The Olympics: Day 15

Canoe Sprint K1 200m:  Last night finished on a bitter note.  Lutalo Muhammad losing the taekwondo final in the last second sucked.  It should have been GB’s 25th gold.  It was in the bag and we got pick pocketed.  Ah well, shrug shoulders, and on to the next one.  11 hours of hurt later we had our 25th gold.  The K1 200m sprint is like the 100m in athletics.  It’s a dash for the line, so getting a good start is vital.  So, naturally, GB’s Liam Heath, the hot favourite, didn’t.  Maybe he was in a generous mood, or he fancied a bit of competition, or he was chanelling his inner Usain Bolt, because he allowed his training mate, Maxime Beaumont of France, to get quite a head start.  After yesterday, the nerves were a little too shredded to enjoy any dramatic comebacks.  It would have been far more preferable if he had simply dominated from the start and powered his way to victory.  But this is GB we are talking about.  Do we do anything without last second nail biting gut wrenching drama?  Er, no.  It would have to be a last second nail biting gun wrenching comeback.  Thankfully, Liam had timed it beautifully and, little by little, he inched past his training partner and got his kayak’s nose in front just in time for the finishing line.  Beautiful!  The power and the glory belonged to Team GB.

Diving:  Did I mention that Team GB don’t make life easy for themselves?  After yesterday’s stupendous qualification round from Tom Daley, great things were expected from British diving’s poster boy.  Forget great.  How about just qualifying for the final?  Easy enough for a former world champion and London 2012 bronze medallist and top qualifier, right?  Yes, you know where I am going.  For some inexplicable reason, perhaps an inevitable come down from yesterday, Tom was looking nervous and struggling with his take off and entry.  By the end of round 4, he was in last place.

Only the top 12 would qualify for tonight’s final.  Tom had to get a move on.  Only two more rounds to salvage his Olympics.  It was panic time.  I had no more nails to chomp on.  All chewed out, Tom.  This would be such a waste if he couldn’t make it, because he would be one of the favourites for a medal in the final.  But he had to get there first!  He needed to dive the two best dives of his life.  The pressure was on.  But Tom’s a champion.  He could do it.  I hope.  Totally bitten nails being gnawed like a nerve-frazzled dog on a bone.  Come on Tom.  Round 5 – a reverse three and half, and 91 points.  Better, better, moved up to 15.  But he still had 18 points to make up with his final dive.  Cripes, this was going to be close.  Please don’t have left it too late.  We lost out right at the end yesterday, so we were owed.  Calling it in, now.  Heart pounding.  Needed a few others to belly flop, but they weren’t playing ball.  Tom would need one of the best dives of his life and to pray.  100+ needed.  Oh god.  A monster dive required.  Here we go.  Fingers crossed.  Hands clasped in prayer.  Please let it be.  Please.  Come on Tom.  He needed 10s.  Argh.  Never going to happen.  Bad, bad dive.  Gone.  He’d left his best in the qualification.  Peaked too early.  From first to last in the space of a day.  Sport – it breaks your heart too many times.

Triathlon:  It’s a bittersweet symphony, this sporting life.  You see your team mate and best friend win a bronze and you think, great for her.  Only, she’s just beaten you to it.  Ah.  Sorry, mate.  An internecine GB fight for bronze is the same for a fan – glad that we are guaranteed a medal, but frustrated that it will come at the expense of another GB athlete.  To Vicky Holland the medal; for Non Stanford, reflections on what might have been.  Winners and losers, but fighters all.

Boxing: We were up, we were down.  Then, we were up and down.  We were doing the sporting hokey cokey.  Which way would Nicola Adams take us?  Straight to the gold, we hoped.  She was the defending Olympic champion; she was the world champion, she had beaten her French opponent the four times they had met.  She was as close to a shoe in as it was possible to be.  But boxing has a very dodgy judging system, and we were still reeling from the shock of Tom Daley’s diving disaster.  Nic wasn’t about to join him.  Two rounds gone, two rounds won.  Unanimously.  Keep it going, girl.  Keep it going.  Round 3 – continuing to land the punches, but getting hit too.  Lost the round.  Come on Nic.  The final round now.  Make it the best round of your life.  Ooh, this was going to be close.  They were both going at it.  Who would get their hand raised?  Oh, let it be the lady in red.  Yes!  Yes!  It was.  She had done it!  The flyweight had soared to the Olympic gold.  We were high, high, high.

