The Olympics: Day 14

Showjumping:  We must beat China, we must beat China.  This was not about winning the showjumping.  It was about staying ahead of China in the medals table.  The pressure was on.  But Nick Skelton and Big Star weren’t feeling any.  A tremendous clear round in the final, to follow their earlier one in the qualification, plus inside the time, and they were sitting at the top.  Skelton had been the first one of the clears from qualification to jump, so could now put his feet up and hope the pressure would make the others falter.  A few did, but six did not.  It would be a six way jump off for the medals.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.

Nick and Big Star were first up again in the jump off.  This time it was about going clean and going fast.  They were!  They blasted it!  Clean, and a fast 42.82 secs.  Beat that if you can.  They tried.  One by one they failed.  With the final rider to come, Skelton and Big Star were still in gold medal position.  Eric Lamaze of Canada was the only one who could snatch it away.  Clean, fast, coming up to the penultimate fence, and then – down!  The pole was down!  Nick Skelton and Big Star had won the gold!  What a round!  Big star – what a star!  Gold star!  Nick Skelton, the bionic man with barely an unbroken bone left in his body was finally an Olympic champion at the grand old age of 58, at his 7th Olympics.  He had come back from life threatening injuries, career threatening injuries, early retirement and disappointment in the individual competition at London four years ago.  He felt he should have won a medal.  He was not going to leave Rio without one.  Desire, determination and a superstar horse given a superstar ride.  For Nick Skelton life begins at 58.

Hockey:  Could our women do in 2016 what our men did in 1988?  It wasn’t the Germans at the other end this time, but the Netherlands – where were the Dutch, frankly who cares, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.  The Dutch ladies are to hockey what the German men are to football.  Indomitable.  So the last thing you want to do is give away a penalty in the first 6 minutes.  Unless you have a brick wall in goal, of course.  No, not David De Gea, but Maddie Hinch.  A Sherman tank would struggle to get past her so Maartje Paumen had no chance.  The Dutch tried again in open play, but no go.  Then, a hammer blow from GB as they went up to the other end and scored!  Lily Owsley had put GB in the lead.  Followed by another save from Hinch.  Was Team GB’s name written on the gold medal?

Not if the Dutch had anything to do with it.  They are the world champions and have won the last two Olympic titles.  They were going for the hat-trick, and weren’t going to take too kindly to anyone getting in their way.  They came out in the second quarter with all sticks flashing, and before you could say swish, they were level.  Then, before you could go whack, they were ahead.  This was looking ominous for Team GB.  But these girls weren’t about to let that gold medal go without an almighty fight.  They came roaring back before the Dutch had even stopped celebrating, with a sweet strike from Crista Cullen to make it 2-2.  This was turning into a classic.  Good to know our girls were keeping one eye on the medals table.  We need this gold, girls.  Do what you have to do.  This is the Olympics.  Upsets happen all the time.  If Leicester could win the Premier League, surely Team GB could beat the Dutch?  Wasn’t it the year of the underdog?

The Dutch weren’t reading the script.  Relentless waves of pressure in the 3rd quarter were leading to penalty corner upon penalty corner.  Could the GB girls withstand the Dutch battering ram?  They stretched every sinew repelling the onslaught, but after yet another penalty corner, a goal was as inevitable as China winning all the gold medals in table tennis.  3-2.

It was total domination by the Dutch, but while there was only one goal in it, GB were still in the match.  Could GB counter in the final quarter?  They might if they could get their sticks on the ball.  Finally, a penalty corner for GB.  And then another.  Gotta make it pay.  Gotta make it pay.  Come on GB.  Equalise.  Yes, yes!!!  I love it when they listen to me!  Nicola White on the far post.  Game on!  8 minutes 30 seconds left.  Now, come on GB.  Hold on.  You’ve got to defend like gods.  Oh god, we need three Maddy Hinches.  Inside the last minute.  Final whistle.  It’s…PENALTIES.  Now normally, this would be here we go again time.  But this is not football. It is not England.  Ironically, GB had a better chance of beating the Dutch on penalties than in normal time.  In theory.  Penalty shootouts are still a lottery.  This was hiding behind sofa time.  Hands in front of eyes time.  Where was that lucky rabbit?  Anyone got a four leaf clover?  Do we all have our lucky underpants on?  This was our chance to vanquish the penalty shootout ghosts of the past.  End the years of hurt.  This was for 1990.  This was for 1996.  For 1998.  For 2004.  For…sorry, forgot, this is not football.  Come on girls!

