The Olympics: Day 7

Rowing:  You fly halfway around the world to a tropical paradise and instead of getting blazing sunshine, you end up with weather resembling a wet and windy autumnal day out in Bognor.  So naturally the Brits felt right at home!  GB may be pretty good on bikes, but we are not so bad in boats either.  Some of our rowers have been as dominant in their discipline as the track cyclists.  Britain demonstrated their prowess in emphatic style, winning back to back golds within 20 minutes of each other.  First, Heather Stanning and Helen Glover retained their pairs title to maintain their 5 year unbeaten record.  They built up a massive lead at the start to comfortably hold off a spirited fightback from the silver medal-battling crews of NZ and Denmark and get the party started.

The British flag wavers barely had time to take a breath before gold number two followed.  It was won by the men’s fours for the fifth Olympics running.  Messrs. Sibhi, Nash, Louloudis and Gregory held off Australia to win by 1.83 seconds. The men’s fours is British rowing’s glamour event with famous alumni including Sir Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, so expect more from some of these boys in years to come.

Track Cycling:  Wiggo, Wiggo, Wiggo!  Are you and your boys trying to give the nation a collective heart attack?!  Oh my god, that was not fun!  What a race!  That was way too tense.  Way too close.  It’s supposed to be a procession in the Velodrome, isn’t it?  As if.  Even though the British team had broken the world record in qualification in the men’s team pursuit, the Australians are not the world champions for nothing.  It was a face off against our traditional rivals, and what a classic it turned out to be.  GB stumbled out of the blocks, with a bit of a wobble for Ed Clancy to give away the lead, and by the halfway stage it was panic time.  But then, with 6 laps to go, the Aussies lost a rider and suddenly GB were back in it.  Lap by lap, they clawed their way back, but then panic time again towards the end, as it looked like the GB three had split at the back.  As the finishing line came into view, thankfully the riders were all back together and sprinting like a demons to win the gold!  Yikes, what drama!  Be still my pounding heart.  Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Owain Doull and Sir Bradley Wiggins, take a bow.

The gold is also Sir Bradley’s eighth Olympic medal, making him the most decorated British Olympian, ahead of Sirs Chris Hoy and Steve Redgrave.  Surely he should get an earldom for it or something?

Athletics Women’s 10,000:  With all the excitement at the rowing, attention was diverted away from the start of the track and field.  Obviously, Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia wasn’t too impressed and decided she had to do some attention grabbing for herself.  Hmm, what to do?  How about shattering a world record that had stood for 23 years?  Yep, that got our attention.

Trampoline:  All the GB medals won today were predicted.  Except one.  Unexpected medals are such fun.  From nowhere, a certain Bryony Page won a silver medal in the trampoline.  Who knew all that hyperactive bouncing up and down in your back garden as a kid could lead to an Olympic medal?

Dressage:  Once again, medals like buses.  After back to back golds earlier, it was a salver of silvers to follow.  GB were defending the team gold from London 2012, but usually it is Germany who are the supreme dressage team.  Unsurprisingly, GB lost the gold to Germany, who are the supreme dressage team.  However, there is still the individual competition to come; another gold that GB’s top rider Charlotte Dujardin will be defending – against a German, no doubt.  Hopefully, she will be able to get one over on the Germans, just like she did four years ago.

Windsurfing:  More silver to come for GB.  Nick Dempsey is guaranteed a silver once the final race is completed on Sunday.  He had been leading at the halfway stage but got reeled back by Dutch surfer Dorian van Rijsselberghe, and will have to settle for silver.  A medal is a medal is a medal.

Tennis:  I should just cut and paste from Andy Murray’s match report yesterday because it was carbon copy of his match today against Steve Johnson.  A procession in the first set, won to love; go walkabout in the second set, losing his opening serve to lose the set, then get broken in the deciding set, looking all down and out, before making the typical dramatic comeback to win.  Why does Andy put us through this every time?

