The Olympics: Day 2

Women’s Road Race:  A lot of hypocritical bleating about Lizzie Armistead’s participation in the race after getting cleared at the last minute by CAS over 3 missed tests.  Cycling is a sport where nearly all its top racers have been tainted by drugs to the point where I am not sure most fans believe anybody is clean, so all this whinging just comes across as sanctimonious.  Missing 3 drugs tests (reduced to 2 on appeal) is a minor infringement compared to what many top cyclists have done, several of whom have been allowed to return to the sport after actual drugs offenses.  Likewise, there are many competitors who have served drugs bans, not to mention non-track and field Russian competitors (as well as Kenyans), taking part here, so it’s rather unfair to single out Armistead when she hasn’t actually failed a drugs test.

As it happens, Lizzie didn’t win or medal, but the race was overshadowed by a horrific crash on the descent involving race leader Annemiek Van Vleuten, who was taken to hospital with severe concussion and three small fractures to her lower back.  Fingers crossed she recovers soon.

Tennis: Ok, I will lay my cards on the table.  I don’t think tennis should be in the Olympics.  But by God, what an amazing match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro!  The last time these two boys met, they served up an epic 4h 43 min semi-final at Wimbledon in 2014, which Djokovic eventually won.  The last time these two boys met at the Olympics was ironically also at Wimbledon Centre Court, at London 2012.  It was Delpo who had triumphed then in straight sets to win the bronze medal.  In between, and since, poor Del Potro’s tennis career has been ravaged by persistent wrist injuries.

Here, in the buzzing atmosphere of the Tennis Centre at Barra Olympic Park, the two Grand Slam champions played another thrilling match with breathtaking rallies and scintillating winners that had the crowd roaring with delight and bowing in respect.  Del Potro, helped by some pile driver forehands and a couple of friendly net cords, stormed his way to win the first set on a tie break, having failed to convert numerous break points on Djokovic’s serve during the set.

Djokovic never knows when he is beaten (except by big serving Americans on grass, obviously!), and even though he was on the back foot the entire match, he somehow took Del Potro to yet another tie break in the second set, but the zen was with the lanky Argentinian.  It was fittingly ironic that the winning point should be a forehand crosscourt winner helped on its way by an accommodating net cord.

It was an incredibly emotional match for both men.  Djokovic was visibly upset, having lost perhaps his last chance to win an Olympic medal.  For Delpo, it was another positive step on his comeback trail, and it was heartening to see him hit through his backhand several times.  There was even a magnificent crosscourt backhand winner halfway through the second set, which gives hope that his wrist troubles are behind him and he can be competitive on his backhand side.

I still don’t think tennis should be in the Olympics, but the players don’t half make it difficult to argue against kicking it out.

Beach Volleyball:  What a sexist sport!  How come the women have to wear itsy bitsy tenny weeny bikinis while the men stay modest in t-shirt and shorts?  Where’s the equality?  Let’s have budgie smugglers for the men, or t-shirt and shorts for all.  Whaddya mean people (ie men) only watch beach volleyball to ogle the women?

Swimming:  Ok, I actually missed Adam Peaty’s 100m Breaststroke gold medal win.  Oops.  Blame Novak and Juan Martin!  By the time the tennis had finished and I had switched channels, Adam was celebrating.  Well, it was never in doubt, was it?  He won it by a mile.  Unlike the last British man to win an Olympic Gold, Adrian Moorhouse, also in the 100m Breaststroke, who won in Seoul 1988 by one hundredth of a second.  Adam though could have stopped for a cup of tea and a chat and still made it comfortably in first place.  He destroyed his world record again (he seems to be on a record breaking loop), lowering it dramatically from 57.55 to 57.13.  Even Adrian Moorhouse must have been satisfied with that! [see Olympics Day 1]

Adam Peaty’s gold medal win seemed to be inspiring as, in the very next race, Jazz Carlin won a superb silver in the Women’s 400m Freestyle behind Katie Ledecky, who was demonstrating her own version of Peatyesque dominance.  After waiting 2 whole days for a medal, Britain had won 2 medals in the space of a few minutes.  Bit like buses then…

 

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!