GB Medal Watch:  We were back to doing the hokey cokey again.  After the high of Nic’s gold, it started petering out a little bit.  No repeat of Lutalo Muhammad’s heroics in the taekwando with world champion Bianca Walkden and Mahama Cho going out in the semi finals in two very close matches.  Both have a chance of winning bronze medals though, in the repechage.  In modern pentathlon, Joe Choong was in second place going into the final shoot and run event, and a medal seemed likely, but then he had a complete brain freeze during the shooting section and any hope of a medal was shot (geddit?).  Meanwhile, in the diving, the Chinese were doing what they do best – getting perfect 10s and winning golds.  At least Chen Aisen was.  His compatriot was having a very blah competition and could only finish 6th.  One medal less for China then – we’ll take it.  I won’t mention (though I just did) that Walkden lost to a Chinese girl, so that’s them guaranteed another medal.  Let’s hope she doesn’t win the gold, eh?  I know, I know.  If someone had told me before the start of the games that we would be battling in the medals table with China for second place, I would have thought they were more deluded than most Britain’s Got Talent contestants.  Yet, here we are.  It’s like a midget taking on Mike Tyson and knocking him down.  He may get up and go on to win the match, but we can always say we knocked down Mike Tyson.

ps.  The Chinese taekwando lass, Shuyin Zheng, did indeed win the gold, but Bianca Walkden took the bronze.  Alas, Mahama Cho couldn’t join her, losing by a point to a Brazilian, Maicon Siqueira, but at least the home fans were happy.  Ultimately, both Walkden and Cho had lost out on gold to the eventual winners, so no shame to lose to the best.

Football:  This is another sport that I don’t think should be in the Olympics (except for the women), though I might have changed my mind if Team GB had sent a team and won.  The irony is not lost on me that the other two sports I don’t believe should be in the Olympics, tennis and golf, were both won by Brits.  Equally ironic is the fact that football is the only sport that most, if not all, Brazilians are interested in.  The men’s final also offered the Brazilian team an opportunity for redemption.  They were playing Germany in the final.  The last time Brazil played Germany in Brazil they got annihilated 7-1 in the semi final of the 2014 World Cup.  For a country where football is a religion, it was a national embarrassment.  Brazil is still traumatised by the humiliating memories.  Only a win against Germany, in a final, in the Maracana, would offer any kind of consolation.  Ok, it wasn’t the World Cup, but it was next best thing.  Woe betide the Brazilian players if they walked off the pitch without a gold medal round their neck.

The Maracana was heaving and rocking with expectant fans.  But they were nearly stunned into silence when Germany hit the bar in the 11th minute.  It was time for Brazil’s star man to ignite the crowd.  Neymar, captain, talisman, hero, had to withstand a ton of flak by dissatisfied fans at the start of the tournament, so it was poetic that the reinstated national darling should be the one to give Brazil the lead, with an excellent 25 yard free kick.  But Germany are the ultimate spoil sports.  They love sticking it to the hosts (Euro 96 anyone?).  Twice more they hit the woodwork, though somehow Brazil survived until half time.  Maybe the gods were with them.  Maybe not.  Germany were piling on the pressure in the second half and eventually it told, with skipper Max Meyer slotting in Jeremy Toljan’s cut back to level it at 1-1.  That was the end of the goal scoring in normal time.  And extra time.  Penalties beckoned.  Uh oh.  Penalties against Germany?  Good luck, Brazil!

