The Olympics: Day 11

Swimming Open Water 10k:  The medals that never were.  Controversies seem to be like buses and medals.  They come one after the other.  On Sunday, there was controversy in the women’s race when the silver medallist, Aurelie Muller of France, was disqualified for forcibly holding down Italian Rachele Bruni with her arm as she lunged for the finishing board.  Today, at the end of a frantic finish in the men’s race, British swimmer Jack Burnell was first given third, then fifth, but was eventually disqualified for two yellow cards.  Greece’s Spiros Gianniotis was also demoted to silver after initially being given the win, for not touching the finishing board first.  Burnell called the officials a joke and accused them of being attention seeking.  Aggressive fouls, sendings off, bizarre officiating decisions, disgruntled players.  Was this swimming or football?

Boxing:  Again controversy upon controversy.  And where there is a trail of controversy, there is bound to be a Russian or two involved.  On Sunday night, in the men’s heavyweight final, the blue riband event of boxing, Evgeny Tischenko of Russia was given a unanimous points win over Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy  Levit.  Despite being on the back foot and suffering a cut to his head, all three judges had the Russian as the victor.  The decision was booed furiously by the crowd.  The crowd continued to boo the Russian as he received his gold medal while cheering on Levit when he got his silver.  Even the Russian coach hinted his fighter should not have won.  If the coach and the crowd, not to mention the pundits, thought Levit had won, exactly what bout were the judges watching?

Then, today, it seemed Michael Conlan of Ireland, too, was fighting one fight while the judges were watching another.  The Irish bantamweight had also been fighting a Russian – coincidence or paranoia?  Anything out of the norm involving the Russians looks suspicious right now, and two in a row smells distinctly fishy.  Again, the decision was unanimous, this time in favour of Vladimir Nikitin.  Conlan had been Ireland’s last hope of a medal.  He was understandably devastated and bitter, feeling he had been robbed and cheated out of a gold medal.  According to boxing aficionados, changes to the scoring system are confusing the judges.  Not to mention the rest of us.  If it wasn’t broke, why fix it?

On a more positive note, another bronze medal for Team GB to add to the growing collection.  Britain’s first boxing medal of these Games was won by Joshua Buatsi in the light-heavyweight division.  Although he lost his semi-final to Adibek Niyazymbetov of Kazakhstan, both losing semi-finalists are guaranteed bronze medals.  Speaking of guaranteed medals, Nicola Adams and Joe Joyce are both through to the semi-finals, so more medals to come.  I need a maths refresher course to keep up.

Athletics 200m:  He comes, he dances, he smiles, he acknowledges the crowd, he crosses himself, he saunters into the 200m semi-final in 20.28, he waves, he talks, he leaves.  Usain Bolt is not a morning person.  Job done, he was probably heading back to bed.

Sailing:  Who needs Ben Ainslie when we’ve got Giles Scott?  Four years ago in London, Ainslie was chosen ahead of Scott in the Finn class, and, of course, memorably went on to win his fourth gold medal.  So it’s been a long four years for Giles to get his own shot at Olympic glory.  He didn’t waste it.  He had the gold won on Sunday, so good is he, so deserves to be an honorary member of Sensational Sunday, but had to wait till today’s medal race for official confirmation.  Now it’s confirmed.  Scotty is our star sailor.

Gymnastics:  It was the women’s floor final.  The organisers might have been wishing they had installed a retractable roof, so high are Olympic all around and vault champion Simon Biles’ somersaults and tumbles.  Compatriot Alexandra Raisman isn’t far behind in the roof denting stakes.  The organisers really need to consider holding the floor final outdoors next time when these two are competing, just in case.  If the men’s floor had been a surprise, the women’s floor had the least surprising outcome.  The two gravity defying American team mates in one and two.

If goals wins games in football and catches win matches in cricket, then nailed landings win medals in gymnastics.  Another gymnastics medal for GB.  Now, really, it should be considered a surprise, but the way our gymnastics team have been performing, somehow it wasn’t that much of a surprise.  Just like Max Whitlock, Amy Tinkler, the youngest member of the team at 16 years old, was dynamic, efficient and, most importantly, clean.  No annoying hops on landings to shave precious fractions off the score, plus a crowd pleasing music choice of Pretty Woman that had them clapping right from the start.  If the two Americans were all power, Tinkler was all spark.  And British gymnastics was on a medal charge.

Could Nile Wilson conclude British gymnastics’ dream Olympics with yet another medal?  It was going to be a toughie with dazzling top qualifier Fabian Hambuechen and spectacular defending champion Epke Zonderland in the mix.  Now, this is one scary apparatus.  Crazy, terrifying releases over the bar, Tkatchevs and Giengers, twists, turns, swings and those giant double and triple dismounts.  Hearts in mouths with every release – how do they have the nerve to do it, let alone the skill?!  When it works, it is astounding – Fabian Hambuechen going first and setting the bar with a pacy, difficult routine to post a great score of 15.766.  When it doesn’t, it is frightening – Zonderland’s hugely risky, multiple, complex over the bar releases ending in disaster with a heavy fall.  But these gymnasts are made of iron.  He simply got back on and carried on where he left off.  What guts!  Zonderland’s mishap left the door open for the others.  Could Nile Wilson sneak a medal?

Come on Nile!  Er, and stay on.  Yes!  High difficulty, but also measured, precise, stylish and a huge double twisting double back dismount nailed.  15.466.  Second place, behind Hambuechen.  Nile was still in second with one gymnast to go.  Danell Leyva of the USA.  A few minor issues on execution, but his difficulty start value had been big.  So what would win out?  Difficulty!  Just!  15.500.  He had moved into second.  Nile had a bronze.  Nile – future world and Olympic champion – you read it here first.  That was medal number seven for GB in the gymnastics.  Astonishing.