No Road to Rio for Rory McIlroy

So, R-Mac says it as it is.  Yes, it was blunt.  Some of it was rather unwise.  But most of it was true.  Golf has no place in the Olympics.

Rory McIlroy, along with all true sports fans, will be watching “the stuff that matters” at the Olympics.  Like the running, and the swimming, the fencing and the throwing, the shooting, the canoeing, the tumbling and the rowing.  Proper, traditional Olympic sports where winning an Olympic medal is the pinnacle of achievement.  That should be the only criteria for inclusion.

Golf is in the Olympics because its powers that be want to grow its ‘brand’.  But why is it acceptable for a sport such as golf, which stages prestigious tournaments around the world and hands out millions in prize money to its top players, to use the Olympic Games as a marketing tool to grow its brand?  The Olympics are supposed to be a global sporting competition that celebrate athletic endeavour, not a marketing convention.

Yes, the top male golfers may have found an extremely convenient excuse in the threat of the Zika virus, but their en masse withdrawal reflects their tacit disapproval of golf’s participation in the Games, even if Adam Scott was the only one forthright enough to say it outright.  Predictably, the players have been condemned as selfish and accused of not playing because there is no money involved – which may or may not be true – but that accusation is rather ironic given the cynical money making exercise the Olympics have become.  Surely if the players were so greedy, they would be rushing to participate and increase their global profile so they could make more money out of it even if they weren’t directly paid for competing, not staying away like there was a potential virus going around.

Of course, there might be another, more prosaic explanation: the Olympics are a scheduling nightmare for the players.  The Games are in the way of golf’s own Olympics – the Majors.  The Majors are what matter in golf.  Golfers do not dream of winning Olympic gold; they dream of cradling the Claret Jug and wearing the Green Jacket.

The biggest of them, The Open, starts this week, and the US PGA will follow straight after, because it had to be bumped forward from its traditional August slot to accommodate the Olympics in the same month.  So basically, the players are being forced to play two Majors (did I mention they are the tournaments that actually matter in golf?) back to back in the space of two weeks.  And hot on the heels of the Olympics comes the Ryder Cup in September.  Plus, there are other events taking place on the Tour.  No wonder the players want to avoid the Olympics.  How the devil are they supposed to fit it all in?  Particularly without compromising the quality of their performance?

Obviously nobody within golf’s governing body, the IGF, had the foresight to realise what a scheduling headache they would be letting themselves in for every four years when they were desperately lobbing the IOC for inclusion in the Olympics.  A quick glance at the golfing calendar would have revealed that the Olympics fall bang in the middle of the last two Majors of the season.  This is in contrast to tennis, where there is a longer gap between Grand Slams, giving the players ample time to indulge in the Olympic experience, and it perhaps explains their unstinting support for the Olympics.  But for golf, the IGF face the prospect of having to change their golfing calendar every fourth year, to accommodate the Olympics.  Cue quadrennially unhappy golfers.

Golfers are entitled to prioritise the Majors and the Tour because those are the events that define a golfer’s career and legacy.  And yes, the money comes in handy too.  We have all got to make a living.  Instead of castigating the players for not being interested in competing at an event which is of no relevance to their sport, the critics should direct their opprobrium at golf’s governing body for their short-sightedness in pursuit of brand growth.

Golf doesn’t need to be in the Olympics to grow the game; golf’s greatest marketing tool is its own players.  What the sport needs is for its top players, such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, to play great, entertaining golf, win Majors, and create a barnstorming rivalry in the way of the ‘big four’ in tennis.  And the best place for them to showcase their talents isn’t in the exotic tropics of Rio, but at golf’s spiritual home in bonny, blustery Scotland, where its most prestigious tournament, The Open, is taking place this week.

As the saying goes, there’s no place like home.