The Olympics: Reflections

~ For those bleating on about the lack of legacy after London 2012, take a look at the Rio medals table.  That is the true legacy of London 2012.  The Olympics are first and foremost about sport.  They are not a panacea for the social ills of the host country.  That has never been the remit of the Olympics.  The Olympic Games are a sports festival.  And that’s it.  If the Olympics achieve anything more that’s a bonus.  So long as they don’t leave the host city bankrupt and don’t have a detrimental effect on the locals or their environment, then they should be taken and enjoyed for what they are – a celebration of sporting endeavour, albeit a very expensive one for the hosts.

~ The BBC channel hopping was annoying, wasn’t it?  Why couldn’t they have kept the sport just on one main channel?  BBC 2 would have been fine.  It was more annoying having to change channels than having to watch it on the Beeb’s second channel.  And when an event was already being shown on BBC2, what was the point of changing it to BBC1 mid-event?  The worst thing was that the channel switching invariably happened at a crucial moment in play, or when the scores were coming in, such as when Max Whitlock’s rival’s score was about to come up and would decide whether Max had won a surprise gold.  Not good timing Beeb.  And was it me or was there too much talking and not enough action?  Yes, I know, uninterrupted live action was available on line but not everyone has access to unlimited internet.

~ One of the most refreshing aspects of the Olympic Games is that it affords women the opportunity to compete equally side by side with men.  We get to see more women’s sport in two weeks than we do for the rest of the year.  When was the last time a women’s team sport had a prime time slot on national TV?  Er, never.  Hopefully, it will reinforce a positive attitude towards women’s participation in sport and inspire more girls and women to take it up.

~ In future, the IOC either needs to give the Olympics solely to countries that are wealthy enough to shoulder the financial burden of staging them, or if it chooses to give the Games to developing countries, it needs to start digging into its well filled pockets to help subsidise the exorbitant cost.  It is morally reprehensible to burden a developing country and its prime city with a massive financial bill for a sporting jamboree it can ill afford, at a time when the country is suffering an economic recession and is riven with deep social problems and endemic poverty.

Of course, what would also help to make staging the Games more affordable, manageable and less bankrupting is cutting back on the burgeoning numbers of sports included in the programme.  Oh, hang on, they are adding five more sports in 2020.  Ah well, it’s not like the IOC are paying for any of it.

~ It’s not fair that Brazilians are being slated for half empty stadiums when the ticket prices were so extortionate none of the locals could afford them.  At the very least, the IOC could have arranged for a portion of tickets for the slowest selling events to be distributed to local communities to get them interested in unfamiliar sports.  It could only have benefited these Games to see fuller stadiums with enthusiastic locals rather than half empty stadiums peopled mostly by the media, mega wealthy corporate sponsors and IOC hangers on.

~ As things stand currently, I fear for the Paralympics.  London was unique.  The Paralympics have never been better supported before (except for Sydney 2000) and will probably struggle to do so subsequently.  With the host city struggling to fulfill its financial obligations, why isn’t the wealthy IOC stepping in to help?  As the vice-chairman of the BOA has pointed out, it has the financial means to do so.  The IOC reaps the rewards from the staging of the Games, so isn’t it about time it gave something back rather than just enjoying an expensive foreign jolly every four years at the host nation’s expense?

What am I going to do now without 24 hour wall to wall sport every single day?  I may actually have to get out during the day and go to sleep at night.

The Olympics: Day 16

This is the end.  Where has the two weeks gone?  It started a little slowly, with much negativity – drugs controversies, political crises, organisational difficulties, low expectations, and an underwhelming start by Team GB.  All a little lukewarm, until Team GB won their first gold medal with Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke, and then whoosh!  The medal rush began.  And kept going.  And kept going.  Through Sensational Sunday and Triumphant Tuesday, and every other day, the medals kept coming.  Shock golds – Max Whitlock on floor in the gymnastics, the GB women’s hockey team, Joe Clarke in the canoe slalom; surprise silvers – Bryony Page in the trampoline, Jack Laugher in the diving; gritty bronzes – Sophie Hitchings in the hammer, Nile Wilson on high bar in the gymnastics, to go with the expected favourites delivering in style – Adam Peaty, Andy Murray, golden couple Laura and Jason in the track cycling, Jade Jones in the taekwando, Alastair Brownlee in the triathlon and of course, the peerless Mo Farah in the 5k and 10k.  Suddenly, there was the almost unthinkable possibility of challenging powerhouse China for second place in the medals table.  Anyone who had sat through the miserly return from Atlanta 1996 of just 15 medals and a mere 1 gold probably thought they were dreaming.

