Olympic Games – highlights and lowlights
Best moments of the Games
*Two moments which left me speechless were Jessica Ennis’ 100m hurdles in the heptathlon and David Rudisha’s world record in the 800m. Of course we didn’t dare say it at the time and while it’s easier to say in hindsight, I think we collectively knew that performance could have clinched the gold medal in the heptathlon. 12.54 was a UK record, the fastest ever time in a heptathlon and worthy of a podium place in most individual sprint hurdles finals. It confirmed Ennis was in optimum shape and allayed any doubts Ennis might succumb to the pressure of being the face of the Games.
*Since becoming a fan of the sport in eight years ago, the men’s 800m has always been a funny ol’ event lacking any sort of dominant figure. Yuriy Borzakovskiy has been one the mainstays although tactical misjudgements have prevented him from becoming a multi-global champion which many were expecting. Instead, champions have come and drifted away from the 800m in an anonymous fashion until David Rudisha took the event by the scruff of the neck in 2009. The Kenyan has won 31 of his last 32 races and he ran in London with the sort of authority not too far removed from past all-time greats like Wilson Kipketer and Alberto Juantorena who I would have loved to watch at their peaks. In fact, Rudisha’s world record of 1:40.91 was the first time a world record has been set in a championship middle-distance race since Juantorena in 1976. This exemplifies the rarity of what Rudisha achieved and I had goosebumps when I saw the winning time.
*It’s funny how you sometimes don’t appreciate a sportsperson until the latter stages of their careers. I’ve never been much of a fan of Michael Phelps until his Olympic swansong this year and I didn’t really root for Maria Sharapova before her career-threatening shoulder injury and in stark contrast to recent years, I found myself actively pulling for Usain Bolt. As unpopular an opinion as it might be, I’ve never been particularly enamoured by the pre-race theatrics but realising this could be the last time we see Bolt at the Olympics, I just focused on the racing. Bolt became the first athlete in history to defend his three Olympic crowns and he’s probably the only athlete on the planet who can get away with calling himself a legend without sounding stupid. Bolt’s clearly the best sprinter we’ve seen – and might see in our lifetime and while I’m not fond on the pre-race routine, probably because I’m a miserable fart, he brings drama and a sense of occasion to the track in a way no other sprinter can. Michael Johnson was right when he said the other sprinters just don’t look the same when they play up to the cameras. In terms of performances and what he brings to the track, there’s no superior and if he chooses to hang up his spikes before 2016, what a way to round off your Olympic career!
*I found myself drawn away from British Eurosport as the BBC’s coverage of the Games went beyond what I was expecting with *shock horror* uninterrupted coverage of field events on the interactive service. How nice it was to be able to watch a field event unfold in real-time instead of relying – or hoping – for the main channels to show the leading jumps or throws by which time you already know the outcome because you’ve seen the medallists go on their victory lap behind Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis’ heads or heard the winner’s national anthem in the background. I doubt I’ll be a permanent convert but this time the BBC’s coverage was faultless, particularly compared to the horror stories I’ve heard from the folks across the pond stuck with NBC.
Biggest surprises of the Games
*Had anyone even heard of Keshorn Walcott before the Olympics? While he had some pedigree from winning the world junior title, nobody even tipped him for a minor medal despite the lethargic standards of men’s javelin throwing but it was great to see someone step up and seize the opportunity while the rest of the finalists grossly underperformed.
*Class of 2004 Meseret Defar and Felix Sanchez rolled back the years in winning their second Olympic titles eight years after their initial triumphs. Defar’s pre-London form included a heavy loss to Tirunesh Dibaba in New York and a string of defeats to Vivian Cheruiyot but the former champion had something of an advantage in London as she didn’t contest the 10,000m. At the time, this wasn’t factored as a hindrance seeing as Dibaba and Cheruiyot have both successfully doubled up in the past but Defar, running on fresh legs, outsprinted the pre-race favourites for the first time since 2009 for a shock gold medal. Meanwhile, Sanchez had slipped into the second-rank of 400m hurdlers for a while since winning in Athens but spurred on by the promise he made to his late grandmother, Sanchez produced his first sub-48 performances since 2004 in the semi-finals and finals to seal the most emotional gold medal of the athletics programme.
Memorable image of the Games
*Usually such a poker-faced competitor, Jessica Ennis crossing the line in the 800m with her arms stretched out wide is my over-riding image of the Games. Even after her world and European titles, Ennis still retained a serenity about her but you could just see all of the emotions pour out as she was crowned Olympic champion.
