Games, so I'm sure the crowd watching live Olympic event screenings in the park weren't surprised to see him come flying Bond-like down the 150-foot-high zipline, flag in each hand, crowing "TEAM GB!!"
I bet no one was more surprised than Mr. Johnson himself when his flyby ground to an awkward halt. Curious onlookers gathered below him and began to take pictures.
"This is what it's all about," he said to the upturned faces; "this is great! This is fantastic! This is Team GB."
Sure, if by "Team GB" he meant "Monty Python's Flying Circus."
Mr. Johnson's spokesman applied perfect spin afterward: "Clearly the judges are likely to have marked the mayor down for artistic impression, and unlike Team GB, the mayor may not be winning too many gold medals today."
BBC News quoted Prime Minister David Cameron's comment: "If any other politician got stuck on a zip wire it would be disastrous."
And it's true.
The only American political figure I can see coming out of that with his dignity only dinged is Herman Cain, because that guy can play anything off.
Can you imagine Mitt Romney bobbing on a stalled zipline? Joe Biden? Michael Bloomberg? Mr. Bloomberg is maybe quirky enough to survive the photos.
And our own mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, is young enough not to look wildly out of place hanging from a zipline, though the temptation to wing Frisbees at him might prove too strong.
Mr. Johnson's gift -- an invaluable one for a politician -- is that he doesn't look wildly out of place anywhere. Even when he was picking up litter with volunteers in 2009 and fell into a river.
Politicians of all stripes and nations would be wise to study London's mayor; what he lacks in gravitas he makes up for in waterproof charm and energy. He could have single-handedly replaced all the bad badminton players and won a medal. Who else could say, "The Geiger counter of Olympomania is going to go zoink"?
Maybe Mr. Biden. But he'd have to apologize.
First Published August 9, 2012 12:00 am