Today, official confirmation that Britain will finish second in the medals table above China with 27 gold and 66 medals in total.  Hurray!  No post-London hangover for Team GB.  We are also the first host nation to have increased their medal haul at the following Games.  We like to think of ourselves as pioneers.  And we have still got a medal to come.  Gold, I hope.  Just to reinforce our position as the second best nation at these Games.  Nice to see GB as heroic winners for a change rather than plucky losers.  I hope with these Games that is a narrative that has changed forever.  We are kinda good at winning.  It suits us well.

Rhythmic Gymnastics:  It is stunning to watch, but is it sport?  I think not.  A bunch of thin, pretty, dainty girlies in heavy make up and skimpy costumes jiggling to music reinforces every negative stereotype about women and trivialises women’s sport.  Also, why is it allowed when it is a women only sport?  Sexism works both ways.  A sport should not be in the Olympics if both genders don’t compete in it.  No one would accept a men only sport in this day and age, so why does the Olympics accept women only sports such as rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming?

Boxing:  This was it.  The last chance.  Team GB’s final shot at Olympic gold in Rio 2016.  There have been a lot of shots, 27 to be exact.  Could Joe Joyce, artist, academic and sometime super heavy weight boxer, win Team GB their last, 28th gold medal?  It was going to be a tough ask beating the reigning world champion, Tony Yoka of France.  But Team GB have overachieved for the last two weeks.  We have overachieved to finish ahead of China in the medals table.  So why couldn’t our boy Joe overachieve in the boxing ring?

Joe was at him right from the start, getting him with a couple of right jabs.  But there is that dodgy judging system.  Two judges of three had Yoka in front after the first round.  Really, would Joe be allowed to win this unless he knocked his opponent out?  Just knock him out, Joe, just knock him out.  It’s the only way you are going to win.  Round 2 was across the board for Yoka.  This did not look good.  So confident was the Frenchman, by round 3 he was showboating.  He looked fleeter of foot throughout, and though Joe was scoring 10s for effort, his numerous shots weren’t penetrating as much as the fewer but more accurate shots of the Frenchman.  A final gold medal was not to be, but what an incredible effort, and it was still one more medal to add to our final total.

Team GB – G 27   S 23   B 17    Total: 67

Outstanding.

Team GB – take a bow.

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 14

Showjumping:  We must beat China, we must beat China.  This was not about winning the showjumping.  It was about staying ahead of China in the medals table.  The pressure was on.  But Nick Skelton and Big Star weren’t feeling any.  A tremendous clear round in the final, to follow their earlier one in the qualification, plus inside the time, and they were sitting at the top.  Skelton had been the first one of the clears from qualification to jump, so could now put his feet up and hope the pressure would make the others falter.  A few did, but six did not.  It would be a six way jump off for the medals.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.

Nick and Big Star were first up again in the jump off.  This time it was about going clean and going fast.  They were!  They blasted it!  Clean, and a fast 42.82 secs.  Beat that if you can.  They tried.  One by one they failed.  With the final rider to come, Skelton and Big Star were still in gold medal position.  Eric Lamaze of Canada was the only one who could snatch it away.  Clean, fast, coming up to the penultimate fence, and then – down!  The pole was down!  Nick Skelton and Big Star had won the gold!  What a round!  Big star – what a star!  Gold star!  Nick Skelton, the bionic man with barely an unbroken bone left in his body was finally an Olympic champion at the grand old age of 58, at his 7th Olympics.  He had come back from life threatening injuries, career threatening injuries, early retirement and disappointment in the individual competition at London four years ago.  He felt he should have won a medal.  He was not going to leave Rio without one.  Desire, determination and a superstar horse given a superstar ride.  For Nick Skelton life begins at 58.