Could Brazil somehow find a way to triumph against the penalty shootout masters and send the nation into ecstasy?  I am not sure the Brazilians could cope with losing to Germany at home again.  All of Brazil’s hopes and dreams lay with one man and a ball and another man and two gloves.  Both teams had brought their shooting boots.  The score was 4-4.  Germany had won the toss so would be first to take the fifth kick.  Come on Germany, miss it.  Yes!!  Saved!  If Brazil scored next, they would be the Olympic champions.  Who would be stepping up to take it?  You couldn’t write this!  The Brazilians must have splashed the cash and hired the most expensive, famous, traditional, sentimental Hollywood scriptwriter.  How else to explain it?  It was Neymar!  The Brazilian god.  The country’s sweetheart.  Last up for Brazil.  The final penalty kick to win it.  Come on!  Do it!  Yes!  The Maracana exploded in delight!  The chosen one had become the golden one.  The darling of Brazil had sent his country into delirium.  Where were the Germans?  But frankly, who cared?!  Two years of hurt were forgotten.  The pain was assuaged at last.  They were dancing, they were singing, they were crying.  Maybe there was someone thinking: why wasn’t this the World Cup final of 2014?  What a final that would have been.  But at least they had this moment.  For Brazil, the Olympics had finally begun.  On the second last day.

Athletics:  From triple triple to double double.  No it’s not figure skating, or a generous local tipple.  It’s multiple Olympic gold medal winning.  First Usain did the triple triple.  3 Olympics, 3 golds.  Now, Mo was going for the double double.  2 Olympics, 2 golds.  They stood at opposite ends of the athletics spectrum; legendary bookends of their sport.  Usain had run the shortest events in the stadium; Mo would be running the longest.  But like Usain Bolt, Mo Farah would have to do it the hard way if he wanted to cement his place in history.  His rivals would not make it easy for him.  So long as they didn’t trip him up, eh?  Mo had the fastest kick in long distance running, a devastating sting in the tail, but it was going to be a gritty, grimacing, lactic acid burning charge for the line and sporting immortality.

Mo started the race at the back.  Sensible idea.  Stay away from everyone; less chance of any unfortunate, ahem, ‘incidents’.  Not for too long though, as he did have to show his face; let his rivals know he was there, prowling.  By half way, he was more than prowling; he was gliding to the front, trying to control the race.  No counting chickens.  Remember what happened in the Taekwando yesterday?  Mo was running this race on his terms, slowing it down.  It was getting tense even though there was nothing to get tense about – yet.  The nerves were jangling, even though there was nothing to panic about – yet.  In Mo we trust.  We hope.  He had that kick, remember?  Sounded silly to say, but stay on your feet.  Bloody hell, he wasn’t a defender slide tackling.  Bell.  Final lap.  Accelerating round the bend.  The final 200m.  Chelimo chasing.  Looking for all the world like he was going to catch him, but no one was going to beat Mo Farah in a sprint for the line!   Mo had done it!  He had made history!  The first man to do the 5,000m and 10,000m double since the great Lasse Viren in 1972 and 1976.  How fitting that with Mo’s gold medal, GB had equalled their medals total from London.  65 medals won.  65 incredible moments.  65 unforgettable memories.

The men’s 1500m was like watching bleary eyed commuters jostling to get on the tube at rush hour.  I wonder if the American winner, Matt Centrowitz, has ever worked in the city.  He’d never be late for work.  In the men’s 5,000m, the scrum was even worse!  It was like bleary eyed commuters spotting an elusive solitary seat on the train and charging headlong towards it, elbows flaying, and diving to sit down first.  Someone should have reminded them that it wasn’t rush hour in London, but the Olympic 5,000m in Rio, and then perhaps the silver and bronze medallists might not have been disqualified (even if the silver medallist, Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo was later reinstated).

What to say about the contentious, controversial women’s 800m?  I don’t think I have used those words in this blog yet, so guess it is about time I mentioned them.  How do you solve a problem like Semenya?  You don’t.  It was impossible to watch this race without feeling uncomfortable.  It simply wasn’t a fair fight.  It’s not Caster Semenya’s fault; it’s not anyone fault.  But it’s not fair.  How could any woman have a chance against someone who, to be blunt, might be competitive in a men’s race?

