Mark Simpson on the happy, warm – if scantily-dressed – memories of 2016
Last summer in Brazil, a tiny island in the South Pacific took on all the major sporting superpowers – and won the Olympics. Before a starting pistol was even fired.
When the flag bearer for Tonga, Pita Taukatofua, 32, made his sensational appearance at the opening ceremony in Rio, wearing just a grass skirt, a gallon of baby oil and a saucy grin – while gripping his massive flagpole with both hands – he melted Sugar Loaf Mountain and fused the internet. The Tongan’s torso glistening in a thousand spotlights. And billions of hot stares.
It was an historic moment. Finally, after all these years of hoping and praying, and all those letters I’ve written to my MP, male stripping had – at last! – been recognised as an Olympic sport.
Yes, the very nicely-put together Mr Taukatofua was nominally representing his country in the manly martial art of Taekwondo. But hardly anyone cared about that. The slutty sexualisation of the sporting male body – what I have dubbed sporno – was the hottest, most popular game at the Rio Olympics.
And thanks to the wonders of modern telephoto lenses and HD widescreen technology – and the widespread use of lycra in modern sportswear – there was no end of money shots for the avid sporno fan. Wrestlers grappling each other’s groins.
Pole-vaulters poleaxed by their… poles.
Speed cyclists flashing their superhero thighs.
And decathletes like the Sweden’s (Christian?) Bjorn Barrefors going dramatically commando. The gaiety of the Games!
But it was men’s swimming and diving that proved to be the most spornographic event. Of course, Speedos are sporno anyway – not only because they’re skimpy but because they advertise the delicious versatility of the male body: offering us buns and lunchboxes at the same time. Decisions, decisions!
And if you think this is just down to my dirty mind, a meme widely circulating online mocked the placement of results banners on TV screens covering the swimmers’ swimsuits, claiming it made it look like they were porn stars. (And I wasn’t responsible for it – honestly.)
Or perhaps the TV companies were providing an electronic fig-leaf for the almost starkers statuesque young men. After all, this was the year Team GB’s swimming trunks seemed to have been replaced by thongs. While it may have appeared like a salute to the host country’s famously brief beachwear – and pubewear – it turned out to be down to naughty Tom Daley’s doing. The British diver had advised Team GB designer Stella McCartney that the trunks he wore at the London Olympics in 2012 were ‘too big’.
His concern was entirely practical though. At least according to Tom: “They have to be small because everything has to stay in place,” he explained. “If you’re spinning around the last thing you want to do is have something come out of place!”
I’m not sure the viewing public entirely shared Tom’s concern here, but either way the ‘end’ result was that there was even less fabric to come between the voyeuring public and the divers. And even more opportunity to admire Olympic ‘obliques’ – or ‘cum gutters’, to give them their medical, Latin name.
Which brings me to the spornographic climax of the actual Rio Olympics as opposed to the opening ceremony – the synchronised 3M springboard men’s diving. British divers Jack Laugher, 21, and brunette Chris Mears, 23, inseparable – and straight – best pals (they live together as well as train and compete together), were the hottest, loveliest diving pair to goggle at.
And since diving is perhaps the most aesthetic Olympic sport of all, it was a wonderful affirmation when they turned out to be a golden pair in every sense – making the best dives technically as well as aesthetically, becoming the first British divers ever to win Olympic gold.
Watching Jack and Chris’ bubble butts, v-backs, and curved thighs spin around in perfect, Speedo-synch was actually so sexy it was beyond sex. Compared to this perfection, actual shagging is just a big fat belly-flop. (Though I still would, mind.)
Likewise, their spontaneous shared happiness for one another on winning gold, Jack jumping into the arms of Chris – hams, quads and glutes agogo – looked as orgasmic as it was Platonic.
I should probably give a shout out here to the Olympic hot tub in Rio. It gave us viewers many hours of pleasure, in addition to keeping divers supple between dives. It’s a nice warm feeling to know that, thanks to anti-steam camera lens technology and also lowered inhibitions, we the viewers can nowadays join Olympic divers rinsing off in the showers after their splash and also sit with them in the steamy hot tub, relaxing and waiting for their next ‘go’. Much as you might at a gay sauna.
Gymnastics is the one sport that can give the aesthetics of diving a run and jump for its money. Whether on the pommel horse, flexing those triceps and tightening that butt, or doing ‘ringwork’ and flaring the lats, it offers viewer-voyeur a body-weight bodybuilding show that displays the form and balance of the perfectly-developed human frame – defying gravity. In much the same way erections do.
But gymnastics has a problem. Gymnasts wear too much. Way too much compared to today’s swimmers. In addition to over-modest singlets and criminally baggy shorts, they often have to wear full length pants/tights. And these are definitely not the kind of compression pants that the lads in my gym wear these days that leave nothing to the imagination while they do lunges.
No wonder the highly aestheticised Sam Mikulak captain of the US gymnastic team captain at Rio suggested just before the games began: ‘Maybe we should perform with our shirts off’ so that people could see ‘how yoked we are’.
Although he was ostensibly suggesting ways in which male gymnastics could become more popular in the US and step out of the shadow of women’s gymnastics, he was also expressing a timeless truth about his sport and the Olympics itself.
‘Gymnastics’ derives from the Ancient Greek for ‘exercise naked’. Greek gymnasia were full of naked male youths – being admired by Greek men. As were the Ancient Olympics at Delphi – though here the stitchless athletes could be gawped at by maiden women as well as men (though definitely not married women). Sport for the Greeks was starkers.
So in a sense US silver-medallist gymnast Danell Leyva was giving us a history lesson when he took his captain at his word. During the gymnastics gala towards the end of the Rio games he danced on the parallel bars and coquettishly peeled off his top, to loud audience whoops, and then performed half-naked, in a kind of aerial Magic Mike routine.
Or rather, an aerial version of the tarty flagbearer from Tonga.
This post is based on a piece by MS published in XY Magazine, Nov 2016