Women’s Football:  Surely the gold medal for the sorest loser at these games must go to Team USA goalkeeper Hope Solo.  USA suffered a shock defeat to Sweden in a penalty shootout, the first time they have failed go beyond the quarter-finals of a major tournament.  But there was no magnanimity in defeat.  Solo branded the Swedish team ‘cowards’ for not laying out the red carpet/parting like the Red Sea/rolling over and dying, so the US could attack, score a goal and win the match.  It’s called tactics, Hope.  Absorbing pressure.  Stifling the opposition.  Hitting long on the counter attack.  Anyone who had watched Euro 2016 could have told her it is all the rage.  Losing.  It happens.  Suck it up, Solo.

Swimming:  The first shock in the Men’s 100m Butterfly was looking at the fastest lanes and not seeing Michael Phelps there.  The second shock was looking at the no 1 position and not seeing the name of Michael Phelps next to it.  The American has been so dominant you expect him to win every race he enters.  But the 100m Butterfly is a little too fast for him.  Which means he had to be content with joint silver.  You didn’t think he missed out on a medal, did you?  The man in the fast lane, Joseph Schooling of Singapore, went out at a rapid pace and managed to hold on comfortably from Phelps, who had to share his silver with Chad le Clos (remember him?) and Laszlo Cseh.  He won’t mind sharing one, surely, when he’s got a squillion others tucked away already.

But there were no such problems for Phelps’s female equivalent, Katie Ledecky, who obliterated the field to win the 800m Freestyle, romping home by 12 seconds and destroying the world record in the process.  Britain’s Jazz Carlin was a distant second, to add to Britain’s three other silver’s today.

Attendance Watch:  Games organisers said they were ‘not disappointed’ by the thousands of empty seats at almost every venue (except for the football, obviously) so far.  They should be.  It looks very bad, and it is very embarrassing for what has already been an extremely troubled Olympics.  One of the most pernicious reasons is the high ticket prices.  If you are going to hold an Olympics in the third world, it would help if you don’t charge first world prices.

If the organisers had any common sense, they would give out free or ultra cheap tickets to the locals to fill the venues up.  But clearly they would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that there aren’t swathes of empty seats, rather than reduce prices for their precious tickets, or give them away to actual fans and locals, instead of corporate VIPs who couldn’t give a flying monkeys about most sports and don’t bother to turn up – unless it’s Usain Bolt running, in which case, you know the stadium will be brimming – with VIPs and rich people who can afford the tickets, obviously.



The Olympics: Day 6

Rowing:  After a glut of bronzes and a couple of golds yesterday, there was one colour of medal missing.  That oversight was rectified early today when Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley won silver in the double sculls.  They had been leading the race and the gold looked a possibility but the Polish boat slowly inched past them towards the end to win by 0.95 secs.  If coming 4th is the worst possible place, then surely silver must be the most bittersweet position.  Is it a gold lost or a silver won?  That is the question.  For Katherine Grainger, it made her the most successful British female Olympian with five medals, four of them silver, to go with the gold she won at London 2012.  Considering Grainger is 40 years old and the pair weren’t even initially in the Olympic team before getting a reprieve, it is an incredible achievement and certainly a silver won.

Canoe Slalom C2:  Another silver won – or was it gold lost?  At one point, just like our rowers, the team of David Florence and Richard Hounslow were leading during their run and appeared destined for gold, but unfortunately, they struggled through the final two gates, and lost out by a whisker to Slovakian cousins Ladislaw and Peter Skantar.  It was, though, a redemption for David Florence after the disaster of the C1, even if he and his partner could not improve on the silver they won in London 2012.

Rugby Sevens:  GB were playing Fiji in the final.  Sevens is Fiji’s spiritual sport.  They are the best.  They were the top seeds.  The hot favourites.  There was only ever going to be one outcome.  It was a question of by how many.  The answer was a whopping 43 points to 7.  It was Fiji’s first ever Olympic medal, and they will be dancing in the streets of Suva tonight.

