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By Tim Williams
DAY 16: INITIAL REFLECTIONS AT THE END
As one party began, the main one ended. It was billed as the reception after the wedding but in truth it was all part of one giant renewal of vows between Britain and its quite marvellous self.
In due course I’ll produce a more considered piece but as I write this final post slunked on a train out of London I’ve got a few initial reflections. As a prologue I must say what a joy it’s been to watch the Games and write this blog. I can only apologise for the days where it’s been pretty obvious I’ve either had no sleep or time – blame the Olympics….
First, that was the best fortnight ever. Nothing will match it in this country for sustained bombardment of ecstasy, relief, shock, sadness and fun.
Second, London is an amazing city. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is just the latest addition to a glittering roster of landmarks. And although I only really used it at ungodly hours, the transport system proved it isn’t all that bad.
Thirdly, we can run things bloody well. Yes, we should, given that there were seven years to plan two weeks, but we can do other things well too. When at the Diamond Jubilee pageant only two months ago I spoke to an agog American in awe of us. “Like clockwork,” he described it. We should be very grateful to the security services – the work they have done will remain wrapped in secrecy. The police and armed forces have been reassuring and friendly. The Games-makers in their purple t-shirts who you can chat to on the tube every night about their day have been fantastic.
Fourth, as I leave London and return to normality for a couple days it appears that Olympic fever may have been more London-centric than I thought. There are no banners lining every street and no Hyde Park parties every night. But that is probably hiding the fact that everyone’s been inside watching on the telly. For that the BBC deserves credit for a mighty fine job. The torch relay too was terrific.
Fifth, for all the self-indulgence these Games have brought, I really want to explore Brazil in 2016.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: SPORT
A Brit in a Wimbledon final, England knocked out on penalties at a major football championships, a first ever British winner of the Tour de France and an Olympic Games. Any one of these would have made a summer in what is, after all, the ‘off-season’. I’m biased, but nothing beats sport.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: IT’S THE END
The USA had Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996. Who’s up for a UK Olympics in 2024?
DAY 15: SUPER SATURDAY TWO
It was billed as Super Saturday Two and like some sequels it was brilliant in its own right but no quite as good as the original. For everyone except Mo Farah that is.
A former Somalian refugee who didn’t even make the 5,000m final in Beijing, the culmination of Farah’s last four years was an historic double distance gold that leaves him, for me, the British face – the ‘Kelly Holmes’ – of London 2012.
The format of his event means that, unlike Jess Ennis or Greg Rutherford, it all comes down to one race, and, unlike Usain Bolt, you can put your head in your hands and lift it again in time to see the finish.
If you want the quick stuff, we’re not your people. But, as thousands of our volunteers have so expertly shown over the past fortnight, we are plenty capable of pointing you in the right direction: the USA and Jamaica.
Sanya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix turned the women’s 4x400m relay into a procession while Usain Bolt received the baton from Yohan Blake and ran 11 metres a second. The multiple medals for the Jamaican men and American women have been truly outstanding feats.
In a different way, so was Tom Daley’s. Rather than seeking an alternative route being called “fat” by his coach and the death of his father, he used one for inspiration, the other for determination and battled his way to a bronze medal of which his late parent and onlooking mother should be very proud.
Ed McKeever topped day fifteen with kayaking gold while the dominant USA women’s basketball team smashed France to bring it to a close.
What with Luke Campbell’s boxing victory thrown in between, it was the perfect penultimate day.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: MO FARAH
Nothing against Usain Bolt but our man wasn’t born a champion. He had to work like mad for it.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: THE PROSPECT OF MONDAY
There’s ten Olympic sports on Sunday plus a closing ceremony. Then it ends.
DAY 14: BOXING DAY
There was next to nothing on this morning and an amazing Olympics is heading towards its close. What better way to bring us back to reality than a cock-up in the 4x100m relay?
Christian Malcolm put on a splendid performance as protector of his young colleagues but as the most experience man in the team he will also know that baton mistakes happen far too often for Great Britain.
But we shouldn’t be looking at the relay for gold in any case. If there’s one thing we should learn in terms of where to expect medals, it’s to look for events in which there are few Americans. Cycling, 10,000m, heptathlon, horse riding, sailing and taekwondo – our athletes have been tremendously successful. The latter two sports formed much of the action today.
In sailing there was a mix of disappointment and joy for the men’s and women’s 470 crews. They go away with silver after failing to beat their opponents in the medal races but it would have been so much sweeter had they not been guaranteed to be at least runners-up going into today.
