The Olympics: Day 9

Gymnastics:  Forget Super Saturday.  That’s so four years ago.  In Rio 2016, it’s all about Sensational Sunday.  Gold!  Gold!  Gold!  Max Whitlock Olympic Champion!  Now, we at Random Towers did say that young Max had the look of an Olympic champion about him, but that was on the pommel.  A floor medal was a possibility as he is the world silver medallist, bur with the Japanese Kenzo Shirai being able to throw out quadruple twists, a silver was the most that could have been expected.  But if you are going to do quad twists, you do still have to be able to land them cleanly.  That was the story of the floor final.  Max went out early and was clean, beautiful, elegant.  High degree of difficulty executed with easy brilliance and nailed on landings.  15.633.  Beat that if you can.  They couldn’t.  First Shirai.  Huge degree of difficulty executed with surprising tentativeness and wobbly landings.  The first one had bitten the dust.  Then, the very last competitor, Samuel Mikulak of the USA, the highest qualifier.  High degree of difficulty with…no!  Not happening.  Too many big hops on landings.  Max was the floor Olympic champion!  What what can I say?  I am floored (not a joke that will be doing the rounds, no).  Unexpected medals are such fun.  Unexpected golds are just…amazingly, mindblowingly brilliant.

Golf:  No silvers allowed today, Justin.  It’s Sensational Sunday.  Get with the programme.  Read the script.  A birdie putt to win on the 18th.  In the hole, sunshine.  Sofa coaching is so effective.  Justin Rose did not fluff his lines.  That’s an Oscar…oops, wrong kinda gold, I mean, the Olympic gold for Justin Rose.  Gold medal number 2.  Keep em’ coming people.  Keep em’ coming.

Gymnastics Part II:  The Pommel Horse.  The bonus gold.  Britain were having such a, erm, sensational day that we had the luxury of bonus golds.  In gymnastics.  Who would have thunk it?  After all the excitement of the floor, the first thing we all had to do was calm down.  Which was quite difficult with all these golds reigning down on us.  Statement from the sofa to the others: you are all fighting for the bronze.  You are not touching gold and silver.  End of.  Typically, the American refused to listen.  Alexander Naddour scored 15.700.  What?!  That was a big score.  A threat.  Next up was Oleg Verniaiev, the all around silver medallist.  The only other possible threat.  He was listening and mucked up early.  He looked drained after his all around efforts.  So that was him out.  Next!  Our Louis.  Order to Louis: stay on the bloomin’ horse!   He did!  15.833.  In the lead!  Get in there.  Next up the European champion from Armenia, Harutyun Merdinyan.  He was looking really good until…that pesky dismount.  Next!  Our Max.  Order to Max: bring home the gold, son.  Unbelievable!  Ok, a little ragged on the Busnari, but huge difficulty.  15.966!  Get in there!  The final gymnast to go.  David Belyavskiy of Russia, who Max edged for the bronze in the all around.  The highest he had ever scored was 15.300.  So could he really threaten?  A big error at the start.  Bad.  Then two Busnaris.  Good.  Dismount middling.  No.  Louis’s silver was safe, and Max was the Olympic champion again!  Max mine a double (yeah, yeah, terrible).  Right, who’s next?!

Track Cycling:  The cyclists – who else?  Where else could GB be guaranteed a gold medal?  So, men’s sprint final.  It was going to be a gold for GB.  Or it was going to be a gold for GB.  Ah, how relaxing.  How stress free.  Thank you track cyclists.  About the only lot who show any consideration for the state of our tickers.  So would it be Jason or Callum was the real question.  Answer?  There was only ever going to be one outcome.  King Kenny had it in the bag.  2-0.  It was gold medal number 4 of the day for GB and gold medal number 5 for Jason Kenny.  Jason is fast becoming Britain’s Michael Phelps.  Arise Sir Jason?  Right, next!

Tennis:  When doesn’t the track cycling clash with the tennis?  Andy Murray was taking on Juan Martin Del Potro in the gold medal match.  Now I love Delpo.  If I could be happy for anyone to beat my favourite tennis player, it would be him.  But I just couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t envisage him beating Andy over 5 sets.  If the final had been 3 sets, then yes, Delpo had a punter’s chance.  But unlike the previous rounds, the final was best of 5, which gave Andy a huge advantage.