Track Cycling:  Silver service seemed to be the order of the day.  Until we entered the Velodrome.  Team GB don’t do any colour but gold in the track cycling.  8 golds in London.  7 golds in Beijing.  So it’s simply going to be a question of how many, and which event?  Gold numero uno in Rio – team sprint.  Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner kicked off the quest with an Olympic record to beat NZ by a tenth of a second.  Strangely, it was something of a surprise win as the team was without the legendary Chris Hoy, now retired, and had been performing poorly.  But cometh the Olympics, wineth the gold.  It was also Jason Kenny’s fourth Olympic gold, putting him third in the all time British list behind Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Steve Redgrave.  He will still have two more opportunities to add to his tally.  And if he does, will it be Sir Jason Kenny?

Jason Kenny’s missus-to-be was also keen to get in on the winning act.  Laura Trott has a couple of gold medals herself and looks odds on to add to her haul, after the pursuit team set a world record in qualifying.  So if gold is your colour, and GB is your team, the Velodrome is the only place to be.

Tennis:  I may have mentioned once or twice that I believe tennis should not be in the Olympics.  But as a diehard fan it is near impossible to resist watching one of my favourite sports.  Especially as my favourite player is the defending Olympic champion and the reigning Wimbledon champion.  And favourite for gold.  But life with Andy Murray is anything but straightforward.  He likes to make his fans sweat.  He was playing Fabio Fognini, fabulous and frustrating in equal measure.  It was frustrating Fabio in the first set as he made error upon error to gift Andy the set.  An early break to Murray in the second set and it seemed an early bath all round.  But did I mention that Andy doesn’t do straightforward?  From winning at a canter he seemed to lose concentration in the blustery and glaringly sunny conditions, as Fognini suddenly remembered how to be fabulous.  He reeled off 8 games in a row to level the match and go a break up himself in the final set.  It looked like game over.  But Andy rather enjoys battles of attrition – a little too much for my liking – and broke back in the nick of time.  There was only one winner now.  Andy finally prevailed 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.  But it had been close, too close.

Swimming:  It was all about the mighty Michael Phelps once more (when isn’t it about the supreme swimming god?) and his showdown with team mate Ryan Lochte in the 200m Individual Medley.  Things looked a little friendlier backstage than they had been between Phelps and Chad le Clos before the Butterfly – there were no Darth Maul death stares – but the rivalry was deadly, and the crowd were going bonkers as the swimmers took their marks.  Ryan Lochte was the world champion and world record holder, but Michael Phelps was a gold medal winning machine.  So who would prevail?  Did you really need to ask?!  Phelps absolutely destroyed the field as Lochte was nowhere to be seen.  Phelps seemed utterly nonplussed at winning yet another gold, and who could blame him?  He wins gold medals the way others have hot dinners.  It was his fourth gold medal of the Rio games and his 22nd – yes, that’s right, 22nd! – gold overall.  Is there really any point in anyone else turning up when he is racing?

And still he wasn’t finished.  There was the 100m Butterfly semi-final to go.  Race.  Win gold.  Get medal.  Sing national anthem.  Kiss family.  Race.  Qualify for next final.  That is the Phelps swimming schedule.  I am exhausted writing it.

Men’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 4

Diving:  There was only one topic of conversation – no, not China’s endless domination of the sport, nor Tom Daley’s swimming trunks (this was the ladies’ synchro platform diving), but the remarkably green colour of the diving pool, which had mysteriously morphed into grimy shade of pond.  Quickly dubbed Pool-Gate, no official explanations were offered to baffled onlookers, though many plausible and implausible reasons were suggested, including the most likely that the chlorine levels had been low overnight, causing algae to grow and turn the water green.  Ew…thankfully it didn’t detract the divers – well, anyone who dives from the height of a four storey house must be a pretty hardy soul – who went about their way as though the water was the clearest, sparkling crystal blue.  Obviously the Chinese pair won – that would be Chen Ruolin and Liu Huixia, with Chen equalling the Olympic record by winning her fifth gold medal.  The Brits, Tonia Couch and her teenage partner, Lois Toulson, had been in contention but eventually finished in 5th place.  Let’s hope the divers don’t wake up tomorrow a shade of Shrek green.