In taekwondo there was no replication of Jade Jones’ exploits but there was a key talking point in the form of a man not at the Games. Aaron Cook, the British number one, refused to watch Lutalo Muhammad fight in the men’s division because he believes he should be there instead of him. Muhammad won his opening fight but fell to defeat at the hands of Garcia Hemme before winning bronze. Whether Cook would have done any better we will never know, although it is one hundred per cent not Muhammad’s fault or problem.
Boxing was the best sport of the day from a spectator’s perspective. John Joe Nevin and Luke Campbell won their bouts to set up an Ireland v Great Britain final – it will surely be a highlight of the final Saturday. Ireland has a strong boxing heritage and Paddy Barnes’ bronze provides them with another medal. Anthony Ogogo produced similar efforts when falling to defeat but Fred Evans went even better in the evening and booked his place in the welterweight final.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: BOXERS FROM THE BRITISH ISLES
Luke Campbell, Anthony Joshua, Paddy Barnes, Anthony Ogogo, John Joe Nevin, Fred Evans. Yes, it’s easier to get bronze in boxing than in other disciplines, but four of those names have already secured silver. A mouth-watering final between Nevin and Campbell means one is also guaranteed gold.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: GB ATHLETICS
A rather barren patch after the golden Saturday means the big mo is not heading in a direction that will help Mo Farah.
DAY 12: BARREN DAY FOR GB BUT BOLT AND BLAKE BLAST THROUGH
Every day at these Olympics, while doing ‘homework’ and preparation for my shift I’ve had to go through the schedule and note down everything of importance taking place. For the first time since the Games started it was obvious that the Games was dying down and there was considerably less going on today than yesterday. So it’s not all that bad news that Great Britain didn’t win a single medal all day.
Shara Proctor was in with an outside chance of a bronze but in the end she didn’t even make the final eight. The nearest we got was Lawrence Clarke, whose fourth in the 110m hurdles confounded all expectations. He was around 100/1 to win gold before his semi-final tonight – about 20th in the betting.
The men’s 200m is shaping up to be the best event of this final week and it’s very hard to predict how it will go. Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir are all coasting through and, as in the 100m, we don’t know if Bolt is hiding unbelievable form or if Blake’s apparent extra commitment to training will pay off.
The BMX biking got underway with the seeding rounds. Don’t be fooled by the one-by-one we saw today. Once the proper racing starts it’ll be thrilling to watch and prepare for close finishes and spectacular crashes. A very welcome addition to the Olympic roster in 2008.
Things look better for Britain tomorrow after we managed to qualify a few people running finals and also guarantee medals in sailing and boxing.
Bizarrely, before these Olympics have even ended, many competitors who have finished are already saying “Bring on Rio 2016”.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: BEACH VOLLEYBALL
It’s been one of the highlights of the whole Games and is over, for the women at least. Horse Guards Parade has been a fantastic setting for a sport that’s felt similar for us to what basketball feels like in the USA when Barack Obama is in the crowd. In Britain we get Prince Harry, who sat between golden cycling lovebirds Jason Kenny and Laura Trott, while chatting to his Old Etonian buddy, Oxford’s Constantine Louloudis. David Beckham was also there. We should make summer beach volleyball contests in Whitehall a regular thing. Oh and if you’re interested in the sport, the USA are pretty good – and took on themselves in the final.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: PLUCKY DEFEATS
Chris Hoy summed up Britain’s success at these Olympics as turning us into a nation of “winners” rather than “plucky losers”. Annoyingly then, it took just a day for our showjumpers, hockey players, hurdlers, divers, long jumpers and javelin throwers to fall to what can be best described as plucky defeats.
DAY 11: CYCLING PRECISION AND HORSE DANCING
I was struck by something British cycling coach Dave Brailsford said on television this morning. “If you take everything you do and improve everything by one percent then that adds up to a big increase in performance.” He suggested things like changing your pillow to develop a better sleeping posture and washing your hands properly in order to become ill less often.
This freakish attention to detail is part of the reason for home cycling success. Innovation, in terms of the suits worn by riders and the types of wheels they use (just don’t tell the French), is critical to getting ahead of the opposition. It must be combined with a strong recruitment programme to find the talent out there and that’s exactly what British Cycling has done over the past 15 years.
