Caster Semenya

Munyaradzi Vomo

Sometimes I wonder if the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece weren’t perhaps much better than the Games of today. I wonder if Zeus and his illegitimate son Heracles (Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek demi-god Heracles) would be amused at how we have continued to emulate their sports.

Of course, today things are a lot safer as the competitors do not go into serious combat, or compete in chariot racing. Sports that are considered dangerous today include the shot-put and the javelin and even in these disciplines you will not be aiming at your opponent. Fencing comes close, but even then, no blood is drawn.

So despite which you may prefer – the original Olympics or the modern Games – both create larger-than-life heroes who will be remembered long after we are gone. Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps, Kirstie Coventry and Josia Thugwane may all have competed in different disciplines, but they excelled with flying colours and in turn earned their places in the history books for their exceptional contribution to their sport.

That was then, and now that the 2012 edition is here, there will obviously be new names to add to the Olympic Hall of Fame. SA’s athletes, including marathon champion Rene Kalmer, Caster Semenya and the female national soccer team, Banyana Banyana, will be vying for as many medals as possible.

During the 2010 World Cup, we saw a number of TV shows that were modelled around the event. So, with the games taking over our normal TV schedules, some changes to programming should be expected.

For instance, SABC2 will move the Sotho News and Bophelo keSemphego to 8.30pm and 9pm respectively. This should create enough room for SABC2’s live transmission of the Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremony at 9.30pm on Friday. Though we haven’t seen it yet, I am sure we’ll all be enthralled by the display the Brits will put on.

As there’s already been an outcry about renowned musicians such as Elton John and Robbie Williams not being included in the line-up for the Opening Ceremony, we know the showcase will not be as good as ours was for the World Cup. Apparently anyone who performed at the diamond jubilee for Queen Elizabeth was not considered for this gig. So we will be seeing a lot of new blood, including the likes of new sensation, Emeli Sande.

For those who want some serious history about the Olympics, the ESPN documentary Olympia is a good place to start. The focus is on the 1936 Olympics which took place in Berlin, in Nazi Germany. We see the cultural and sporting landscape of that era as influenced by the politics of the time.

The film was made by the esteemed director Leni Riefenstahl and was hailed by many critics, including Time magazine, as “one of the 100 greatest films of all time”. The assessment was based on the fact that Riefenstahl was experimenting with revolutionary filming techniques such as extreme close-ups, tracking rails which “ran” with athletes and unique camera angles.

Four of the episodes for this documentary have already screened, but the final one will air tonight at 7pm on ESPN (DStv channel 231).

If that’s not enough for you, BBC Entertainment will bring you Going For Gold: The ’48 Games, which is about how two men from different backgrounds triumphed despite various challenges at the 1948 London Olympics. Zoom in on a war-torn Britain barely getting back on its feet after losing most of its resources in WWII.

The country’s resilience and desire to win is illustrated by Bert Bushnell and Richard Dicke Burnell, who fought to keep their Olympic dreams alive. They were experts in the double-sculling event, but only started working together six weeks before the Games began. This meant they had to overcome their personal differences to work as a team.

Going For Gold: The ’48 Games is re-enacted by Matt Smith (Bushnell) and Sam Hoare (Burnell) who do a sterling job in taking us back to an era when times were hard. Going For Gold: The ’48 Games airs on Monday at 8pm on BBC Entertainment (DStv channel 120).

A little closer, Trace Sports has some fantastic shows we can relate to. In Untold Stories on Sunday at 10.30pm, the channel chats to South African swimmer Natalie du Toit and BMX superstar, Sifiso Nhlapo.

Nhlapo talks about how he was unhappy being a finalist at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. He hints the experience only prepared him for his second chance at the London Games.

Du Toit has been winning so she doesn’t share the same history as Nhlapo, but they do share the zeal to win gold for South Africa. On Untold we see her training and she shares the story of her life.

This is the stuff real movies should be made of.

Still on Trace, Up Close with Yelena Isinbayela (9.30pm) introduces us to the guru of pole vaulting who is the current world record holder for the sport.

Isinbayela will also be at the Olympics, probably looking at shocking us with another world record.

On August 8 at 9.30pm we will see 200m track champion Allyson Felix training in California for the London Games. Up Close will get her to talk about her love for Arsenal FC and Mexican food.

Look out for the Sexiest Female Athletes (August 11 at 10.30pm) and Sexiest Male Athletes (August 4 at 10.30pm). This is for those who are obviously not into sport. Also, look out for a new show, Sporty News London Special, which will air six times a day at unspecified times.

Supersport fans will be happy to know there’s a lot in store for them, like 24-hour coverage of the eight channels that will be available to the mobile Drifta devices as well.

The Opening and Closing ceremonies will be beamed live with highlights for the duration of the event. Also, a new HD channel was launched specifically for the Games. Two new shows, London Calling, a breakfast show, and Mind The Gap, a daily 15-minute highlights show, are among other things to expect.

Info at Olympics.

Let the games begin.