GB Medal Watch: Apparently our medal success in Rio is sending the rest of the world into a tizzy. They can’t quite get over how a little island nation with an obesity problem can go blow to blow with the might of China with its ruthless, state backed sports programme. Credit John Major for creating the lottery. But according to the French business daily Les Echos, it’s because most of our ‘direct competitors’, the Russians, aren’t here. They must have missed the Russians our gymnasts, cyclists, swimmers, divers, canoeists, rowers and horse riders defeated. Perhaps someone should post them the results list so they can see it for themselves. The only Russians who have been officially banned are the track and field team and I don’t remember Britain winning any medals in athletics so far that they didn’t win in London 2012, apart from a bronze in the women’s hammer.
The most ludicrous reaction has come, perhaps unsurprisingly, over the track cycling. Anna Meares, Australia’s Olympic captain, apparently ‘raised eyebrows’ at Britain’s success. Anna Meares has been competing for over a decade so quite how she’s managed to miss Britain’s domination, which has been going on since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is beyond me. Sprint Olympic champion Kristina Vogel wonders how we have managed to do so well at the Olympics when we have been a bit rubbish at all the domestic championships in between. It’s called peaking at the right time, something GB have been doing since Beijing. French paper Le Telegramme claims it is the British sprinters’ superior muscle power that gives them an unfair advantage. Have they seen the size of Laura Trott? She’s so tiny she could be mistaken for a gymnast. Even the UK sports minister, Tracy Couch, was a bit clueless. She said the British cyclists had ‘simply got better than their opponents’. My dear, we have always been better than our opponents. I refer the honourable lady to the track cycling medals table in Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
Only the French columnist and ex-cyclist Antoine Vayer got close to the real answer, albeit a tad bitchily: ‘£ycling’. Our cycling programme is, indeed, very, very well funded. It is also way ahead of the game in research and development, a key component of such a technological sport. That is not a coincidence. Think of Britain’s dominance of the production side of motorsport, for example, another sport dependent primarily on technology. We also have a well structured and rigorous talent ID programme, as well as a brutal, target driven funding incentive. Sports that do well at the Olympics get more funding; sports that do badly get their funding cut. It may sound harsh, but it is effective. At London 2012, much was expected of the swimming team, but they failed to deliver. Their funding was immediately cut. Fast forward four years and they have just delivered GB’s most successful swimming performance since 1908. In Beijing, Louis Smith won Britain’s sole gymnastics medal on the pommel horse, ensuring the gymnastics programme was rewarded with increased funding. Gymnastics has since gone from strength to strength, culminating in a record medal haul of 7 in Rio, with two gold medals for Max Whitlock. Both sports will now enjoy a subsequent windfall that should, hopefully, reinforce our success. And success is contagious. It inspires those coming up to emulate their predecessors and heroes, and creates a competitive spirit within the team.
So rather than jealous accusations and ignorant assumptions the rest of the world should be lauding Britain’s success, because if little Britain can do it, so can any country with the right mindset and a big, but well targeted, budget.
Sailing: Would it be all quiet on the medal front now the track cycling at the Velodrome was done? Not when the sailing was still going on. Now, to be fair, we are an island nation. We have a Royal Navy. We have Ben Ainslie. We should be good at sailing. We are. We are also good at guaranteed gold medals. No nail biting, edge of the seat stuff on the high seas, thank you very much. Get on board for the 470 class gold medal cruise, ladies and gentlemen. There was just one problem – the weather. No wind equals no sailing. The champagne would have to stay on ice in the harbour for another day.
Athletics 5,000m: Mo Farah’s morning qualifying heat should have been like Bolt’s yesterday: he came, he ran, he qualified. Instead, there was heart stopping drama in the last 200m as Mo was tripped up again! Luckily, unlike the 10,000m final, Mo stayed on his feet, otherwise his Olympics would have been over. The Olympic double double is still on – just.
Women’s Hockey: It was coming to that time of the Olympics when the team events reach the business end. Britain aren’t usually good at team sports. We don’t do basketball, handball, volleyball or water polo. We don’t send teams to the football because we compete as separate nations. Hockey is the only sport where we have enjoyed successful representation. One of the most memorable British Olympic moments was the men’s hockey team winning the 1988 gold medal against the Germans. Barry Davies’ commentary was just as memorable, if a tad jingoistic: “Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares?” 1988 was hockey’s 1966 moment: German opponents, famous commentary, and a triumph that has never been replicated. In fact, the men have not won a medal since, and the only success has been a couple of bronzes for the women, most notably at London 2012.
Four years ago, they beat NZ to the bronze in front of their home crowd, and it was NZ they were playing tonight for a place in the final against the mighty Dutch. NZ started brightly and had chances to score, but it was GB who were more ruthless, opening the scoring 9 minutes before half time from a penalty corner. The NZ goal keeper managed to save the first shot, but the ball ricocheted to Alex Danson, whose shot was deflected off a NZ defender and into the goal.
GB held on to their lead under increasing NZ pressure, despite losing two players to injuries, and increased their advantage in the final quarter. With 13 minutes left, GB were awarded a penalty stoke when the NZ goalkeeper took away the legs of Helen Richardson-Walsh, who stepped up to take the penalty. The GB skipper, who had missed one earlier in the tournament against Argentina, made no mistake this time, scoring with ease, but caused concern when she doubled up with pain, and was immediately substituted.
