The Olympics: Day 8

Rowing:  Anything the track cyclists can do…after yesterday’s double gold haul, the GB rowers were out to prove once again that we are as good in a boat as we are on a bike.  Our boys in a boat this morning were the men’s eights, and they powered their way to victory, leading from start to finish.  The third gold put Britain at the top of the rowing medals table, ahead of Germany.  Not mentioning that Britain’s rowing coach and the man responsible for all our recent success is, erm, German.

Earlier, the GB women’s eight had dramatically scraped a silver by a cat’s whisker behind the dominant USA, to add to Britain’s burgeoning silver medal tally.  Interestingly, as I was watching the rowing, I also happened across an article on Worpress Reader about US alternates and their not so glorious Olympic experiences.  One of those interviewed for the article was Amanda Polk, a rower, who spoke movingly about her alienating experience as an alternate in London 2012.  Polk had been part of a world championship gold medal winning team in 2010 and 2011 but suffered the heartbreak of being dropped from the 2012 Olympic squad.  Instead, she went as an alternate.  She might as well have just gone as a fan.  She watched her team mates win the gold medal from a London pub, on her birthday.  Ouch.

So who should be in the aforementioned USA eights boat that beat GB to the gold?  Yep, a certain Amanda Polk!  Talk about experiencing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  After London, she wondered whether she should bother picking up an oar again.  Four years later, the alternate was finally Olympic champion.  What a heartening reversal of fortune.

And what a strange coincidence, coming across the article at the same time as one of the athletes referenced in it was competing and winning gold at the Olympics!  Life is weird.

Athletics 100m heats: Interestingly, there were quite a few people in the athletics stadium today.  Was that because it was the weekend?  Or perhaps because the sun was finally shining in Rio?  Or could it possibly have been because a certain Usain Bolt was in town?  Universally adored, that man could fill out a stadium in Outer Mongolia.  He was so generous during his heat he even gave his rivals a head start with his usual average start.  And then cruised past them as though he was taking a morning stroll along the Copacabana, enjoying the sunshine and checking out the ladies.  I think the world will suffer a collective heart attack from shock if Usain doesn’t win his third 100m gold medal in a row.

Tennis:  Thankfully, no cutting and pasting required today (see Day 7 blog).  Kei Nishikori was very obliging in his semi-final match against Andy Murray.  He started badly and didn’t get any better, except for the odd flashes of brilliance.  He had played a gruelling match only the evening before against Gael Monfils, so perhaps that had taken it out of him, and Nishikori has always been rather fragile physically.  The most memorable thing about the match was an amazing 23 shot rally that Andy somehow won with unbelievable defending to to earn a standing ovation and bring up match point.  Otherwise, a routine win, 6-1, 6-4, in an almost empty stadium.  How sadly different from London 2012.

The second semi-final couldn’t have been more different.  A resurgent Rafa Nadal against a re-emerging Juan Martin del Potro.  The stadium was also fuller and rowdier.  Well, there was an Argentinian playing, so it was a case of ABA for any Brazilians in the crowd.  That’s Anyone But Argentina.  Such is the animosity between the two South American neighbours that a scuffle broke out during one of Del Potro’s earlier matches.  Whatever would the genteel members of tennis clubs around Britain think?  Afterwards, Delpo had been keen to remind fans ‘this is not football’, but it might as well have been.  Tonight, Rafa was an honorary Brazilian and the crowd were more than happy to wind Del Potro up, though Delpo had the backing of a large Argentinian cheering section to inspire him.  With such a febrile atmosphere, the players must have thought they were playing a Davis Cup rather than an Olympic match.

The match did not disappoint.  A gritty battle of attrition from the baseline between Rafa’s speed and Delpo’s power.  An early break for Del Potro was quickly cancelled out, before Nadal asserted his authority to win the set 7-5, much to the delight of the Brazilian cum Spanish half of the crowd.  But Del Potro is a fighter, and came roaring back with some awesome power forehands to take the second set 6-4.  The decider was a thrillingly seesaw affair of frustrating errors and astounding winners, with first Delpo, and then Rafa, saving numerous early break points.  With the atmosphere at boiling point, an inexplicably error-strewn game from Nadal at 4-4 handed the break to Delpo, and left him serving for the match.  But Rafa is not a 14 time grand slam winner and tennis legend for nothing.  He broke back to love.  But Delpo is a Grand Slam champion too, and quickly had 0-40 in the very next game.  Rafa was staring down the barrel again, but a couple of failed overtly ambitious down the line forehand attempts from Del Potro and some gritty defending from Nadal helped him to stay in the match and send an already hyper crowd into an even greater frenzy.