In theory.  Andy never makes life easy for us – or himself.  He broke Del Potro in his opening game, but promptly lost his serve.  No problem.  Break him again.  Problem – he got broken again straight away.  What was going on in Andy’s head?  Taking control and then giving it way.  This was going to be another gruelling epic.  Over 45 minutes gone and only 8 games played.  We were going to be here all night at this rate.  The momentum looked like it was firmly with Delpo now, but tennis does strange things to a player’s psychology.  From nowhere, by dint of serving first, Andy earned a couple of set points on Del Potro’s serve.  And took it on the second.  7-5.  One set up.  Quite how he had won the set with a first serve percentage of 39% only he will ever know.

On to the second set.  Goodness knows what new crisis would befall Andy.  In both his previous matches, he had won the first set comfortably, only to falter in the second.  The pattern seemed destined to repeat itself as inexplicable inconsistency led to a loss of the opening game.  Example – a gorgeous backhand down the line, followed by a delicate drop shot, followed by an unforced error.  It was like a battle between good and evil for Andy’s tennis soul.  Del Potro continued holding on to his advantage and won the set 6-4, sending the Argentinian fans wild.  After 2 hours and 15 minutes, it was one set all.  It was going to be a really, really long night.  Not good.  Had they not seen the schedule?  Did they not know Usain was running tonight?

Andy really needed to improve his first serve percentage, but at 2-3 in the third set, it was Delpo who struggled with his serve, hitting two double faults.  Andy grabbed his chance, breaking on the second break point (why does he never break on the first?).  It was clear Delpo’s level had gone down, which was hardly surprising considering they had been playing for 3 hours and they were still in the middle of the third set!  Some weary forehand errors from Del Potro and good Murray pressure earned Andy 3 set points.  He fluffed the first with an unforced error (quel surprise), but made no mistake with the next, a driving crosscourt return of serve to win the set 6-2.  Come on Andy!  One more set to go.  We might just be in time for Usain!

But Andy is Andy.  If you thought he was on easy street now, hah, you haven’t watched enough Murray matches.  For those of us who have, it was same old, same old.  Took his eye off the ball and lost his opening service game.  Not wise to give away a free game to a mental giant like Delpo.  This is a man who, if it wasn’t for those horrible injuries, would have been a member of the Big Four, or perhaps made a Big Five.  Make no mistake Andy, you were messing with a champion.  But, boy, does Andy loves a fight.  Get into hole.  Get out of it.  Get broken?  Break back.  But Andy was still struggling to get rhythm on his serve.  Break again.  Bad.  Break back.  Good.  4 breaks in a row and we were level.

By now, Delpo looked like he was really starting to suffer.  He had been clutching his thigh and grimacing during the previous service game, and looked like he was just hanging on with those get-out-of-jail bludgeoning forehands.  At the next break, Delpo had his thigh massaged.  There must have been some magic in the oil because it seemed to revive him.  He held his service game to love with a plethora of thunderous forehands.  What a lionheart.  This really was a battle of attrition.  Gruelling.  Grinding.  Draining.  An incredible mental and physical effort from both players.  Suddenly Delpo seemed to be back in the groove, and looking ominous.  Andy was back to struggling on his serve and Delpo only needed one break point to go 4-3 up.  Soon, it was 5-3.  Although Andy finally held his next service game comfortably, Del Potro would be serving to take the match into a fifth set.  Time to give on seeing Usain.  In fact, forget Usain.  At this rate, they would still be playing at the closing ceremony.

Andy was back in that hole.  And there is only one thing he does when he’s there.  He grits and grinds his way out of it.  Gets break points and mucks them up.  Too easy.  Need to do more work.  More unbelievable defending.  An unreal epic rally somehow won by Andy brought up another break point and had the crowd on its feet, raucously applauding both players.  Poor Delpo had to rest on the net to recover.  But if you thought he was done, forget it.  What a first serve to save it!  What champions they were!  “This is macho tennis,” said the awed commentator, and, boy, was he right.  A cruel drop shot from Andy which Delpo somehow got to – how?! – but Andy was able to hit the winner past him.  Break point number 4.  Come on Andy!  Get it done.  In the end, stamina did it for Andy.  Delpo just couldn’t give any more, and a weary forehand into the net meant we were level.  Now could Andy hold his serve?  There was a feeling that if he held his serve, this might be all over.  But this being Andy, it was hardly going to be straightforward, since Del Potro wasn’t giving up without a herculean final effort.