It’s well known to insiders that there are other intersex athletes competing here (see Guardian article).  It may or may not be known (but there will be educated guesses) that there are secret drugs cheats competing here.  We can’t see it, so we don’t know about it, and we take the races at face value.  But with Semenya, it’s right in front of us.  We can see it; we can see it’s not a fair fight.  It’s an issue of credibility – the same issue with drugs.  It’s ultimately to do with gaining an unfair advantage.  How can an intersex athlete not have an unfair advantage over a female when biologically they are not the same?

The argument has been made that many athletes have a genetic advantage over others, which is what makes them so dominant over their rivals.  Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  But they are not separated along genetic lines.  Sport is gender binary.  Male and female.  When Bolt or Phelps compete, they are competing against other men.  The reason we need to have a separate competition for women is because of the inherent biological disadvantage that women have compared to men.  If you are going to allow athletes who possess some of the same advantages that men do, to compete in women’s races, then what is the point of having separate races for women in the first place?

Some people believe that gender is a spectrum, not a binary.  They may well be right.  But sport classifies along binary lines.  So what to do with athletes who don’t unequivocally fit into either gender category, but identify themselves as female?  What is the fairest solution?  I’ll be damned if I know.  All I do know is that the 2016 Olympic women’s 800m final has no credibility, in the same way the 1988 Olympic men’s 100m final has no credibility.

The women’s high jump was won at a height of 1.97m by 37 year old Spaniard Ruth Beitia.  That was 0.1 less than the heptathletes jumped in their high jump event.  Both, winner Nafi Thiam, and GB’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, cleared 1.98m.  Maybe they should think about doubling up at the world championships in London next year.

Make that 66 medals!  We have officially surpassed London.  The women’s 4 x 400m made up for the bitter disappointment of the men’s 4 x 400m team’s disqualification yesterday, to win a fantastic bronze medal behind the two sprinting behemoths USA and Jamaica.  Last leg runner Christine Ohuruogu did a great job of holding off three other teams at the final bend before sprinting away in the straight to finish third.  Top speech from Christine as well, thanking the GB support staff and everyone who plays the lottery, and encouraging those who don’t to do so and think of it as an investment.  I have always been reluctant to play the lottery.  I am so convinced I will never win that I think of it as money down the drain, but if the money helps fund more British Olympic medals, I am on my way to the newsagents tomorrow.

ps. How fitting that the final anthem in the Olympic stadium should be God Save the Queen.  Pound for pound, we have owned these Olympics.


The Olympics: Day 12

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.

The Olympics: Day 8

Rowing:  Anything the track cyclists can do…after yesterday’s double gold haul, the GB rowers were out to prove once again that we are as good in a boat as we are on a bike.  Our boys in a boat this morning were the men’s eights, and they powered their way to victory, leading from start to finish.  The third gold put Britain at the top of the rowing medals table, ahead of Germany.  Not mentioning that Britain’s rowing coach and the man responsible for all our recent success is, erm, German.

Earlier, the GB women’s eight had dramatically scraped a silver by a cat’s whisker behind the dominant USA, to add to Britain’s burgeoning silver medal tally.  Interestingly, as I was watching the rowing, I also happened across an article on Worpress Reader about US alternates and their not so glorious Olympic experiences.  One of those interviewed for the article was Amanda Polk, a rower, who spoke movingly about her alienating experience as an alternate in London 2012.  Polk had been part of a world championship gold medal winning team in 2010 and 2011 but suffered the heartbreak of being dropped from the 2012 Olympic squad.  Instead, she went as an alternate.  She might as well have just gone as a fan.  She watched her team mates win the gold medal from a London pub, on her birthday.  Ouch.