Track Cycling:  The medal rush was not going to stop.  We were back in the Velodrome.  Medal central.  First up, Laura Trott, top of the pile in the omnium, after four races.  The flying Brit on the flying lap.  Exceeding everyone’s expectations with her time and increasing her margin at the top with only the points race to come.  Now, not wanting to count chickens or anything…

I still don’t know how Becky James lost the keirin.  She is the speediest girl in the Velodrome, and there are some fast girls here.  She demonstrated her devastating speed by cruising into the sprint final.  Another guaranteed medal.  But which Brit in the Velodrome is interested in silver or bronze?  They were all going for gold.

We can count chickens when it’s Laura Trott.  So dominant is she that she practically cruised through the points race.  Unlike the men’s race yesterday, which was full of drama, incident, and close to the knuckle riding, this race was so serene and relaxed that we could count chickens, add one more gold to GB’s medal counter and wonder whether Laura and Jason’s children would turn out to be sporting superhumans, genetically predisposed to win Olympic golds at the rate chickens lay eggs, or total basket cases, having to follow in the exalted footsteps of such impossibly successful Olympian parents.

The only thing that was stressful was keeping up with all the medal races that were coming thick and fast.  Before we had time to take a breath and digest Laura’s historic win, it was Katy Marchant’s turn to go for bronze in race one of the sprint third place race off.  Who won the first race?  She’s a GB rider, isn’t she?  But before we had time to take a breath and digest Katie’s win, it was time for race one of the sprint final, featuring the whizzy Becky James.  This one was going to be a difficult ask as Kristina Vogel of Germany is a tough, wily competitor, who is an expert at blocking and outfoxing her rivals.  Becky was close, but Vogel just got up on the line.  1-0 to Germany.

A much needed pause for Laura Trott’s medal ceremony, before it was back to medal winning business.  Come on Katy, come on Katy, come on Katy, come on Katy!  Yes!  She threw the bike at the line a la Chris Hoy in the keirin at London 2012 and caught a bronze medal.  But no time to catch a breath as it was race two of the sprint final.  Becky James had to win this one to stay in contention.  The tension was cranked up just after the start when Vogel stopped because of a problem with her bike.  Fixed.  Start again.  Come on Becky, come on Becky, come on Becky, come on Becky!  No!  It was Vogel who threw her bike at the line – and lost her saddle! – but won the gold.  Incredible effort by Kristina Vogel and Becky James.  2-0 Germany.

But there was barely time to pause because Laura’s other half, literally and Olympic gold medal accumulating wise, Jason Kenny, was going for his sixth – yes sixth! – Olympic gold in the keirin.  In 2012, Sir Chris Hoy had won this very race with a dramatic bike lunge on the line to win his sixth Olympic gold, and now Jason Kenny was looking to replicate his predecessor’s victory and join him as the Briton with the most Olympic Golds.

Oh Christ!  Drama!  Terrible drama!  Jason Kenny and the Malaysian rider both overshot the safety bike just as it peeled off.  That was a disqualification offence.  Please don’t let it be Jason.  Please.  That would not be fair.  Blame the safety bike.  It was too slow getting off.  Come on judges.  Don’t disqualify anyone.  Don’t spoil the very last race of these Olympics.  The British coach, Iain Dyer, was on to the judges, computer in hand, looked to find some wording in the rules that would exonerate his man.  Our man.  It was taking a long, long time.  But if they couldn’t decide straight away, then it wasn’t clear cut, and then surely, there was no decision to make.  So don’t disqualify anyone.  The judges agreed!  Phew!  Common sense.  Common sense.  Well done judges.  Great decision.  Take a bow.  We were going to have a true race.  And boys, this time, wait for that damn safety bike to go completely off the track!

Keirin Part II.  Oh, now this was stressful.  Who could keep their nerve?  Could Jason keep his nerve?  Could any of us keep our nerve without collapsing in a quivering heap?  Oh, my god!  They did it again!  They overlapped the bike again.  How ridiculous!  Why were they moving before the bike had gone off?  The German world champion was in danger this time, but it wasn’t clear cut because they didn’t have a photo finish camera to charge or absolve the riders.  So really, they needed to go again.  The judges concurred.  Let’s hope it would be third time lucky.  And could that bleedin’ safety bike get off the track pronto when it was done?  Accelerate off – it wasn’t rocket science.

Keirin Part III.  Let’s get it done this time.  Now the biggest tension was would the riders stop themselves from overlapping the bike?  Yes!  And could Jason do it?  Yes!  Eeks, just!  Just!  Nerve shreddingly, gut wrenchingly close.  The rest made it so difficult for him.  There was only one way he could go.  All the way round the outside.  Then that acceleration.  What speed!  What determination!  Sheer grit got him to the line in first.  Then, the soft focus romantic moment.  A kiss between cycling’s golden couple.  Afterwards, that especially poignant medal ceremony.  Jason Kenny receiving his third gold medal of these games and his sixth overall to go joint top with Sir Chris Hoy on the all time list.  Finally, for one last time, the anthem that has rung out here all week.  GB owned the Velodrome, as always.  It’s our backyard.

Pool-Gate Watch:  The green pool is no more!  The diving pool is back to its traditional sparkling blue.  No more medals for GB then.  We seemed to like diving into an Olympic pond.  Maybe it reminded our divers of their back gardens.

Diving:  Ha!  As if!  This is Rio.  We can’t stop winning medals.  Ponds or no ponds.  Jack Laugher with a silver in the 3m springboard, to add to his gold in the synchro.  Naturally, a Chinese diver won.  Cao Yuan, dominating from start to finish to win a deserved gold.  But we are still ahead of you in the medals table, so take that China!  50 medals and still counting.




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).