Andy was soon 0-30 down to yet another forehand onslaught from Delpo, and a wondrous backhand winner down the line (a heartening sight considering those debilitating left wrist injuries) gave him two break back points.  Andy saved the first, and finally hit an ace to save the second.  Another ace!  Wow!  Now it was advantage Andy.  Come on, one more.  One more.  Yes!  At last, he held.

3h 53 mins played.  Delpo was serving to stay in the final.  Come on Andy, time to give it over to Usain.  Finish it off.  The sofa coach was knackered watching from the sofa.  Sofa coach needed a lie down.  Another brutal forehand winner from Delpo, cancelled out by a great return and follow up volley from Andy.  15-15.  A return of serve long from Andy redeemed by a great forehand from him to draw an error from Delpo.  30-30.  The momentum swings were dizzying.  Andy was now two points away from victory.  The tension was gut wrenching and the partisan crowd could barely contain themselves.  A great return from Andy to Delpo’s backhand drew a short ball, but just as Andy was about to put away a winner, someone shouted out from the crowd and put him off.  Idiot!  Andy looked too exhausted to do anything but glower in frustration.  Game point Del Potro.  Another great return from Andy to Delpo’s backhand to draw an error.  Deuce.

Then, more drama as the play was suddenly stopped.  A rowdy Argentinian, wearing a very silly Jester hat in his country’s pale blue and white colours, and his mate were ejected from the arena, but not before he had waved goodbye to everyone in the crowd – talk about milking it – to boos, jeers and cheers.  After that prolonged delay, and with the crowd in a frenzy, the umpire somehow, eventually, managed to get the crowd to be pin drop quiet.  Let’s play.  A rally and missed cross court forehand from Delpo!  Match point Andy!  Come on!  The clock had hit 4 hours.  Could Andy do it?  No!  Return into the net.  Argh!  Deuce again.  Better return to Delpo’s backhand, and Delpo netted!  Match point number two.  Another rally, another final weary backhand into the net from Delpo!

At last, at long, long last, Andy had done it.  Four exhausting hours, and he was the Olympic champion again.  In a touching moment at the net, both men were hugging and crying on each other’s shoulder, such was the emotion.  It was a pity there had to be a loser, because neither player had given an inch.  Neither player deserved to lose.  It may have been Sensational Sunday for Britain and Andy Murray, but it was also a sensational silver for tennis’s lost champion.

So, Andy’s epic, marathon win made it 5 gold medals and 1 gold pending in the sailing, plus 3 silvers, for Team GB on Sensational Sunday.  8 medals in one day.  What a remarkable day of sport for Britain.

Athletics:  Finally, after four thrilling, but energy sapping, hours of tennis, we could get to the athletics.  Fortunately, with Andy’s impeccable sense of timing, he had managed to win the final just in time to be able to catch Usain Bolt’s 100m semi-final.  Another cruise to victory in 9.86 seconds, and a stroll into yet another Olympic final.  It really is a foregone conclusion, isn’t it?

It wasn’t just the tennis and Sensational Sunday for Team GB that was threatening to overshadow the Bolt show.  An amazing world record in the 400m from Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa, who smashed Michael Johnson’s record, to win the Olympic gold in 43.03 from lane 8.  MJ’s record had stood since 1999 but van Nierkerk bettered it by 0.15 secs, and a new star was born.  Beat that, Bolt.

Who is trying to steal my thunder, Usain might have asked.  Don’t they know I am the Lightening Bolt?  The king of the track.  Waves and claps to the crowd even as he was preparing for the race.  A smile and point to the camera.  Ever the showman.  Really, the only thing that was going to steal the show was Usain not winning.  And that was never going to happen.  Not even with his usual atrocious start.  Too damn tall.  Not even with public villain number one, Justin Gatlin’s, brilliant start.  Not even with a big gap to overcome.  For a split second of a moment we might have wondered…and then he powered through to the finish line in his customary first place.  Nothing spectacular this time; no world record.  A solid 9.81.  He had to work for it.  But he was still easing up as he was pounding his chest in his trademark victory salute.  No wonder Gatlin had to resort to drugs.  Even then, he has never been able to get anywhere near him.  Don’t bother Justin.  You are in the presence of greatness.