Chris Hoy, Laura Trott and Victoria Pendleton rounding off an amazing Games for track and road cycling showed the benefits of the approach. Thinking about Chris Hoy in terms of Britain’s greatest ever Olympian (in gold medals at least) will take some getting used to but the Scot, who is targeting the Glasgow Commonwealth Games for his final event, will no doubt turn into a fine coach or pundit by Rio 2016 and has provided a memory that will grow stronger with age. It will also be fascinating to see what poster-girl Pendleton does next.
The contrast between the precision of track cycling and Britain’s gold medal in what is effectively horse dancing is quite marvellous. Getting on over on the Germans is a great British pastime that happens all too rarely. Dressage team gold provided us with cheer. As with yesterday, the horses were the stars of the show.
One of the highlights about these Olympics has been the number of free events that members of the public can just go and watch. While at work in central London, my colleague on the desk popped out to catch a glimpse of the triathlon. I say a glimpse but when she returned she said they’d ran past her about five times. Two men at the front of the group would have been the Brownlee brothers – Alastair won gold with a super-quick run but Jonny’s race was more dramatic. He incurred a 15 second penalty (like a pitstop) and then collapsed after the line, needing medical attention.
Meanwhile, Phillips Idowu was eliminated from the triple jump. Given his long-awaited explanation, I reckon he was well within his rights to not fly to Barcelona with the team but was seriously ill-advised or simply stupid not to tell anyone about his situation. The reputation of a top British athlete is needlessly tarnished in the eyes of his own compatriots. Elsewhere on the track it was bedlam with Liu Xiang and Andrew Pozzi crashing out in the hurdles. The calmest people in the stadium were those moving the fastest – Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, who were imperious in the 200m. That’s right, there’s another really fast Jamaican you’d never heard of.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: CHRIS HOY
A man we’ll have to get to know a bit better now that he’s our winning-most Olympian of all time.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: CAMEROON ATHLETES
Seven Cameroon athletes have done a runner. They’ve gathered up all their stuff and left for Europe – reportedly for economic reasons. During an Olympics that’s just not on.
DAY 10: MEDAL MACHINE CRANKS DOWN. ONLY SLIGHTLY.
I’d call Monday ‘taking a breather’ and I’m starting to get the sense that people are looking ahead to what will happen after the Olympics. To the next Olympics, the new football season, cricket and ‘the legacy’.
So Tom Daley and co have got their work cut out over this next week to return attention to the present.
The equestrian team made a good go of it today – their jump-off providing something completely different to Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis. Different people, different etiquette, same old colour of medal. Well done to the horses too – the ones who actually do the jumping. But Nick Skelton, at 54, has done something remarkable and shows some of the courage horse riders (and racehorse jockeys for that matter) have.
In contrast, Jason Kenny was born in 1988 – six years after Skelton competed at his first world championships. His receipt of Chris Hoy’s baton has been a successful one in the individual track sprint and it was the correct decision to let him race instead of the Beijing champion.
Bronze for Beth Tweddle on the uneven bars is special, not least because she’s the face of British women’s gymnastics and an inspiration to many youngsters in a sport that is fairly well practised in schools. It’s probably quite clear I’m not gymnastics expert but if she hadn’t wobbled on landing she’d have had a decent chance of silver.
Lawrence Okoye is Oxford-bound. His discus throw of 65.28m this morning was enough to qualify and he is set to study law at St Peter’s College next term. His first throw was a bit of a disaster – chucking the discus at some photographers – but the recovery to qualify in fourth was superb.
On the track and field it was a big shame that Dai Greene wasn’t in peak form in the 400m hurdles and several other athletes disappointed. However, we’ve virtually guaranteed some medals over the next few days with efforts today, such as from Victoria Pendleton, Anthony Ogogo and women’s boxer Nicola Adams.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: NICK SKELTON
Imagine your dad winning an Olympic medal. Now that would be impressive.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: LEAKY VELODROME ROOF
Apparently there was heavy rain leaking through the Velodrome roof. It’s the first real venue problem of the Games so let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.
DAY 9: LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE
When Usain Bolt is mentioned in the same sentence as ‘feels like an anti-climax’, you know the previous night must have been pretty good.
But Mr Bolt put the doubters in their place with a peerless performance in the 100m – the blue riband event of the Games and one which featured pretty much the fastest people of all time.
His 9.63 second Olympic record time came straight after the women’s 400m. It was a race I recognised as much for the bling and make-up on the competitors as the athletes themselves, but Sanya Richards-Ross, proudly wearing a chunky hairpiece and several large earrings (oh for Cathy Freeman’s aerodynamic hooded suit), held of the fast-finishing Christine Ohuruogu in the closing strides. Ohuruogu should be as proud with silver as with her Beijing gold. To have defended it would have been extraordinary.
