The Olympics: Day 10

Dressage:  There was something of the After the Lord Mayor’s Show about Monday, after the scintillating shower of gold medals for Team GB on Sensational Sunday.  But not at the Equestrian Centre, where defending individual gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin was looking to emulate her London 2012 triumph on her mighty horse Valegro.  Now, I have to confess, I know nothing about this sport, but I love the music that accompanies the dancing horses.  From Queen and Bon Jovi to Carlos Santana to classical – some great selections.  The Spanish rider, Severo Jurado Lopez, had his horse Lorenzo doing smooth moves with Santana and ending by rocking to Bon Jovi, which thrilled the crowd who clapped along enthusiastically in unison.  The BBC commentator said he had never heard such a thing at a dressage event before.  The judges weren’t quite so enamoured and put him in 4th place, which didn’t go down well with the crowd, who booed their displeasure at what they considered to be lowly marks.  Their jeers would grow louder after the American rider had finished and her marks knocked the crowd favourite down to fifth.  Ooh er.  It was all kicking off.

No such drama for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro.  At London 2012, they won the gold with a selection of patriotic music from Elgar, Holst and the film The Great Escape.  Here, in keeping with the Brazilian setting, a specially composed selection of upbeat carnival, samba style music was chosen.  Valegro seemed to be loving it, smoothly making his way through the hip swaying rhythms.  So were the judges!  A massive score of 93.928.  Beat that Germany!  They couldn’t.  The German riders had to settle for silver and bronze.  It’s always great getting one over on a German.  Ever better getting one over on two Germans.

With that third gold medal, Charlotte Dujardin joined Laura Trott as the most successful British female Olympian so far.  Golds are becoming as common as hot dinners for the GB team in Rio.

Athletics Women’s Hammer:  Ah, those unexpected surprise medals.  Another medal off the GB production line.  A wonderful bronze for Sophie Hitchon, won dramatically with her very last throw.  Not only a medal but the British record as well, with a distance of 74.54m.  Sophie was a ballet dancer for 10 years from 4 to 14 years of age.  From a dainty, delicate ballerina to a strong, powerful hammer thrower.  Not a conventional transition.  Not too many teenage girls transfer from tutus to hammers.  Maybe, after watching Sophie’s Olympic success, more girls will be inspired to head for the hammer rather than the barre.

Track Cycling:  No After the Lord Mayor’s Show in the Velodrome.  Our cyclists had more medal business to take care of.  There was only one medal event today, but obviously a GB rider was involved.  Mark Cavendish has never won an Olympic medal.  Eight years ago in Beijing, he was the only British track rider to come home without a medal.  At London 2012, he was hot favourite to win the road race, but finished a disappointing 29th.  So this was probably The Manx Missile’s last chance to win that elusive Olympic medal.  Could he do it?

The omnium is multi-event, like a heptathlon, over two days.  Like the heptathlon, there are good events and bad events.  A solid start from Cav in the scratch race was bettered with a second place in the individual pursuit.  But his good work was cancelled out by a disaster in the elimination race, when he was disqualified early on for riding too far inside on the blue strip and finished seventh.  Luckily for him, the leader and defending champion, Lasse Hansen, was eliminated first!  So Cavendish ended in third place overnight with all still to play for.

Day two followed a similar pattern.  A fifth in the time trial and second in the flying lap left him in second place with all to play for going into the final 160 lap points race.  A very confusing race to watch, with riders all over the place doing all sorts of different things to accumulate points.  It was a race that required a rider to be vigilant and wily.  Cav would have to be on the ball.  Hansen was gunning for him and the leader, Elia Viviani, was prowling close by.  Then, drama with 100 laps to go when Cavendish swerved into the South Korean rider, causing a domino effect of crashes that ended with the leader Viviani being taking out.  Bravely, Viviani channelled his inner Mo Farah by dusting himself off, getting back on his bike and into the race again.  He was lucky not to be seriously injured like the poor Korean rider and, to be honest, Cavendish was lucky not to get a warning.

Although Cavendish tried to challenge for the overall lead, ultimately Viviani was too strong and too clever for him and emerged the clear winner.  Cav did, though, amass enough points to be able to hold off the frequent bold charges of Lasse Hansen, and a final lunge for the line ahead of the Dane ensured he had his Olympic medal at last.  A silver.  He seemed a touch disappointed, but the best and smartest man had won.

The medal celebration for the men’s omnium was just as entertaining as the racing.  The Italian national anthem sounds like an opera piece, with such a strong, jaunty rhythm, that the crowd couldn’t resist clapping along.  Enjoy it while you can people, because it will be back to God Save the Queen tomorrow.

Mark Cavendish’s female counterpart, Laura Trott, was also competing in the women’s omnium.  She was second in the scratch race, and had hurtled like a bike on a train in the individual pursuit to win and cruise to top spot overall.  Two down, four to go.  Wonder if she and Jason Kenny, her fiance and serial gold medal winner, have their own personal his n’ hers competition to see who can get the most gold medals?

After Cav’s silver, it was Laura’s turn again with the elimination race.  Cav was, of course, disqualified for straying too far inside, and the order from the sofa coach to Laura was: don’t do anything silly!  As if.  Laura is bolshy and bright.  But this race is scary.  In an exciting way.  However, when Laura Trott is riding for your country, there is nothing to worry about.  In complete control throughout, she sprinted her way to victory with such a margin to spare, she had enough time to punch the air in celebration as she came up to the finish line.  The gold is hers to lose.

The elimination race is fantastic.  They should do it in other sports.  Imagine that in track and field.  Runners jog around, and at the bell, which goes off at different distances, they sprint for the line and the last person is eliminated.  They keep going until the final two runners, who have a sprint off to decide the winner.  How exciting would that be!  How much more interesting than runners just running round and round and round and round until the final lap bell and then kicking for the finishing line.  I should write to the International Athletics Federation and suggest it.

Athletics:  Rain, rain, torrential rain.  Was this Rio or Manchester?!  It was as though the Olympic Stadium had been suddenly relocated from the beachfront of Rio to the capital of the Amazon rainforest, Manaus.  It was the worst possible day for a tropical rain shower, with the events most likely to be affected by rain, the 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles and the pole vault, taking place in the stadium.  Sod’s law.  The competition was delayed, so the perfect excuse to go to bed at a reasonable hour for a change (not that 1am is any kind of reasonable hour for anyone except an insomniac).

 

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