GB were in complete control now and won another penalty with 9 minutes left when Lily Owsley was tripped by NZ defender Liz Thompson. Just like her captain earlier, Alex Danson made no mistake either, smacking the ball into the corner, to make the score 3-0. GB were in the Olympic final! The first time our women have ever been in an Olympic final. Can they possibly do anything against the seemingly invincible Netherlands in the final? Something tells me the Dutch will not be doing a disappearing act when the ball is in front of their own goal. But the GB men’s team won a bronze in Los Angeles in 1984, four years before their famous 1988 triumph. The GB women’s team won bronze four years ago in London and are now in the final. Let’s hope that history does, indeed, repeat itself.
Table Tennis: Table tennis is to China what track cycling is to GB. China dominate the sport even more than they dominate diving. They won the gold and silver in both the men’s and women’s final, and gold in the women’s team event. A clean sweep beckoned. The Chinese men were taking on Japan in the men’s team final. Surely, it would be a foregone conclusion. It certainly looked that way when world number one Ma Long easily won the opening match to go 1-0 up. But beware of dead certs.
Jun Mizutani caused an almighty upset, and no doubt a minor tremor in China, when he won a thrilling second tie against Xin Xu to level the score at 1-1. He had been 2 sets up before the Chinese player came bouncing back to take the next two sets. In a gripping finale, the deciding set went all the way down to the wire, before the Japanese player finally won out 12-10. Japan were back in the match, and when their doubles team took the opening set of match three, an upset suddenly seemed more than a Japanese fantasy. Sadly, reality soon hit them with a bang as China won the next three sets with crushing ease. Since its inception at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China have never lost a team event at the Olympics. They weren’t about to start now. In match four, the Chinese world number one Ma Long destroyed his Japanese opponent Maharu Yoshimura in straight sets to win the gold for China yet again. China had nabbed the lot. As always.
Athletics: A more business like Usain Bolt tonight in the 200m semi-finals. Cool, serious, focused. In case we had missed the body language, he gestured with his hands to tell us that he was head down and totally focused for this race. Thanks for letting us know, Usain. We’d never have guessed otherwise. He did break into a smile as he finished though. He had just run his season’s best time to win in 19.78. While exchanging a bit of banter with Andre de Grasse, who cheekily tried to speed past the great man while he was easing up towards the line. What was not to be happy about?
Yours truly at Random Towers would like to think that they are open minded and understand that we live in a globalised society, and people move around, and many have complex backgrounds or mixed heritage so are able to represent more than one nation. But it’s blatantly obvious that plastic Brits Tiffany Porter and her sister Cindy Ofili are only running for Britain because they couldn’t get into the American team. Now, you can’t blame them for it; considering Team USA enjoyed a clean sweep of the women’s 100m hurdles tonight, their only chance of going to the Olympics would be if they could somehow qualify to represent a weaker nation. However, having a tenuous link through a British relative does not make them representative of British hurdling. Aside from the grating strong American accents that denote exactly where they grew up, which certainly wasn’t on this scepter’d isle, they didn’t come through our system. They came through the endlessly successful American system, but cynically switched to compete for Britain as adults because they weren’t good enough to get into the American team. They wouldn’t be competing for Britain if they had been gold medal contenders. British athletics should be using the valuable lottery funding it receives to identify and nurture home grown athletes, to help the sport grow, not wasting it funding American failures. Growth happens from bottom up not top down.
Boo-gate: Aside from the national anthems and rock music in the dressage, the other sound that has been reverberating around the venues at these games is booing. The panto season has come early – not in some provincial town in England but in Brazil! The majority of the targets have been the more infamous serial drugs cheats such as Gatlin, Efimova et al (those whose transgressions have not been so well publicised have been able to compete in peace). But two days ago, things took a nastier turn in the pole vault when the object of derision was not an errant competitor but an innocent rival to a Brazilian in gold medal position in the final. We saw the best of the Brazilian fans with their wild celebrations as Thiago Braz da Silva dramatically cleared 6.03 with his second attempt to move into gold medal position. We then saw the worst of the Brazilian fans when his nearest rival, defending champion Renaud Lavillenie of France, was booed as he prepared to jump 6.08m to regain the lead. Clearly rattled, he failed, and the fervent Brazilian fans had their Olympic champion.
But inexplicably, the fans booed Lavillenie again during yesterday’s medal ceremony as he stepped up to the podium to receive his silver medal. Even da Silva couldn’t understand the fans’ vindictive reaction and gestured as if to ask what the hell, and sportingly made a point of applauding him loudly. Lavillenie hadn’t beaten their home favourite, so the crowd’s reaction was baffling. If he had won the gold ahead of the Brazilian, then at least the booing would have had some logic to it. Understandably, the jeering left Lavillenie in tears.
Someone should tell the Brazilian fans that this is not football. Track and field athletes are individuals – not a team. Boo them and they take it personally. It stings. It shouldn’t need a lesson in etiquette to understand that booing someone simply for doing their job is out of order. Leave the tribalism of football in the football stadium. It has no place at the Olympics.