Penalty 1 GB – argh, keeper saved.  Penalty 1 NED – miss!  Great save Maddy!  Brick wall.  Penalty 2 GB – argh, no good either.  Time up.  Penalty 2 NED – miss!  Also out of time.  Scoring in hockey penalty shootouts is hard.  Penalty 3 GB – keeper fouls!  Penalty stroke for GB.  Come on, skipper.  Goal!  Penalty 3 NED – come on Maddy.  Saved!  Penalty 4 GB – now come on.  Let’s get another one and put this to bed.  No!  High.  Penalty 4 NED – hit post, then missed!  Penalty 5 GB – if Holly Webb scored, GB would win gold.  Come on Holly, let it be Christmas come early.  Scored!  GB had won it!  Gold, gold, gold!!!  Take that China!  Can you believe it?!  Next time England are in a penalty shootout, make the England hockey girls take it.  Maddy Hinch take a bow.  Player of the match.  Forget Buffon, forget De Gea, forget Neuer (ok, I don’t actually know any hockey goalkeepers except Ian Taylor, GB goalkeeper in 1988), forget Ian Taylor.  Maddy Hinch is the best goalkeeper in the world!

ps.  Thank goodness we didn’t play the Germans in the final, eh?  Oh yeah, they lost in the semi final penalty shootout to the Dutch, so maybe there would have been nothing to worry about.

pps.  You do have to feel for the Dutch; they are the best team.  But we have the best goalkeeper in the world.  That’s why we won.

Taekwondo:  Who writes Taekwondo scripts?  They need to hire a new scriptwriter.  British taekwondo has a rivalry straight out of Hollywood sports films.  Four years ago, Lutalo Muhammad was controversially chosen ahead of the then world number one Aaron Cook in the 80kg division for London 2012.  Cooky is British Taekwondo’s bete noire.  He had fallen out with their coaches and decided to go it alone.  He believed that went against him in the selection process.  He took the rejection hard.   To compound his misery, Lutalo Muhammad went on to win a bronze medal in London.  Ouch.  The row rumbled on.  Cook decided he had no future with British Taekwando.  He made a decision to change allegiance and start competing for Moldova.  Yes, Moldova.  I don’t think he suddenly discovered a long lost Moldovan great-grandmother.  The Moldovans were obviously quite keen to improve their Taekwondo results so welcomed him to their bosom.  In a reversal of the norm where foreigners become plastic Brits (see The Olympics: Day 12), a Brit became a plastic Moldovan.  That was how Aaron Cook found himself back at the Olympics (he had competed in Beijing).

Lutalo Muhammad is also in Rio.  He had already won his opening round to go through to the quarter finals.  Aaron Cook was aiming to join him.  Now any Hollywood scriptwriter worth their salt would have only one story in mind – yep, a showdown in the final.  Lutalo Muhammad against Aaron Cook for the Olympic gold.  Predictable?  Of course.  Cheesy?  Undoubtedly.  Emotionally gripping drama?  By the tissue loads.

So naturally, it didn’t happen.  Cook didn’t get out of the opening round.  Giving away inches in height to Liu Wei-Ting of Chinese Taipei, he was never in the contest, and didn’t even last the full three rounds, losing by a points gap just before the end.  No romantic fairy tale ending for Moldova-upon-Dorchester.  Still, in the finest cinematic tradition, there could be a final twist.  He still has a chance of a bronze medal if his conqueror goes through to the final as he can then go into the repechage.  So there is the prospect of British fans cheering for a Chinese Taipei fighter to get into the final so a Moldovan can fight for the bronze medal.  I think the Taekwondo scriptwriters must be Dadaists.