Hockey:  Could our women do in 2016 what our men did in 1988?  It wasn’t the Germans at the other end this time, but the Netherlands – where were the Dutch, frankly who cares, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.  The Dutch ladies are to hockey what the German men are to football.  Indomitable.  So the last thing you want to do is give away a penalty in the first 6 minutes.  Unless you have a brick wall in goal, of course.  No, not David De Gea, but Maddie Hinch.  A Sherman tank would struggle to get past her so Maartje Paumen had no chance.  The Dutch tried again in open play, but no go.  Then, a hammer blow from GB as they went up to the other end and scored!  Lily Owsley had put GB in the lead.  Followed by another save from Hinch.  Was Team GB’s name written on the gold medal?

Not if the Dutch had anything to do with it.  They are the world champions and have won the last two Olympic titles.  They were going for the hat-trick, and weren’t going to take too kindly to anyone getting in their way.  They came out in the second quarter with all sticks flashing, and before you could say swish, they were level.  Then, before you could go whack, they were ahead.  This was looking ominous for Team GB.  But these girls weren’t about to let that gold medal go without an almighty fight.  They came roaring back before the Dutch had even stopped celebrating, with a sweet strike from Crista Cullen to make it 2-2.  This was turning into a classic.  Good to know our girls were keeping one eye on the medals table.  We need this gold, girls.  Do what you have to do.  This is the Olympics.  Upsets happen all the time.  If Leicester could win the Premier League, surely Team GB could beat the Dutch?  Wasn’t it the year of the underdog?

The Dutch weren’t reading the script.  Relentless waves of pressure in the 3rd quarter were leading to penalty corner upon penalty corner.  Could the GB girls withstand the Dutch battering ram?  They stretched every sinew repelling the onslaught, but after yet another penalty corner, a goal was as inevitable as China winning all the gold medals in table tennis.  3-2.

It was total domination by the Dutch, but while there was only one goal in it, GB were still in the match.  Could GB counter in the final quarter?  They might if they could get their sticks on the ball.  Finally, a penalty corner for GB.  And then another.  Gotta make it pay.  Gotta make it pay.  Come on GB.  Equalise.  Yes, yes!!!  I love it when they listen to me!  Nicola White on the far post.  Game on!  8 minutes 30 seconds left.  Now, come on GB.  Hold on.  You’ve got to defend like gods.  Oh god, we need three Maddy Hinches.  Inside the last minute.  Final whistle.  It’s…PENALTIES.  Now normally, this would be here we go again time.  But this is not football. It is not England.  Ironically, GB had a better chance of beating the Dutch on penalties than in normal time.  In theory.  Penalty shootouts are still a lottery.  This was hiding behind sofa time.  Hands in front of eyes time.  Where was that lucky rabbit?  Anyone got a four leaf clover?  Do we all have our lucky underpants on?  This was our chance to vanquish the penalty shootout ghosts of the past.  End the years of hurt.  This was for 1990.  This was for 1996.  For 1998.  For 2004.  For…sorry, forgot, this is not football.  Come on girls!

Penalty 1 GB – argh, keeper saved.  Penalty 1 NED – miss!  Great save Maddy!  Brick wall.  Penalty 2 GB – argh, no good either.  Time up.  Penalty 2 NED – miss!  Also out of time.  Scoring in hockey penalty shootouts is hard.  Penalty 3 GB – keeper fouls!  Penalty stroke for GB.  Come on, skipper.  Goal!  Penalty 3 NED – come on Maddy.  Saved!  Penalty 4 GB – now come on.  Let’s get another one and put this to bed.  No!  High.  Penalty 4 NED – hit post, then missed!  Penalty 5 GB – if Holly Webb scored, GB would win gold.  Come on Holly, let it be Christmas come early.  Scored!  GB had won it!  Gold, gold, gold!!!  Take that China!  Can you believe it?!  Next time England are in a penalty shootout, make the England hockey girls take it.  Maddy Hinch take a bow.  Player of the match.  Forget Buffon, forget De Gea, forget Neuer (ok, I don’t actually know any hockey goalkeepers except Ian Taylor, GB goalkeeper in 1988), forget Ian Taylor.  Maddy Hinch is the best goalkeeper in the world!

ps.  Thank goodness we didn’t play the Germans in the final, eh?  Oh yeah, they lost in the semi final penalty shootout to the Dutch, so maybe there would have been nothing to worry about.

pps.  You do have to feel for the Dutch; they are the best team.  But we have the best goalkeeper in the world.  That’s why we won.

