I got the London 2012 bug late, but I got it bad. I did neglect the garden, but tried to stay on top of my work. ‘My’ highlights are necessarily arbitrary as there were many events I missed. As you can see, I have sought to feature athletes from around the world.
Yorkshire lass Jessica Ennis only had to finish her 800m to be sure of heptathlon Gold; she didn’t have to move from third to first place with a stunning sprint in the final straight to cross the line first in front of a home crowd. This is called panache, of the kind you only see in the really great sportspeople. It is the difference between being a very good athlete and one of the all-time greats; between being remembered and becoming immortal.
Jessica, who is from Sheffield, south Yorkshire, created a moment that will have prime place in British sporting folklore, eclipsing Geoff Hurst’s third goal at Wembley in 1966 because it was for the whole country, not just England.
Chad le Clos
Michael Phelps is almost a freak of nature; with 6ft 7in arm span, long body and huge feet, he could probably beat a dolphin over 200m. It takes a super-special performance to beat El Phelps. This is what South African Chad le Clos managed in the 200m butterfly. Phelps’ head and body position was actually slightly ahead just before the finish, but le Clos got his fingertips home first. Timing.
If you have never appreciated gymnastics before, take a look at this astonishing gold-medal performance on the high bar by Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands. If I remember my Dutch correctly, his name translates as ‘without-land’ and this is other-worldly:
Mo Farah and Alan Watkinson
Mohamed Farah, born in Somalia but a proud Brit and Londoner, thrilled the home crowd two Saturday evenings in a row to become the first GB athlete to win the double of 10,000m and 5,000m Olympic champion. Special mention must go to Alan Watkinson, his former PE teacher, who spotted his talent at a young age. Mo had wanted to be a footballer, but Watkinson could see that his ability lay in athletics. He came up with the idea of letting him play football for half an hour, in return for agreeing to do athletics training. Genius.
On the first day of the competition proper, the UK was hoping, almost expecting, its first gold in the cycling road race, with Mark Cavendish as a strong contender. In the end Alexander Vinokourov won a stunning Gold for Kazakhstan:
Women’s boxing, hmmm
One event I planned on avoiding was the women’s boxing, featured in the Olympics for the first time. I don’t know if I’m just old-fashioned, that it makes me squeamish. Probably most men my age are thinking: how would I feel if a daughter of mine were an Olympic boxer? Would I feel proud or horrified? A mixture of both, probably.
London 2012 did produce at least two quite sparky characters: Ireland’s Katie Taylor and a Team GB Gold medallist Nicola Adams, who is from Leeds in West Yorkshire. She declared she was taking the medal home to Leeds and was looking forward to some fast food. I still can’t bear to watch young women getting hit, but Adams and Taylor have star quality.
Ruta Leilutyte: Lithuanian sensation
Teenage swimming stars tend to cause a sensation; they can improve their personal bests quite rapidly – causing suspicions, in the case of Chinese gold medallist Ye Shewin, which the Games organizers and drugs testers strongly rejected. But perhaps the most impressive performance was by Ruta Leilutyte of Lithuania, totally unfazed by an error in the starting mechanism that led to a false start in the 100m breast-stroke, she beat the favourite to come home first.
I cannot add any useful further observation about the amazing feat, and the amazing feet, of the fastest man in the world, and the fastest nation on earth, with Jamaica winning Gold-Silver-Bronze in the 200m. There is much comment on whether the 100m record will keep on being broken, but a different possibility is that Usain Bolt is a rarity and that 9.58s will prove stubborn. The high-jump world record was set by a similarly exceptional athlete Javier Sotomayor of Cuba. It has stood at 2.45m since 1993.
- Thought: do Jamaican men blub? I just find it hard to imagine Bolt and Blake welling up on the podium as they hear the Jamaican national anthem yet again. Views welcome.
Caribbean excellence and generosity
There must be a mention for other great performances from the Caribbean: Felix Sanchez won Gold at the age of 35 for the Dominican Republic in the 400m hurdles, and Grenada celebrated a first Gold, with Kirani James in the 400m. James may be remembered at least as much for his gesture in insisting upon swapping name badges with the runner in the semi-final who came last, Oscar Pistorius, the first athlete with disabilities to move from the Paralympics to the Olympics.
The Caribbean is a wonderful part of the world, with friendly people and an exuberant approach to sport. The generosity of spirit of Kirani James does not surprise me.
David Rudisha: World record in the 800m
David Rudisha shows you can be modest and unassuming, yet still charismatic and one of the all-time greats. The pace of the 800m men’s final was such that the competitor coming last, Andrew Osagie, ran in a time that would have secured him the gold medal in Sydney, Athens or Beijing. To finish it in style, Rudisha broke the world record, one of the ‘hardest’ in athletics. Special mention goes to Lord Sebastian Coe, organizer of the London games, who set a world record in 1981 of 1 min 41.73 seconds. David Rudisha’s time was only 0.82 seconds quicker. Nijel Amos of Botswana, still a teenager, took Silver and exactly equalled Seb Coe’s former world record time.
Let’s hear it for the more ‘unusual’ events
Before London 2012, I vaguely categorized Olympic events into four:
- Running around sports
- Splashing around sports
- Sitting down sports
- A bit Mickey Mouse, really.
But having actually seen much more of the events this time around, I can see the athleticism, excellence and skill of some of the less fashionable events. So I salute all competitors in BMX biking, synchronized swimming, dressage, shooting and fencing. Turns out, BMX biking is ferociously fast, and makes Formula 1 look a bit wimpy. And I really shouldn’t mock people with a gun or a sword.
Stat of the Games
Triathlon gold medallist Alistair Brownlee, who is from Bramhope, West Yorkshire, directly after swimming 1.5km and cycling 43km, ran 10km on uneven terrain in less than 30 minutes – only 97 seconds slower than Mo Farah on the track. He would not have come last in the 10,000m!