So who should be in the aforementioned USA eights boat that beat GB to the gold?  Yep, a certain Amanda Polk!  Talk about experiencing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  After London, she wondered whether she should bother picking up an oar again.  Four years later, the alternate was finally Olympic champion.  What a heartening reversal of fortune.

And what a strange coincidence, coming across the article at the same time as one of the athletes referenced in it was competing and winning gold at the Olympics!  Life is weird.

Athletics 100m heats: Interestingly, there were quite a few people in the athletics stadium today.  Was that because it was the weekend?  Or perhaps because the sun was finally shining in Rio?  Or could it possibly have been because a certain Usain Bolt was in town?  Universally adored, that man could fill out a stadium in Outer Mongolia.  He was so generous during his heat he even gave his rivals a head start with his usual average start.  And then cruised past them as though he was taking a morning stroll along the Copacabana, enjoying the sunshine and checking out the ladies.  I think the world will suffer a collective heart attack from shock if Usain doesn’t win his third 100m gold medal in a row.

Tennis:  Thankfully, no cutting and pasting required today (see Day 7 blog).  Kei Nishikori was very obliging in his semi-final match against Andy Murray.  He started badly and didn’t get any better, except for the odd flashes of brilliance.  He had played a gruelling match only the evening before against Gael Monfils, so perhaps that had taken it out of him, and Nishikori has always been rather fragile physically.  The most memorable thing about the match was an amazing 23 shot rally that Andy somehow won with unbelievable defending to to earn a standing ovation and bring up match point.  Otherwise, a routine win, 6-1, 6-4, in an almost empty stadium.  How sadly different from London 2012.

The second semi-final couldn’t have been more different.  A resurgent Rafa Nadal against a re-emerging Juan Martin del Potro.  The stadium was also fuller and rowdier.  Well, there was an Argentinian playing, so it was a case of ABA for any Brazilians in the crowd.  That’s Anyone But Argentina.  Such is the animosity between the two South American neighbours that a scuffle broke out during one of Del Potro’s earlier matches.  Whatever would the genteel members of tennis clubs around Britain think?  Afterwards, Delpo had been keen to remind fans ‘this is not football’, but it might as well have been.  Tonight, Rafa was an honorary Brazilian and the crowd were more than happy to wind Del Potro up, though Delpo had the backing of a large Argentinian cheering section to inspire him.  With such a febrile atmosphere, the players must have thought they were playing a Davis Cup rather than an Olympic match.

The match did not disappoint.  A gritty battle of attrition from the baseline between Rafa’s speed and Delpo’s power.  An early break for Del Potro was quickly cancelled out, before Nadal asserted his authority to win the set 7-5, much to the delight of the Brazilian cum Spanish half of the crowd.  But Del Potro is a fighter, and came roaring back with some awesome power forehands to take the second set 6-4.  The decider was a thrillingly seesaw affair of frustrating errors and astounding winners, with first Delpo, and then Rafa, saving numerous early break points.  With the atmosphere at boiling point, an inexplicably error-strewn game from Nadal at 4-4 handed the break to Delpo, and left him serving for the match.  But Rafa is not a 14 time grand slam winner and tennis legend for nothing.  He broke back to love.  But Delpo is a Grand Slam champion too, and quickly had 0-40 in the very next game.  Rafa was staring down the barrel again, but a couple of failed overtly ambitious down the line forehand attempts from Del Potro and some gritty defending from Nadal helped him to stay in the match and send an already hyper crowd into an even greater frenzy.

In a blink, Delpo had gone from serving for the match to serving to stay in the match.  Which he did in some style, to love.  It would take a tie break to separate the players in a match neither player deserved to lose.  Again, a combination of mistakes and brilliance from both players gave Del Potro two match points at 6-4.  An incredible winner from Rafa on Del Potro’s serve and the first match point was saved.  But, then, a frustrating mistake on his own serve from Rafa, sending a forehand long, and the match was lost.  A disbelieving Del Potro dropped to the ground in relief as the Argentinian supporters went wild.  It has been some comeback from Del Potro, whose tennis career has been decimated by endless wrist injuries.  No wonder he was kissing the Olympic rings, etched on the court surface, in gratitude and throwing himself into his delirious supporters in celebration.  After two years out, he is back where he belongs: an Argentinian in an Olympic final in Brazil.