Taekwondo:  Who writes Taekwondo scripts?  They need to hire a new scriptwriter.  British taekwondo has a rivalry straight out of Hollywood sports films.  Four years ago, Lutalo Muhammad was controversially chosen ahead of the then world number one Aaron Cook in the 80kg division for London 2012.  Cooky is British Taekwondo’s bete noire.  He had fallen out with their coaches and decided to go it alone.  He believed that went against him in the selection process.  He took the rejection hard.   To compound his misery, Lutalo Muhammad went on to win a bronze medal in London.  Ouch.  The row rumbled on.  Cook decided he had no future with British Taekwando.  He made a decision to change allegiance and start competing for Moldova.  Yes, Moldova.  I don’t think he suddenly discovered a long lost Moldovan great-grandmother.  The Moldovans were obviously quite keen to improve their Taekwondo results so welcomed him to their bosom.  In a reversal of the norm where foreigners become plastic Brits (see The Olympics: Day 12), a Brit became a plastic Moldovan.  That was how Aaron Cook found himself back at the Olympics (he had competed in Beijing).

Lutalo Muhammad is also in Rio.  He had already won his opening round to go through to the quarter finals.  Aaron Cook was aiming to join him.  Now any Hollywood scriptwriter worth their salt would have only one story in mind – yep, a showdown in the final.  Lutalo Muhammad against Aaron Cook for the Olympic gold.  Predictable?  Of course.  Cheesy?  Undoubtedly.  Emotionally gripping drama?  By the tissue loads.

So naturally, it didn’t happen.  Cook didn’t get out of the opening round.  Giving away inches in height to Liu Wei-Ting of Chinese Taipei, he was never in the contest, and didn’t even last the full three rounds, losing by a points gap just before the end.  No romantic fairy tale ending for Moldova-upon-Dorchester.  Still, in the finest cinematic tradition, there could be a final twist.  He still has a chance of a bronze medal if his conqueror goes through to the final as he can then go into the repechage.  So there is the prospect of British fans cheering for a Chinese Taipei fighter to get into the final so a Moldovan can fight for the bronze medal.  I think the Taekwondo scriptwriters must be Dadaists.

Lutalo Muhammad doesn’t do sentimental.  This is a guy who received hate mail and on line abuse after his contentious London selection, yet went on to win bronze.  He does wins.  A quarter final win against American legend and two time Olympic champion Steven Lopez.  A semi final win against Azerbaijan’s Milad Beigi Harchegani.  Lutalo was in the final and would be fighting for the Olympic gold.  Cheick Sallah Cisse Junior of the Ivory Coast awaited him, which, of course, meant no potential bronze for Aaron Cook and no temporary shift of allegiance to Moldova for British fans.

The start of the final was a cagey affair, before a head kick by Muhammad put him 3 points up.  By the end of round two, they were level at 4-4.  Come on Lutalo.  Put the ghost of London 2012 selection to rest.  Gold will end it.  Jesus, this was tense.  Round three.  No further scores, then – drama!  A kick towards Cisse’s head took his guard off, but the points didn’t register.  The British appealed, but video replay showed it had occurred through use of hand from Lutalo.  No points.  Then a push kick and a penalty point in succession put Lutalo 6-4 up.  There were only seconds left.  The gold was so close.  Now, defend.  Defend!  No!  Lost it in the last second!  A reverse turn and kick to the head from Cisse.  Worth 4 points.  Gold lost at the death.  Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Lutalo Muhammad will kick himself for that.  No golden fairy tale.  Those heartless scriptwriters.  Not Romantics, not Dadaists, but Brutalists.

Athletics:  Why did the BBC brigade keep expecting choreographed song and dance routines from the relay racers as they emerged from the tunnel?  That kind of tacky Gladiator-style (remember the old ITV show?) razzmatazz entrance into the stadium might be amusing at a World or European championships, but this is the Olympics.  It was no time for gimmicks.  This was time to say farewell to a legend.