Earlier in the day, Andy Murray started to show that he has reached the final point on his road to the top. Olympic gold is no grand slam but, combined with his Wimbledon final, he has shown he is now in that elite group of players who win things. Equally as crucial is the fact that Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all lose games far more than they used to and, at the moment, there is no young star coming to trump them all.
Laura Robson’s silver medal with Murray in the mixed doubles will have given her great experience, especially for someone who wasn’t even expecting to be in the Olympics around a fortnight ago.
Taking part in an offshore event means Ben Ainslie’s achievements are often overlooked. His gold today, however, was a deserved end to a glittering career. By his own admission he was not as physically fit as his younger challengers so to take first in the Finn means he will go down as a British Olympic great.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: LOUIS SMITH AND ADAM GEMILI
For proving that your type of education is completely unrelated to how well you can speak.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: STEEPLECHASE ORGANISERS
Why has nobody decided to spice up the 3000m steeplechase by making it more like the Grand National? There should be 100 runners all at once and they should make the jumps a little bigger – it’d be amazing to watch. Ezekiel Kemboi running into lane eight at the finish line tonight showed some of the runners already have the characteristics of a loose racehorse.
DAY 8: OUR GREATEST SPORTING DAY?
In the Olympics, the country unites. As a nation, we all support the same team, the same athletes and target the same goals. So when athletes achieve them it feels like we – the country, the people we meet with and live next to – have won and can celebrate together.
There is no greatest day in the history of British sport. Just in the same way that there is no most beautiful woman in the world, it is entirely in the eye (and all the other senses and emotions) of each and every human being.
For me, the greatest sporting moment is either ‘Istanbul’, when Liverpool lifted the 2005 Champions League trophy, when Kauto Star regained the Cheltenham Gold Cup or perhaps even when I scored a goal for Spaxton Junior FC in a cup semi-final. These things play to entirely different emotions. For football, the club system means it is about getting one over on your mates – of endured rivalry, loyalty and victory. It is club v club and when it comes to nation v nation the UK is divided and success limited.
So, if you were to sum up, in utilitarian units, the pleasure and emotion across the country on a single sporting day, I believe the middle Saturday of the London 2012 Olympic Games would come out the best.
From rowing in the morning to cycling in the afternoon and athletics at night, it provided everything: the deepest despair of Hunter and Purchase to the utmost euphoria of Jess and Mo.
The courage, hard work and talent of Pete Reed, Andy Triggs Hodge, Tom James, Alex Gregory, Sophie Hosking, Kat Copeland, Dani King, Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah and their coaches will have provided many, including countless inspired children, their greatest sporting memories.
For everyone in the country, to be able to share in the day, taking place on our own heroic little island, is something very special indeed.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: THE UNITED KINGDOM
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: SPOTY TALK
Comparing wonderful sporting achievements is a fun past-time – when you’ve got time to spare. When there’s Olympic golds being won left, right and centre it’s just annoying. Personally, I hope the BBC announce they’re going to cancel this year’s Sports Personality of the Year awards and just throw a massive party instead.
DAY 7: WHERE THE MONEY GOES
In Atlanta 1996, Great Britain only won one gold medal – that of Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent in the coxless pair. There were a smattering of silvers and bronzes, including bronze medals for Chris Boardman in the men’s time trial and Max Sciandri in the men’s road race. Those were the only two cycling medals at that Olympics. Today Victoria Pendleton and the men’s pursuit team added two more to make it four gold medals already at London 2012, in addition to the silver and bronze also on the table.
That difference says a lot about how much increased funding and an injection of professionalism can benefit a sport. From John Major starting up the National Lottery to David Brailsford (surely to be ‘Sir Dave’ by the end of the year) starting up a partnership with NASA and McLaren F1 team in order to give British Cycling the edge over the opposition, innovation and skill have led to success. As many public services have found, lots of money doesn’t mean improved performances. It’s about how you use the money and thankfully cycling has used it smartly.
Athletics is another well-funded Olympic sport and we will discover over the next few days whether Charles van Commenee’s team can deliver the goods in the Olympic Stadium.
Atlanta gold medallist Michael Johnson presented an excellent VT explaining what it means to be the ‘face’ of a home Olympics. Some athletes, like Johnson, thrive on the pressure, while some, like Lui Xang of China, crumble. Jessica Ennis today silenced those who thought she might crack and thunderbolted to two personal bests in her four events and ended day one at the top of the heptathlon standings.