In a blink, Delpo had gone from serving for the match to serving to stay in the match.  Which he did in some style, to love.  It would take a tie break to separate the players in a match neither player deserved to lose.  Again, a combination of mistakes and brilliance from both players gave Del Potro two match points at 6-4.  An incredible winner from Rafa on Del Potro’s serve and the first match point was saved.  But, then, a frustrating mistake on his own serve from Rafa, sending a forehand long, and the match was lost.  A disbelieving Del Potro dropped to the ground in relief as the Argentinian supporters went wild.  It has been some comeback from Del Potro, whose tennis career has been decimated by endless wrist injuries.  No wonder he was kissing the Olympic rings, etched on the court surface, in gratitude and throwing himself into his delirious supporters in celebration.  After two years out, he is back where he belongs: an Argentinian in an Olympic final in Brazil.

Something tells me Andy is suddenly going to acquire an awful lot of fervent fans for the final, who will be making him an honorary Brazilian for the day.

Lastly, congratulations to Monica Puig.  She defeated Australian Open champion Angelika Kerber in the women’s final in three sets to win Puerto Rico’s first ever Olympic gold medal.  The final game turned into an epic thriller, with deuces, break points and match points galore, before Puig eventually held her nerve to win the match 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.  No doubt they will be dancing in the streets of San Juan tonight (cheesy rugby reference).

Track Cycling:  I need more tellys.  With the tennis turning into a three set thriller, it inevitably clashed with the cycling.  Thank goodness it was only a three setter as I might have missed the late night athletics and swimming at the rate they were going.  Fortunately, Delpo won just in time for me to switch over to BBC1 to see the GB women leading in the team pursuit.  Within moments, Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald had won – well, they were the hot favourites – and smashed their own world record yet again.  Laura Trott – Jason Kenny’s missus – also became the first British woman to win 3 Olympic gold medals.

But there was no time to catch breath let alone make a desperately needed pit stop as Becky James was going in the Women’s Keirin.  Now, this is one scary race.  A group of ridiculously fast sprinters hurling pell mell to the line.  At the end that is: they have to stay behind a safety bike until two and a half laps to go – elf and safety reasons apparently.  But, yikes, she didn’t win!  She was too far back!  She let the others go and was then forced to go wide round the outside of everyone on the final bend, and even then she nearly made it.  But, alas, the line came a fraction too soon and she had to settle for the silver.  It was gold lost rather than silver won – she was undoubtedly the fastest rider – but considering she has suffered so many career threatening injuries, it was incredible that she was even here racing.  A medal is a medal is a medal.

But there was no time to catch breath let alone make that desperately needed pit stop as it was time for the semi-final of the men’s sprint, with both Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner battling to make it an all-GB final.  The men’s sprint is all cat and mouse, so the key is not to get caught napping.  Jason Kenny nearly gave us all a scare by getting caught napping and losing the first heat to Russian Denis Dmitriev.  Thankfully, there were still two more heats to come.  Callum Skinner was up next in the first heat of the other semi-final.  Happily, he made no mistakes against Australian Matthew Glaetzer, so it was 1 up and 1 down with 2 to go.

Kenny got his tactics right in the second heat and won it from the front to make it  1-1.  Then, it was back to Callum Skinner.  No tension or scares here.  Skinner outfoxed his Australian opponent, bluffing him into going too soon, before chasing him down on the line.  Callum was in the final!

Over to you, Jason.  The tension was cranked up in the decider with one of those agonisingly slow, cagey starts where the two racers toy with each other.  It was slow, slow, slow, wham!  Don’t let him past Jason, came the order from the sofa, and I am pleased to report, he was listening!  Jason was in the final!  For one heart stopping moment there was a fear he may have impeded the Russian, but the result stood, and it would be an all British final.  Guaranteed gold, so we can all sit back, relax and enjoy.  Except Laura, that is…

Athletics:  At London 2012, middle Saturday went down in British sporting legend.  It was dubbed Super Saturday – the day when Jess, Greg and Mo won three gold medals in the space of an hour to send the whole country bonkers.