Something tells me Andy is suddenly going to acquire an awful lot of fervent fans for the final, who will be making him an honorary Brazilian for the day.

Lastly, congratulations to Monica Puig.  She defeated Australian Open champion Angelika Kerber in the women’s final in three sets to win Puerto Rico’s first ever Olympic gold medal.  The final game turned into an epic thriller, with deuces, break points and match points galore, before Puig eventually held her nerve to win the match 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.  No doubt they will be dancing in the streets of San Juan tonight (cheesy rugby reference).

Track Cycling:  I need more tellys.  With the tennis turning into a three set thriller, it inevitably clashed with the cycling.  Thank goodness it was only a three setter as I might have missed the late night athletics and swimming at the rate they were going.  Fortunately, Delpo won just in time for me to switch over to BBC1 to see the GB women leading in the team pursuit.  Within moments, Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald had won – well, they were the hot favourites – and smashed their own world record yet again.  Laura Trott – Jason Kenny’s missus – also became the first British woman to win 3 Olympic gold medals.

But there was no time to catch breath let alone make a desperately needed pit stop as Becky James was going in the Women’s Keirin.  Now, this is one scary race.  A group of ridiculously fast sprinters hurling pell mell to the line.  At the end that is: they have to stay behind a safety bike until two and a half laps to go – elf and safety reasons apparently.  But, yikes, she didn’t win!  She was too far back!  She let the others go and was then forced to go wide round the outside of everyone on the final bend, and even then she nearly made it.  But, alas, the line came a fraction too soon and she had to settle for the silver.  It was gold lost rather than silver won – she was undoubtedly the fastest rider – but considering she has suffered so many career threatening injuries, it was incredible that she was even here racing.  A medal is a medal is a medal.

But there was no time to catch breath let alone make that desperately needed pit stop as it was time for the semi-final of the men’s sprint, with both Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner battling to make it an all-GB final.  The men’s sprint is all cat and mouse, so the key is not to get caught napping.  Jason Kenny nearly gave us all a scare by getting caught napping and losing the first heat to Russian Denis Dmitriev.  Thankfully, there were still two more heats to come.  Callum Skinner was up next in the first heat of the other semi-final.  Happily, he made no mistakes against Australian Matthew Glaetzer, so it was 1 up and 1 down with 2 to go.

Kenny got his tactics right in the second heat and won it from the front to make it  1-1.  Then, it was back to Callum Skinner.  No tension or scares here.  Skinner outfoxed his Australian opponent, bluffing him into going too soon, before chasing him down on the line.  Callum was in the final!

Over to you, Jason.  The tension was cranked up in the decider with one of those agonisingly slow, cagey starts where the two racers toy with each other.  It was slow, slow, slow, wham!  Don’t let him past Jason, came the order from the sofa, and I am pleased to report, he was listening!  Jason was in the final!  For one heart stopping moment there was a fear he may have impeded the Russian, but the result stood, and it would be an all British final.  Guaranteed gold, so we can all sit back, relax and enjoy.  Except Laura, that is…

Athletics:  At London 2012, middle Saturday went down in British sporting legend.  It was dubbed Super Saturday – the day when Jess, Greg and Mo won three gold medals in the space of an hour to send the whole country bonkers.

Four years on, would Super Saturday morph into Sensational Sunday?  Could that remarkable gold fest be repeated as our terrific trio went for gold once more?  Only if real life was the movies.  And remakes were as good as the originals – which they never are.  It started with a bang as the gun signalled the start of the 10,00om – and a fall.  For Mo!  A heart in the mouth moment as Mo was accidentally tripped up by his own team mate Galen Rupp.  Think he will get a bit of a talking to from their coach after the race.  To the nation’s relief, Mo was fine and resumed the race nonchalantly as though nothing untoward had occurred.