For an example of where money has, quite frankly, been plundered, look no further than tennis – a sport in which we should have far more elite players. Luckily, we do have Andy Murray, whose win over Novak Djokovic leads me to think he might have broken into the top three players that win events – he’ll need to prove that by overcoming world number one Roger Federer in Sunday’s final. Murray and Laura Robson should be good viewing tomorrow.
By the end of each Olympic day it can be easy to forget what happened in the morning but that didn’t happen today. “Can I talk to the Olympic champion?” John Inverdale muttered cheekily to Katherine Grainger after her win in the women’s pair with Anna Watkins. How sweet that must have sounded after being second-best in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. It’s just the latest in a long line of great stories to come out of these Games – probably the Olympics with the most terrific tales to tell we’ve ever had.
Rebecca Adlington’s double bronze is one such example and so are Michael Phelps’ final individual gold medal and the rise of 17-year old superstar Missy Franklin.
There was nearly a breakthrough for British basketball as Great Britain’s women’s team played out a thriller against France. After a draw at the end of play, the match went to an added five minute period. With around ten seconds, GB scored a free shot to make it 77-77. Then, with 0.2 seconds on the clock, France scored an awesome three-pointer to win it. I’ve never really watched basketball before these Olympics but can now see why it’s so big abroad. Maybe it will get that funding injection it needs to train the coaches and increase participation among schoolchildren.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: GB CYCLING TEAM
Calm, cool, clinical. Utterly dominant.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: BBC ONE ‘TAPE DELAY’
As someone able to watch the Olympics on multiple monitors, I’m increasingly aware that BBC One cons its viewers into thinking they are watching events live. With the athletics, John Inverdale was chatting to Denise Lewis while Brits were racing in the 1500m. Viewers, blissfully unaware, were treated to an edited highlights package in primetime rather than live action they should have had. As NBC are finding, in the internet age this is not acceptable. People with freeview don’t want to find out on twitter who has won before they are able to see the action. Obviously they can’t show everything live on BBC One but they don’t even try to show as much as they can – instead showing repetitive chat. It’s a shame because the presenters, pundits and commentators have been outstanding so far.
DAY 6: GUNNING GOLD AND SHOOTING SILVER. NO BRONZE ON DAY 6.
The Orbit, the red curly steel thing which twists through the Olympic Park skyline, is far from delightful. May I suggest some gold and silver plating once the Games are over? We should certainly have enough supplies if things carry on like they did today – a day the nation collected 13 medals*.
It is five gold medals now for Sir Chris Hoy – few words can sum up how brilliant that is, apart from that he moves alongside Sir Steve Redgrave as one of only two Brits who possess that many.
Cycling was not without its controversy today – the 19-year old German/Brit Philip Hindes falling off and getting a restart and Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish’s disqualification were two contentious points – but it was also characterised by pure speed. Whether it’s the velodrome, drugs or training that creates new world records is unclear but I’m pretty confident it’s just sheer hard work, technical advancements and bran flakes.
This specific medal struggled to beat, for storytelling, some of the other victories for Team GB today. Cycling, at the moment, is terrifically well-funded compared to a lot of sports, including shooting, which basically lost all its money after Beijing. Pete Wilson will hope to have restored some of that cash after gold in the double trap. Quite what a man with a gun from Dorset would do with more funding is beyond me but clearly it’s welcome.
A far more exciting sport to watch is canoe slalom, which came to an end today. David Florence and Richard Hounslow both canoed individually earlier in the week so to then go and grab silver was a great achievement. Celebrating with them in the water afterwards were our gold medallists Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott. A shock, yes, but you make your own luck and they were clearly capable when it mattered.
Lastly, one of the things I’m most enjoying is the reaction from athletes after they’ve competed. The swimmers are brilliant (Miley and Adlington particularly) and the rowers, whose agonising defeat to South Africa claimed the lightweight four silver, can really let their emotions shine through without saying very much at all. Victoria Pendleton’s post-cock-up interview showed a remarkable ability to remain upbeat once she’d been disqualified. It’s a nice change from post-match football interviews.