It was Usain Bolt’s last Olympic appearance.  Could he go out with a bang?  Could he make history?  The triple-triple.  All Jamaica had to do was get the baton safely to Usain.  They did.  Sure they left him with work to do.  But he has been working hard all week.  Both his wins at these Olympics have been hard work.  But Usain owns the second 50m and he powered his way through.  Past Japan.  Say what?!  Yep, not USA, not GB, but Japan.  How refreshingly novel.  But the winner was reassuringly familiar – Team Jamaica.  It would be their final celebration with Usain Bolt in the team.  The last ever lap of honour.  The last ever lightening bolt pose from the great man.  In a tribute to the host nation Usain was wrapped, not in the yellow, green and black Jamaican flag, but the yellow, green and blue of Brazil.  What a touching goodbye.

ps.  Hurray for the British women’s 4 x 100m relay team for winning a great bronze behind the USA and Jamaica.  Keep the medal counter ticking.  60 medals now, just 5 short of the London 2012 record haul.  Come on, boys and girls.  Only two days to go.  One big final push.  You can do it!

pps.  GB are owed a gold medal after what happened in the taekwondo.  We need to collect.

Boo-gate:  Who are these morons who get wheeled out to give us their ‘expert’ opinions any time some contentious issue rears its head?  The latest nonsense spouting idiot, oops, I mean, some no mark American sociologist (is there a more pointless profession?) Peter Kaufman thinks it’s perfectly ok for Brazilians to boo rival athletes because it’s part of their culture, and criticising them is a form of ‘cultural imperialism’.  No, mate, it’s just rude.  Kaufman went on to say he rather enjoys the rowdiness of the home fans.  I doubt he would be enjoying it quite so much if he was on the receiving end when he was trying to win an Olympic gold.  Booing athletes because they are serial drugs cheats is one thing; booing someone on the medal podium while he was receiving a silver medal, having lost out to your home favourite is unacceptable and should be called out.  Barracking and heckling should never be mistaken for fervent passion and over-exuberance.

Booing is not a part of Brazilian culture; it is part of football culture.  Brazilians only have football as a reference point so their behaviour at other sporting events will mirror that of a football stadium.  This is South America’s first go at staging the Olympics, so it is understandable that the locals will not get everything right.  That’s why they need to be informed and educated about correct sporting etiquette; so they can get it right, not exonerated in the name of political correctness. It is possible to be passionate and sporting at the same time.

The irony is that in four year’s time the problem may be the other way around.  The Japanese fans may turn out to be so excessively polite and reserved that the complaints in Toyko might end up being about a lack of passion and atmosphere.  Swings and roundabouts.

 

The Olympics: Day 13

Kayak Double 200m:  After a brief hiatus yesterday to allow our Chinese friends to catch up in the medals table – we do want to make this a fair fight – Team GB were back to their medal winning ways.  First up, the kayak double.  In London four years ago, Jon Schofield and Liam Heath had the silver nicked from them right on the line by the fast finishing Belarusians.  So this time, if anyone was going to be doing any Artful Dodger impersonations, it would be them.  Employing a similar line lunging technique exhibited by our track cyclists (and Kristina Vogel of Germany), except in a kayak, they ensured a four way photo finish went in their favour.  Wonder how they used to separate them in the old days before photo finish technology?

Badminton:  You know GB are having a great Olympics when they start beating China in badminton (and diving).  The competition for second place in the medals table has really started hotting up.  Just when China might have thought they had caught up and gone ahead, back we came with another one of those surprise medals that are such fun to win.  Even more fun, of course, is beating China to it.  Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge, ranked a mere 22nd (which is incredible in the real world but not much cop at the Olympics) were punching way above their weight even to make the semi-finals.  Having lost to the Chinese world number 4s for a place in the final, they were now taking on the Chinese world number 5s for the bronze.

It was never going to be straightforward, and it was vital they took the first set.  They did!  A close 21-18.  But another tight battle ensured in the second.  They time they were edged out 19-21.  It would need a decider to, erm, decide it.  The British pair were clearly determined that China would not go ahead of Britain in the medals table on their watch.  They stepped up the gas and built up a big lead to go 20-10 up, one point away from victory.  It wouldn’t be a British medal attempt if there wasn’t some kind of drama at the end.  On match point, their return of serve shuttle was called out, but the British boys called for a review, aka Hawkeye, and it was called in!  Britain had won a bronze in men’s badminton!  What next?  Put money on us for a table tennis medal in Tokyo in 2020.