Usain is a man of the people.  He interacts with the crowd: smiling, waving, kissing, hand slapping.  He takes selfies with the heptathletes.  Usain and Jess – what a photo.  He takes off his shoes and stands up on the boarding so he can get to his Jamaican team mates.  Handshakes and thanks.  Then, the money shot.  The lightening bolt pose for the photographers.  He soaks up the adulation of the crowd.  They chant his name as though he is a gladiator.  Forget gladiator.  He is the emperor of athletics.  A hug for the young pretender van Nierkerk, who dared to steal his thunder with a world record.  But no one can take the attention away from Usain.  He is too compelling to watch.  If sport is entertainment, Usain is your man.  If sport is pushing the limit of human endeavour, Usain is your man.  The fastest man on earth.  A running god.  A Man United fan (he has good taste).  Winner.  Hero.  Legend.

The Olympics: Day 5

Canoe Slalom K1:  After the third last canoeist, Britain’s Joe Clarke, had whizzed down the course to take the lead, and while his two rivals, Jiri Prskavec and Peter Kauzer, were on their run trying to overtake him, a certain song started playing in my head.  Gold.  (Gold.)  Always believe in your soul.  You’ve got the power to know, you’re indestructible.  Always believe in, because you are.  Gold…yep, it was stuck in my head.  And guess what?  It was GOLD!  Yes, Joe Clarke hung on to win the gold medal!  Now, does that qualify me to become the new Mystic Meg?  Probably not.  But I must have tapped into something in the damp, moist Brazilian air.

Diving:  There was definitely something in the damp, moist Brazilian air.  Gold!  Er, and green.  Yep, that infamous diving pool was still a murky shade of pond green, but the British synchro team of Jack Laugher and Chris Mears didn’t care.  The colour worked for them, as they produced the dives of their lives to eclipse the Chinese and win the Synchro 3m Springboard.  We beat the Chinese – at diving!  What next?  Table tennis?  Incredibly, in the final round, GB were battling with the US, whose final dive was a spectacular effort that scored them an incredible 98.04 points and propelled them to first place.  But the Brits were not to be denied.  A fantastic final dive under pressure scored them 91.20 and they were in first.  Only the Chinese could deny them now, and under normal circumstances – ie practically every other diving competition – the Chinese tend to deny everybody.  But not this time.  An unusually disappointing final dive by the reigning world champions saw them slip down to bronze.  Britain had won their first ever diving gold medal.  Let’s sing it people – gold!  Always believe in your soul…I will leave you to sing the rest.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that eventer William Fox-Pitt should get a gold medal for miraculous recovery from near death, but he has some competition from Chris Mears.  Seven years ago, he contracted the life-threatening Epstein Barr virus and was given a mere 5% chance of survival.  He ruptured his spleen and lost 5 pints of blood, before making a full recovery.  Now, he is Olympic champion.  Extraordinary.

Gymnastics:  Now, while there’s not much possibility of my making a career out of being the new Mystic Meg, I did suggest in the Day 1 blog that I had a sneaky feeling about Max Whitlock in the All Around final.  How right was I proved.  Fresh faced, youthful looking Max won Britain’s first All Around medal for 108 years.  Yes, that’s even longer than the football.  After the bitter disappointment of missing out on bronze in the Men’s Team event right at the death, it was another nail biting wait (as I may have mentioned before, is it ever not nail biting when Britain are going for a medal?!) after Max posted his final score to see if he had done enough to secure a medal.  He was battling three other gymnasts and one by one they bit the dust until there was only one left.  David Belyavskiy of Russia.  He needed 15.277 on high bar.  A few nail chewed minutes later, his score came up – it was only 15.133!  Not enough!  Max had his medal!  A hard earned bronze.  And the individual pommel horse and floor finals are yet to come, so Max may want to keep some space free in his drawer for more medals.

The All Around gold medal also went down to the wire – or more specifically, the very final score on the very final apparatus, the very scary high bar.  Defending Olympic and world champion, and master of the gymnastics universe, Kochei Uchimura of Japan, who has dominated the sport since 2009, had been under fierce pressure from Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev, who was leading by a point going into the final rotation, after a mammoth score of 16.100 on the parallel bars, the highest mark of the entire competition.  But high bar is Uchimura’s speciality, and he posted a gargantuan 15.800 score to throw down the gauntlet (even if I thought the judges were a tad generous).  Verniaiev needed to post a score of 14.900 to win the gold.  But high bar isn’t exactly his best apparatus.  Still, he looked like he had done enough.  But then, right at the end, he made a crucial mistake, taking a step out on the landing.  It gave the judges reason to take marks off, and Uchimura had retained his title.  Now, if only Verniaiev had tried to distract Uchimura by tempting him into a game of Pokemon Go instead, he may have had more luck.  On arrival in Rio, the champion ran up a whopping £3,500 mobile phone bill playing the addictive game!  Forget twists, tumbles and somersaults.  Surely gaming was the tactic to dislodge him from the top of the podium.  Verniaiev will be kicking himself for not thinking of it.