Tomorrow, we will see the finish of judo and archery. Taking their place are trampolining and athletics. Ennis-fever is about to begin.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: GEMMA GIBBONS
Gemma Gibbons, who won a silver medal in the -78kg judo, is another like Wilson, who, under the radar, has known what they’ve wanted to do and worked like mad to get it. It’s also heartening that not all GB athlete-cum-students go to Loughborough (she’s at the University of East London and due to study in Edinburgh). In fact, her backstory (which includes fending for herself after her mother died when she was 17) is quite incredible reading.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: GB NARROW BASKETBALL DEFEAT
I’m convinced that one day basketball will be big in the UK. Until then, we’ll have to do with being ranked 43rd in the world. Therefore a win over Spain, instead of a gallant 79-78 loss, would have been well received.
*none of which were bronze. And I can use whatever counting method I like – it’s the Olympics!
DAY 5: That’s more like it. Today has been a brilliant day.
Gold medals for GB, I got my first taste of Olympic action and the athletes I said I was ‘most disappointed by’ yesterday have been thrown out of the Games.
Please note this post will be missing action (like tennis) – a combination of it being my first Olympics day off and attending some women’s volleyball meant I saw only Wiggins and the Swimming live. The iplayer sufficed for the rowing but the BBC sport website is, as everyone I’ve heard has agreed, ‘a mess’ and a shadow of what it used to be. (Please also note that yesterday’s post contained predictions of gold for Wiggins, a ‘most impressed by’ mention for Michael Jamieson, and a ‘most disappointed by’ mention for the badminton rejects. Don’t get too excited, it won’t last.)
Bradley Wiggins will be the highlight of the day for many – he won a time trial in the Tour de France and followed it up with stunning success today, with Chris Froome taking long overdue plaudits with a bronze. Wiggins’ success is comparable to the world’s greatest animal athlete – the mighty Frankel, who won the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood this afternoon. Both compete in sports in which a lot can go wrong, so the fact that they have managed to dominate for a decent period qualifies as a truly great achievement as opposed to a fortunate fluke.
Heather Stanning and Helen Glover’s gold in the women’s pair rowing got the ball rolling and created memorable history but many Oxford eyes will have been on the men’s eight – and Trinity College’s Constantine Louloudis should be very chuffed with bronze, which comes after years of hard work and, luckily for the young Stan, pure natural talent.
In the pool, Michael Jamieson’s silver stood out because of the lack of hype around Great Britain’s male swimming team. The only man to get a swimming medal in Beijing was David Davies (silver) and even that was in the open water event.
Personally, my day has been dominated by a trip to Earls Court. In a late desperate grab for a ticket of some kind, I got two effective walkovers for Japan and Russia’s women’s volleyballers. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s been to an event will agree, I found that London’s venues are phenomenally well-run. The volunteers are slightly too proactive in their pleasantness (I was asked how I was feeling about five times on the way in) but everything from the army at security to the entertainment in between the sport was brilliant. The crowd – while being far from full – applauded every point and went mad every time either of the underdogs, Dominican Republic and Algeria, scored. What do I make of volleyball? It seems easy to understand, watch and play and there’s a hell of a lot of fist-bumping and high-fiving that goes on between every point. Do I regret paying £45 for a ticket? Not a bit.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: HELEN GLOVER
More inspiring than impressive, but if she can win gold just four years after first climbing into a rowing boat, then let’s just hope there are hundreds of youngsters out there prepared to give something a try.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: GB LOSING TO ITALY IN VOLLEYBALL
It’s a tricky one this, because I’ve not seen much to disappoint. It’s not a gripe – more a – that having got into the women’s volleyball in the morning, GB ladies couldn’t follow up their epic win of a couple days ago. On second thoughts, Boris’ zip-wire attempt was pretty disappointing – but nevertheless hilarious.
DAY 4: Dullest day so far
After three delightful days of jam-packed sport, there’s no harm in describing day four as the least interesting so far.
A royal rode to the rescue for Team GB as Zara Phillips and High Kingdom helped secure silver for the eventing team and claim the only British medal of the day.
I could give you a massive list of sports that we lost at, from archery to volleyball, but won’t. Not least, because there weren’t any real surprise defeats. Let’s face it – if Welsh weightlifter Gareth Evans had taken gold we’d have to recall Danny Boyle and redo the opening ceremony all over again just so we could let him light every petal of the cauldron. Great Britain does have this annoying habit, however, of looking rather competent in sports like handball and water polo but then throwing away their chances in the second half.
The rowers and women’s hockey and football teams continue to progress nicely for GB.