Before long, Mo glided into the lead.  He was looking to control the race from the front, but at the bell, his Kenyan rival Paul Tanui made his challenge.  With 200m to go, the Kenyan really went for it.  Could Mo go with him?  Whaddya think?!  This is a man who could give 400m champ LaShawn Merritt a run for his money.  In the familiar manner that has thrilled British fans for so long, Farah accelerated past Tanui on final the bend to sprint clear, and that was that.  Mo Farah had retained his gold medal and become the first British track and field athlete to win 3 gold medals.  Awesome, simply awesome.

Sensational Sunday: The Sequel Part 1 was a breathtaking success.  But alas, Parts 2 and 3 were found wanting.  Greg Rutherford had been a surprise gold medalist at London 2012, so he was always going to be the least likely to repeat his fabulous feat from London.  The leading distance of 8.38m, posted by Jeff Henderson of the USA, in the very last round, was nothing special, but Greg wasn’t quite on his A game tonight.  Going into the last round, Greg was outside the medals, but being the true champion that he is, he pulled out his best jump with his final attempt.  At 8.29m, it was enough for third, but there was one jumper who could take it away from him, and he would be jumping last.  American Jerrion Lawson was perfectly capable of pulling out a big one, and as he landed, it looked like he had done it.  But no!  In a dramatic final twist, he was penalised for trailing his hand in the sand, meaning his distance was recorded at a piddly 7.78m, much to the fury of the American’s coach.  It was a bronze for Greg.  A great effort.  Though being the true champion that he is, he was bitterly disappointed and got rather teary in his interview afterwards.  Yes, the winning distance had been attainable so it was frustrating that he couldn’t better it, but hey, he did his best.  And that’s all we can ask of him.

The trilogy was reaching its denouement.  There was only one person left.  Jessica Ennis-Hill.  Since London 2012, she had got married, had a baby, won a world title, and got injured.  But here she was, fighting for the Olympic gold.  A poor shot put and long jump had left her in second place, and though she produced a valiant effort in the javelin, her rival Nafi Thiam unleashed yet another personal best to open up a gap in front.  The 21 year old Belgian was having the competition of her life.  Jess would now need to win the final event, the 800m, by over 10 seconds to win gold.  It was a tall order for the shortest competitor in the field.  But it didn’t stop her from valiantly having a go.  Jess took it up from the front and won the race, but the time wasn’t quick enough, and the gap wasn’t big enough, and inevitably, Thiam ran out of her skin to record yet another PB, which was enough to win the competition.  It had taken 5 personal bests out of 7 events for Thiam to get the better of the great Jessica Ennis-Hill.  In what might be her swansong competition, Jess had to settle for silver.  But being a born competitor, it will always be gold for effort and class for our Jess.

So it was one of each – a neat gold, silver and bronze for our illustrious trio.  Sensational Sunday didn’t quite materialise, but Super Saturday in front of a rocking home crowd was always going to be an impossible act to follow.  That we came away with three medals, including one gold, was an impressive result in itself.

Michael Johnson knows his onions.  Just before the women’s 100m, he had said: look out for Elaine Thompson, she is class.  How right he was!  She powered away from the field at 50m to win by what looked like a mile in a time of 10.71.  Very classy indeed, and very well predicted Michael.  Now, can you tell me the Lottery numbers for Wednesday, please?

Swimming:  With Sensational Sunday (in the end more Sort of Good Sunday) dominating the attention, the last day of swimming got overshadowed.  But GB ended their most successful swimming Olympics with yet another silver in the Individual Medley – though Adam Peaty should have won the gold for his leg alone, making up car lengths of a gap on the American to motor past him and build a 0.61 lead.  It was never going to be enough though with James Guy up against Micheal Phelps – yes, that one.  And yes, it was yet another gold for the indefatigable Phelps.  I have lost count of how many medals he has won.