Judo:  Say hello to the girl from Ipponema.  Judo.  Ippon.  Female.  Rio.  Geddit?  Uh, nevermind.  Her name was Sally, she was a judoka…nope, too many syllables.  Oh, alright, I will stop with the musical montages now.  Sally Conway was the girl.  And 70kg judo was her sport.  Three ippons (i.e. straight knockouts) in a row, a world champion beaten along the way, a semi-final appearance in the bag.  Sally, who is actually from Edinburgh via Bristol not Ipanema, funnily enough, lost the semi-final to Columbia’s Yuri Alvear, but bounced back to win the bronze medal match – not by an ippon for a change – but a single yuko, against Austrian Bernadette Graf.  They all count.

Cycling Time Trial:  Team GB won a whopping six medals today, and the glut was started by Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who matched his bronze from London 2012 in the Time Trial.  After winning the gruelling Tour a mere 2 and a half weeks ago, quite how he had the energy to pedal a bike, let alone compete in two events and win a medal, is beyond me.  Yikes, these cycling people are fit!  And slightly masochistic…

Shooting:  A back to back bronze to follow Chris Froome’s medal in the Time Trial, this time for Steven Scott in the double trap shooting.  It was a win-win for GB as he was battling against a fellow Brit Tim Kneale, but a lose-lose for poor Tim.

Women’s Table Tennis:  Guess which country won the gold?  Guess which country won the silver?  It’s a toughie. I will give you a few minutes to think about it.

The Olympics: Day 1

After all the hoo-ha, the criticisms, the controversies, the protests, and the cheesy opening ceremony, the sport finally got underway.  Over the two weeks of sporting action, celebration, controversy, criticism, protests (you know its all gonna happen) and many cheesy moments (definitely gonna happen), yours truly at Random Towers will attempt to post snippets of random observations, reflections and ramblings on any sporting action or otherwise that takes my fancy.  So here goes.  On your marks, get set, er gooooooooooo…

Shooting:  The first gold medal of the Rio Olympics was won by American teenager Ginny Thrasher in the Women’s 10m Air Rifle.  American.  Gun.  Teenager.  Good thing the Americans don’t do irony, eh?

Gymnastics:  Is it just me or does Max Whitlock have the look of an Olympic champion (and occasionally extra from a boy band) about him?  Sadly, it may be at the expense of a fellow Brit, Louis Smith.  Typically, both are vying for gold in the Pommel Horse – why can’t they be good at different apparatus?  On the one hand, Britain look a shoe in for gold – they finished one and two in the individual qualification during the Mens Team qualification, but on the other hand, it means choosing between two Brits.  Argh!  Louis was so unlucky in London 2012, being cruelly denied the gold even though he finished on the same score as the Hungarian winner Krisztian Berki, by dint of a lower execution mark.  But Max looks like he means business, and he bettered Louis here, having already beaten him at the British Nationals back in April in rather controversial fashion.  Louis didn’t like his score and had taken to Twitter to rant his displeasure at the judges, so there is a bit of edge between them.  I am going with Max, and have a sneaky feeling about him in the All Round as well, but it will be a win-win either way (should one of them win, not counting chickens or anything…).

Swimming:  Brit Adam Peaty blew the field away in the heats of the 100m Breaststroke, spectacularly smashing his own world record along the way.  He nearly did it again in the semi-finals later on, but this apparently wasn’t good enough for some people.  Peaty was seven hundredths of a second outside his world record, leaving Adrian Moorhouse in the commentary box rather disappointed with his performance.  Now, mere mortals might think Adrian was being a tad harsh on young Adam, but we are talking about the last British man to win a swimming Olympic gold, so perhaps he can be forgiven for having exacting standards.  So better buck up your ideas Adam.  If you are not out of camera shot on your way to winning the gold tomorrow, don’t bother going near the commentary team afterwards!