Michael Phelps winning number 19 of his medal collection and thus becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time ahead of Larisa Latynina was probably the day’s highlight – a moment made all the better by the great man graciously showing the young winner Chad Le Clos around the Aquatics Centre – ‘showing him how to win’, if you like – and then the South African’s father doing a brilliant turn on the telly.
I am, however, in agreement with the many who believe swimming should make more of moments like this. Trying to liveblog swimming is a nightmare with races about every six minutes including finals back to back. You try to take in the glory of one athlete only for him or her to be shuffled out of the way for the next eight. If Usain Bolt was told to shift by officials after the 100m, I’m sure he’d tell them where to go. Instead of all the evening races between 7.30pm and 9pm, they should make it 7-9.30pm or 7.30-10pm.
Anyhow, I’ll have something different to talk about tomorrow. First, I’m off to the volleyball for day five at Earls Court. Second, GB will win a gold, won’t they Wiggo?
MOST IMPRESSED BY: BRITISH MALE BREASTSROKE SWIMMERS
Good stuff from Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willis in the pool tonight – first and second in their semi-finals respectively.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: CHINESE AND KOREAN BADMINTON PLAYERS
OK, so when you can avoid some tough opponents in the next round by losing, it crosses your mind that it might be nice to fix the group standings so that you have an easier path. Thinking about it is quite different from actually doing it. So a massive thumbs down to China after they played thoroughly crap in order to lose a game of ‘who can get the lowest score’. The longest rally in the first set was four shots long. Both sides, rightly, were booed off.
DAY 3: Lam-entable scenes at fencing
Undertaking the late shift on a live blog has its downsides. It means I missed Constantine Louloudis – but it seems to have been a great start for the men’s eight and the man from Oxford is in the stroke seat as they seek rowing glory. There are, however, huge upsides to immersing yourself in evening action.
First, you can catch glimpses of the end of the eventing – in which Zara Phillips and Kristina Cook have helped GB into medal contention – and you can wrap up the day’s tennis, which today included singles wins for Laura Robson and Heather Watson as well as doubles defeat for Novak Djokovic, and canoe slalom, which is a fantastic spectacle and one in which Lizzie Neave performed strongly in around five o’clock. What you least expect, when preparing for the swimming action, is for your attention to be grabbed for over an hour by a woman sitting down.
But that was exactly what happened today. While Missy Franklin and a 15-year old Romanian (no, I won’t attempt to spell her name) were making waves in the pool, a South Korean lady by the name of Shin Lam was sitting in not-so-splendid isolation on the fencing piste in the ExCel for around 90 minutes. “If the Korean leaves, she accepts the defeat,” the arena announcer told a crowd bemused at why the final matches were being delayed by this semi-final loser.
Shin was perfectly within her rights to appeal, which is what she did – to no success – but the idea that to do so, she couldn’t leave the piste and wasn’t comforted or even chatted to by officials or her coach, was rather unsatisfactory. A man did come and throw a towel over her shoulders but he quickly left her alone. The protest – if it can be called that – ended when officials explained the decision to her and told her that her appeal had failed – something they should have done long before. The South Korean stayed brave though and came out for the next match – the bronze medal clash against a fencer from China, of all places.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: GB MEN’S ARTISTIC GYMNASTS
Smith, Whitlock, Purvis, Thomas and Oldham’s historic bronze for Britain came after it looked like they had snatched silver. Team events require all members to perform and that they did. It’s odd, though, that once you find out we’ve ‘been robbed’ of second, it’s hard to return to just how ecstatic you were when you first thought we had bronze. The epic five-set win by the volleyball team after midnight and Larry Godfrey’s archery antics were also stand-out performances from Team GB.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: THE D-WORD
US coach John Leonard’s comments about the possibility of Chinese swimmers taking performance-enhancing drugs means that drug-taking is dominating some of the headlines. I don’t disagree, in fact, with much that Leonard has said but it’s a shame we can’t accuse people of doping when they’ve been found guilty rather than when they’ve swum brilliantly.
DAY 2: Quiet Progress & Self-Pinching
When it’s 11pm on a Sunday night and you’re watching beach volleyball in Horse Guards Parade, you can be forgiven for a self-pinch or simply cracking out the Scotch. The phrase that has summed up the first few days of these Olympics for me is: “You’ll never see that again in your life”. It’s brilliant, it’s once-in-a-lifetime, and it’s here.
Day two was one of steady progress for Team Great Britain.
There is something heart-warming about seeing thoroughly nice, hardworking girls, like Lizzie Armitstead (silver) and Rebecca Adlington (bronze), pick up our first medals. Yet there is also a creeping concern that these were in events in which we took gold in Beijing. Hopefully gold will come shortly.