Four years on, would Super Saturday morph into Sensational Sunday?  Could that remarkable gold fest be repeated as our terrific trio went for gold once more?  Only if real life was the movies.  And remakes were as good as the originals – which they never are.  It started with a bang as the gun signalled the start of the 10,00om – and a fall.  For Mo!  A heart in the mouth moment as Mo was accidentally tripped up by his own team mate Galen Rupp.  Think he will get a bit of a talking to from their coach after the race.  To the nation’s relief, Mo was fine and resumed the race nonchalantly as though nothing untoward had occurred.

Before long, Mo glided into the lead.  He was looking to control the race from the front, but at the bell, his Kenyan rival Paul Tanui made his challenge.  With 200m to go, the Kenyan really went for it.  Could Mo go with him?  Whaddya think?!  This is a man who could give 400m champ LaShawn Merritt a run for his money.  In the familiar manner that has thrilled British fans for so long, Farah accelerated past Tanui on final the bend to sprint clear, and that was that.  Mo Farah had retained his gold medal and become the first British track and field athlete to win 3 gold medals.  Awesome, simply awesome.

Sensational Sunday: The Sequel Part 1 was a breathtaking success.  But alas, Parts 2 and 3 were found wanting.  Greg Rutherford had been a surprise gold medalist at London 2012, so he was always going to be the least likely to repeat his fabulous feat from London.  The leading distance of 8.38m, posted by Jeff Henderson of the USA, in the very last round, was nothing special, but Greg wasn’t quite on his A game tonight.  Going into the last round, Greg was outside the medals, but being the true champion that he is, he pulled out his best jump with his final attempt.  At 8.29m, it was enough for third, but there was one jumper who could take it away from him, and he would be jumping last.  American Jerrion Lawson was perfectly capable of pulling out a big one, and as he landed, it looked like he had done it.  But no!  In a dramatic final twist, he was penalised for trailing his hand in the sand, meaning his distance was recorded at a piddly 7.78m, much to the fury of the American’s coach.  It was a bronze for Greg.  A great effort.  Though being the true champion that he is, he was bitterly disappointed and got rather teary in his interview afterwards.  Yes, the winning distance had been attainable so it was frustrating that he couldn’t better it, but hey, he did his best.  And that’s all we can ask of him.

The trilogy was reaching its denouement.  There was only one person left.  Jessica Ennis-Hill.  Since London 2012, she had got married, had a baby, won a world title, and got injured.  But here she was, fighting for the Olympic gold.  A poor shot put and long jump had left her in second place, and though she produced a valiant effort in the javelin, her rival Nafi Thiam unleashed yet another personal best to open up a gap in front.  The 21 year old Belgian was having the competition of her life.  Jess would now need to win the final event, the 800m, by over 10 seconds to win gold.  It was a tall order for the shortest competitor in the field.  But it didn’t stop her from valiantly having a go.  Jess took it up from the front and won the race, but the time wasn’t quick enough, and the gap wasn’t big enough, and inevitably, Thiam ran out of her skin to record yet another PB, which was enough to win the competition.  It had taken 5 personal bests out of 7 events for Thiam to get the better of the great Jessica Ennis-Hill.  In what might be her swansong competition, Jess had to settle for silver.  But being a born competitor, it will always be gold for effort and class for our Jess.

So it was one of each – a neat gold, silver and bronze for our illustrious trio.  Sensational Sunday didn’t quite materialise, but Super Saturday in front of a rocking home crowd was always going to be an impossible act to follow.  That we came away with three medals, including one gold, was an impressive result in itself.

Michael Johnson knows his onions.  Just before the women’s 100m, he had said: look out for Elaine Thompson, she is class.  How right he was!  She powered away from the field at 50m to win by what looked like a mile in a time of 10.71.  Very classy indeed, and very well predicted Michael.  Now, can you tell me the Lottery numbers for Wednesday, please?

Swimming:  With Sensational Sunday (in the end more Sort of Good Sunday) dominating the attention, the last day of swimming got overshadowed.  But GB ended their most successful swimming Olympics with yet another silver in the Individual Medley – though Adam Peaty should have won the gold for his leg alone, making up car lengths of a gap on the American to motor past him and build a 0.61 lead.  It was never going to be enough though with James Guy up against Micheal Phelps – yes, that one.  And yes, it was yet another gold for the indefatigable Phelps.  I have lost count of how many medals he has won.

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