Worst moments of the Games
*Nobody wants to see an athlete with a history of doping winning medals in London so Tatyana Lysenko and Asli Çakir-Alptekin’s back-to-back victories on the seventh day left a sour taste and the only blotch on the men’s 100m final was Justin Gatlin pipping Tyson Gay for the bronze medal. Two year bans are ineffectual (it takes some athletes longer to come back from injuries!) and while lifetime bans will probably never be implemented, Olympic bans would be the greatest deterrent. Besides which, a commitment to anti-doping is enshrined in the Olympic oath which the aforementioned haven’t upheld so let’s ban them for life, then.
*Again, what a shame Valerie Adams was robbed of the chance of standing on top of the podium after Nadzeya Ostapchuk tested positive for anabolic steroids. Ostapchuk has been one of the Belarussian I’ve been less dubious of given her pedigree as a junior, consistent progression and willingness to compete internationally but her performance in London left me rather uneasy. Ostapchuk had never surpassed 21m outside of Belarus until the Olympics where she was churning them out one after another in a machine-like manner. The end result was a series which hasn’t been produced since the days of the Iron Curtain and it didn’t come as much surprise when the positive drug test was announced. However, there’s nothing to suggest Adams isn’t capable of a three-peat in 2016.
*Thankfully it was resolved but the under-measurement of Betty Heidler’s fifth-round throw in the hammer shouldn’t have happened at this level of competition. The computerised methods are by no means infallible and everyone watching saw the throw was in excess of 75m so why couldn’t the distance be remeasured at the time? Even though Heidler was fairly confident the error would be resolved, it still took away the moment of celebration in the stadium.
*For every ecstatic moment of the Games, injury or bad luck can just as easily derail someone’s aspirations on the most visible level. Morgan Uceny fell for the second major 1500m final in succession and Brigitte Foster-Hylton’s chances of claiming an elusive Olympic medal at 37 ended after a mid-race trip in the 100m hurdles heats. Great champions like Paula Radcliffe, Liu Xiang and Roman Sebrle were forced to pull out of their respective events through injuries.
Biggest disappointments of the Games
*For the fourth Olympics in succession, the US shot-putters arrived with the world’s longest throws to their credit but failed to win the Olympic title. The triumvirate held the six longest puts in the build-up so Reese Hoffa’s solitary bronze medal was a rather scant return.
*There was scepticism even from the likes of Haile Gebrselassie whether their marathoners could translate their super-fast times from Dubai in January and potential candidates, namely 2008 bronze medallist Tsegaye Kebede will be feeling somewhat aggrieved of their non-selection as the gamble didn’t pay off. Ayele Abshero and Dino Sefer, who both ran sub-2:05 in Dubai, didn’t finish the men’s race while sub-2:20 performers Mare Dibaba and Aselefech Mergia finished 23rd and 42nd respectively in the women’s marathon. Their selection process was akin to picking the hardest-hitting tennis players for a doubles match even though the assignment doesn’t necessarily call for an all-out-attack approach.
*The Kenyan 1500m runners made a meal of the final while Nick Willis also underperformed after setting a national record in Monaco.
Things which could have been better
*One of my perennial bugbears is the three semi-final system which continues to be implemented at major championships. Unless you’re a tactical ignoramus, the 800m heats were pretty much a cakewalk for anyone half-decent but then the semi-finals transcended into nothing more than a lottery. I’m not alone in favouring the old system whereby sixteen athletes progress from the heats into two semi-finals where the top-four from each race make the final. It makes the heats more competitive and the semi-finals fairer. And if anything, surely semi-finals denotes two races, not three?
*Okay, I’m being picky now but I did miss the live-scoring on the IAAF results page. The BBC and London 2012 website filled the void although they weren’t the most user-friendly sites I’ve visited.
Best track final – Sanya Richards-Ross vs. Christine Ohuruogu in the 400m. For a split second, it looked like the reigning champion would reel in Richards-Ross in a repeat of Beijing.
Best field event final – Renaud Lavillenie was on the brink of defeat in the pole-vault until a clutch 5.97m clearance on his final attempt. This probably didn’t get the coverage it merited. The women’s hammer final also produced the best ever quality final although it was partially marred by Heidler-gate.
Worst track final – Savinova was my favourite for the 800m title but I was hoping for a much more competitive race. Cater Semenya and Pamela Jelimo were rather underwhelming opposition in the final.
Worst field event final – the women’s triple jump in Beijing produced a rich harvest of 15m performances and while Olga Rypakova was the deserved winner, the winning mark of 14.98m was disappointing.
Best tactical performance – Savinova ran a typically well-measured race in the 800m while the Turks avoided the argy-bargy which befell Morgan Uceny by staying out of trouble and at the front in the 1500m final.
Worst tactical performance – Semenya left her finish too late in the 800m final and a 14-minute 5km split was a foolhardy move by Wilson Kipsang in the men’s marathon.