Lutalo Muhammad doesn’t do sentimental.  This is a guy who received hate mail and on line abuse after his contentious London selection, yet went on to win bronze.  He does wins.  A quarter final win against American legend and two time Olympic champion Steven Lopez.  A semi final win against Azerbaijan’s Milad Beigi Harchegani.  Lutalo was in the final and would be fighting for the Olympic gold.  Cheick Sallah Cisse Junior of the Ivory Coast awaited him, which, of course, meant no potential bronze for Aaron Cook and no temporary shift of allegiance to Moldova for British fans.

The start of the final was a cagey affair, before a head kick by Muhammad put him 3 points up.  By the end of round two, they were level at 4-4.  Come on Lutalo.  Put the ghost of London 2012 selection to rest.  Gold will end it.  Jesus, this was tense.  Round three.  No further scores, then – drama!  A kick towards Cisse’s head took his guard off, but the points didn’t register.  The British appealed, but video replay showed it had occurred through use of hand from Lutalo.  No points.  Then a push kick and a penalty point in succession put Lutalo 6-4 up.  There were only seconds left.  The gold was so close.  Now, defend.  Defend!  No!  Lost it in the last second!  A reverse turn and kick to the head from Cisse.  Worth 4 points.  Gold lost at the death.  Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Lutalo Muhammad will kick himself for that.  No golden fairy tale.  Those heartless scriptwriters.  Not Romantics, not Dadaists, but Brutalists.

Athletics:  Why did the BBC brigade keep expecting choreographed song and dance routines from the relay racers as they emerged from the tunnel?  That kind of tacky Gladiator-style (remember the old ITV show?) razzmatazz entrance into the stadium might be amusing at a World or European championships, but this is the Olympics.  It was no time for gimmicks.  This was time to say farewell to a legend.

It was Usain Bolt’s last Olympic appearance.  Could he go out with a bang?  Could he make history?  The triple-triple.  All Jamaica had to do was get the baton safely to Usain.  They did.  Sure they left him with work to do.  But he has been working hard all week.  Both his wins at these Olympics have been hard work.  But Usain owns the second 50m and he powered his way through.  Past Japan.  Say what?!  Yep, not USA, not GB, but Japan.  How refreshingly novel.  But the winner was reassuringly familiar – Team Jamaica.  It would be their final celebration with Usain Bolt in the team.  The last ever lap of honour.  The last ever lightening bolt pose from the great man.  In a tribute to the host nation Usain was wrapped, not in the yellow, green and black Jamaican flag, but the yellow, green and blue of Brazil.  What a touching goodbye.

ps.  Hurray for the British women’s 4 x 100m relay team for winning a great bronze behind the USA and Jamaica.  Keep the medal counter ticking.  60 medals now, just 5 short of the London 2012 record haul.  Come on, boys and girls.  Only two days to go.  One big final push.  You can do it!

pps.  GB are owed a gold medal after what happened in the taekwondo.  We need to collect.

Boo-gate:  Who are these morons who get wheeled out to give us their ‘expert’ opinions any time some contentious issue rears its head?  The latest nonsense spouting idiot, oops, I mean, some no mark American sociologist (is there a more pointless profession?) Peter Kaufman thinks it’s perfectly ok for Brazilians to boo rival athletes because it’s part of their culture, and criticising them is a form of ‘cultural imperialism’.  No, mate, it’s just rude.  Kaufman went on to say he rather enjoys the rowdiness of the home fans.  I doubt he would be enjoying it quite so much if he was on the receiving end when he was trying to win an Olympic gold.  Booing athletes because they are serial drugs cheats is one thing; booing someone on the medal podium while he was receiving a silver medal, having lost out to your home favourite is unacceptable and should be called out.  Barracking and heckling should never be mistaken for fervent passion and over-exuberance.

Booing is not a part of Brazilian culture; it is part of football culture.  Brazilians only have football as a reference point so their behaviour at other sporting events will mirror that of a football stadium.  This is South America’s first go at staging the Olympics, so it is understandable that the locals will not get everything right.  That’s why they need to be informed and educated about correct sporting etiquette; so they can get it right, not exonerated in the name of political correctness. It is possible to be passionate and sporting at the same time.

The irony is that in four year’s time the problem may be the other way around.  The Japanese fans may turn out to be so excessively polite and reserved that the complaints in Toyko might end up being about a lack of passion and atmosphere.  Swings and roundabouts.

 

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