Away from the medal events, Britain’s unsung athletes enjoyed quiet success across the capital in qualification and group matches. Paul Drinkhall won his second round table tennis match, while Rajiv Ouseph progressed nicely on the badminton court. Beth Tweddle and the gymnastics team performed strongly. Britain’s kayakers and canoeists, including Richard Hounslow and David Florence, impressed, while it was plain sailing for stars such as Ben Ainslie and Andy Murray. After making hard work of the United Arab Emirates, the men’s footballers finished the game off well enough. Wembley hosting the Olympics for the first time since 1948 was also a highlight.
The eventing team, including Zara Phillips, continues to mix with the contenders and, in the other team events, the women’s hockey team put Japan to bed in the first half. It was scoreless in the second, but a four goal margin is impressive.
There were predictable defeats for Team GB in handball against France and basketball to Russia, but the fact we even have a handball team is some feat in itself. Romania took us to pieces in the water polo, although not by as much as the US basketball ‘Dream Team’ did to their opponents.
Among other talking points, the cycling TV coverage is creating a stir. Even the commentators are moaning about the lack of statistical information they have to hand. It’s the Olympics Broadcasting Service’s fault, but I’m not sure it’s worth worrying about. Olympic road races are not the Tour de France. What matters is who wins – not how far behind the leaders the peloton is. Let’s face it, the football is hardly Ford Super Sunday either.
And rain stopped play at Wimbledon. That’s about the only thing you will most certainly see again in your life.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: DAMPNEY/MULLIN
I could easily go for either Armitstead or Adlington, but the pair who impressed the most today were the beach volleyballers, Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin, who came back from a set down to beat the Canadians in the Horse Guards sand.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: PAULA RADCLIFFE’S INJURY
After spending most of my youth seeing Paula Radcliffe run on TV, it’s a real shame that she won’t get to run at her home Olympics. Nobody will be more gutted than her, but for spectators, in victory or defeat, she was always good value to watch and will be missed.
DAY 1: Must do better, can do better
After the backslapping and “credible performances” of today, the main fact is that Team GB didn’t impress.
Britain’s Tour de France success didn’t translate into road cycling glory and Hannah Miley could only manage fifth in the 400m individual medley in the Aquatics Centre. It was a good effort from Miley but also one that will hopefully give those Brits yet to compete a firm reminder that the competition is tough and, for all the hype of this being “Our Greatest Team,” the greatness must come through from quality rather than quantity.
Yes, Anne Keothavong did well to win the first set against world number eight Caroline Wozniacki but in the end she was defeated. It’s fair to praise Keothavong for a good effort (a phrase I’ve used twice in this piece already), but the mindset of credible losing can’t stick around much longer.
That said, there was hope on the first day for the home nation. The table tennis players, boxers and gymnasts made progress through to the next round – a nice contrast to the disappointment of the Murray brothers being dumped out of the doubles at Wimbledon. The cyclists will also turn their attention to the velodrome, where the experienced, talented team will up their game and show who really is the fastest on two wheels. The women’s football team also made it through to the quarter-finals with a group game still to play, after a strong win over Cameroon. Hope Powell’s ladies are showing the men how to finish off opponents.
Away from GB, Italy had a superb start to the Games – they claimed a 1-2-3 in fencing just after taking men’s team archery gold in front of the Lord’s Pavilion. The fencing was a real treat – the ExCel looked fantastic and women’s individual foil fencers put on a spectacular show. Horse Guards Parade also looked fantastic for the late-night women’s volleyball on a day empty seats overshadowed some very well-run events.
While covering the swimming earlier today, I looked down at the start list for the women’s 400m medley after a Chinese swimmer had smashed the world record. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it said Ye Shiwen was born in 1996. After a quick double-check, it turns out that this girl really was just 16. Extraordinary.
Also stunning in the pool was Ryan Lochte – a new star for the US (along with Missy Franklin, who could be anything) – his mouth glistening with red, white and blue braces and the taste of golden success. Watching Michael Phelps launch a comeback over the next few days is something I’m really looking forward to.
MOST IMPRESSED BY: FENCING VENUE
Organisers should be applauded for the dramatic backdrop to the fencing in the ExCel. Admittedly, it looked like Philip Schofield was about to introduce ‘The Cube’, but it made for some quite remarkable pictures.
MOST DISAPPOINTED BY: TEAM GB
But tomorrow is another day.