Canoe C1 Slalom:  It was a meh day for Britain today, and it’s been a bit of a meh start to these Olympics for Team GB.  London 2012 was always going to be a hard act to follow, and maybe we were spoilt four years ago, but this event was genuinely disappointing.  David Florence is the reigning world champion and was silver medallist in Beijing 2008 and is the defending silver medallist from London in the C2 category, so much was expected of him.  Sadly, he failed to deliver, making an early mistake to finish last of the 10 competitors.  A chance of redemption is still possible with the C2 yet to come, but this was an opportunity missed.

Gymnastics:  If yesterday was all about the battle for bronze, today’s position was a slippy fifth.  The girls had an outside chance of a bronze, but a fall from Ellie Downie on the beam (quite how anyone can stand and breathe on the beam without falling let alone do flips and leaps is beyond me) and a step out by Claudia Fragapane, put paid to the team’s hopes of emulating their bronze medal at the Worlds last year.  The gold was won by the hot favourites USA, led by powerhouse world champion Simone Biles, who destroyed the field and nearly knocked the roof off the arena with the height of their tumbles and twists.

Eventing:  Can you guess what position GB finished?  Yep, it was fifth.  In truth, it included a miraculous effort by one rider, William Fox-Pitt.  10 months ago, he was in an induced coma, after a horrific fall.  Yet, here he was, competing, and after the first dressage stage, had actually been leading the competition.  They say if you fall off a horse, you should get straight back on again, but this was taking the old adage to extremes.  Extraordinarily brave and deserving of a gold medal for most remarkable comeback from near death situation.

Swimming:  Cue music from Rocky – dah.  Dah, dah dah.  Dah, dah, dah.  Dah, dah, dahhhhh.  Risin’ up, back on the street.  Did my time, took my chances.  Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet.  Just a man and his fight to survive….It’s the…you know the rest.  No, it’s not a prelude to the boxing, but the big showdown between swimming heavyweights and deadly rivals Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos in the 200m Butterfly.  The two have history.  Four years ago at London 2012, as a gauche 20 year old, le Clos dramatically pipped Phelps to the gold with the last touch, turning his dad Bert into an instant celebrity on British TV.  Yesterday, before the semis, a thousand memes were born as Phelps was seen doing his finest impression of Darth Maul as he gave le Clos death stares while the South African mischievously buzzed around in the American’s eye line like an Energiser Bunny channelling his inner Rocky.  Neither won the race, but the battle lines were drawn.

So who came out top in the clash between aquatic Darth Maul and Rocky?  Dah.  Dah, dah, dah…the force was with the mighty Phelps.  Who dared doubt the greatest Olympic medallist in history?  It was his 24th Olympic medal.  That’s more than entire nations have won.  Phelps stormed into the lead from the start and just managed to hang on in front of fast finishing Masato Sakai of Japan.  So where was Chad le Clos?  In the end, the battle was a damp squib as poor Chad petered out at the end and didn’t even get a medal, finishing a disappointing fourth.  All hail Michael Phelps, lord of the pool.

And medals for Team GB at last!  Two back to back silvers.  Medals like buses…First, a fighting silver medal for Siobhan-Marie O’Connor in the 200m Individual Medley.  She trailed Hungarian Katinka Hosszu (she of the totally bonkers American husband/coach) throughout the race, but then nearly caught her at the end in a gripping finale.  Similarly, in the last race of the night, the Men’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay, James Guy hauled back the Japanese swimmer right at the end in a thrilling finish to win Britain a silver medal, to end the day on a high.  Can you guess who was in the gold medal winning team?  Yeah, him.  You would think he would have been knackered, if not emotionally drained, after that epic Butterfly, but he looked like he was out for a leisurely post-dinner evening swim.  They should just make Michael Phelps into a country.  How about United Phelps of Aquatica?  A one man nation of 21 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes, and still counting.