Triathlon:  They are the Williams sisters of triathlon, except they are, erm, brothers.  The Brownlee boys are the dominant family of triathlon.  It must be really difficult when your archrival is your own brother, and when you are one and two going into the final laps of the Olympics, it might be tempting to clasp hands and cross the finishing line together.  Yeah, if they were soft girlie twins who could finish no better than 81st in the marathon.  But these are rough, tough Yorkshire boys who are serial winners.  Or at least big brother Alistair is.  Jonathan would be too – if his big brother didn’t keep beating him!  Four years ago, running down the Mall, the boys were split and finished with gold and bronze.  But Johnny’s grown up a bit and Alistair has suffered horrendous injury problems, so who would get the bragging rights this time?

They stayed close together through the spectacular ocean swim in fourth and sixth place respectively.  They remained in the lead group through the hilly bike ride, and then broke away in the final running stage, with interloper Vincent Luis of France making up a threesome.  It wasn’t too long before they dropped the gooseberry in the middle – if you are not a Yorkshire man by the name of Brownlee, you don’t get to contest for a gold medal.  Going toe to toe with the Brownlees had taken it out of poor Luis and he was eventually passed by Henri Schoeman of South Africa for the bronze.

The gold medal would be another family affair as the Brownlee brothers made their way down the Copacabana Promenade.  The beachfront route was so distractingly scenic the triathletes must have needed an iron will to keep their mind on the race and resist the temptation to stop and take photos.  The brothers were still together half way through the race, with Alistair allowing baby brother to set the pace, when a sudden acceleration from Alistair more akin to an F1 car quickly opened up a gap.  In a blink, Alistair was gone.

There would be no stopping big brother now.  In triathlon it is the person who is willing to suffer the longest that comes out the winner.  Alistair Brownlee must have been a hair-shirt clad self-flagellating monk in his past life.  He was getting faster and faster in the searing heat of Rio when logically he should have been flinging himself onto the nearest beach towel with a Caipirinha in his hand.  So far ahead was he by the end that he literally had time to stop and smell the brisk sea air before stepping through the finishing line.  Little brother came through in second place this time to go one better than his bronze four years ago, though still no bragging rights.  Wonder if he ever wishes he had picked up another sport as a kid instead of copying his older brother.  Ah well, as he said in the interview afterwards, he will just have to wait until his brother is older, greyer and slower and then he will get his revenge.  Well, they do say triathlons are won by those who are willing to suffer the longest.  Jonathan has been suffering in his big brother’s shadow for a long, long time.  If you can’t beat bro, hopefully you can outlast him.

Sailing:  They also say good things come to those who wait, and Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark have been waiting a very long time to win their Olympic gold.  Like Giles Scott, gold medallist in the Finn class, London 2012 was traumatic for Saskia and Hannah for different reasons.  They finished in an agonising second place after losing the final medal race that seemed theirs for the taking in front of their home fans.  No gold post box for them.  Four years later, that failure still rankles.  But consolation and redemption awaited them in Rio.

The wait was longer than they would have liked.  They had the gold won with a day to spare, but then had to suffer a frustrating delay yesterday when a lack of wind led to the postponement of the medal race and their victory cruise to the finishing line.  But today, the wind was back – hurray!  The boats were sailing and Britannia ruled the waves once more.

Boxing:  Four years ago, Nicola Adams won a boxing gold by beating a boxer called Ren Cancan of – take a guess which country?  This time around, she was fighting Ren in the semi final.  Now, bearing in mind this is Ren’s Random Sports Blog, really we should have a soft spot for our namesake.  But sod that.  We have medals to win.  The worrying thing about the boxing at these games is the new scoring system, which has been more scary and unpredictable than any opponent.  You think you are watching one fight, then the judges go and score an entirely different fight altogether.  The only solution was for Nicola to knock her opponent out.  No judging system, no matter how ropey (geddit?) could counter a knockout.

After losing the first round 10-9 across the board, there was only one option.  Go for the jugular – or specifically a big right jab to the head.  Not quite a knockout, but effective.  A 10-9 win in round 2 and Nicola was level.  Round 3 was more of the same from our Nic.  Aggressive, attacking boxing, using the jab, hitting the target.  Unanimous 10s again.  Now same again in the last round, girl.  Ren, unlike yours truly at Random Towers, is a counter-puncher (we prefer to attack, attack, attack), so being forced to go on the front foot was always going to be a big ask.  But Nic had to make sure she ended strongly to give the judges no excuse.  A bit of afters post-bell, but Nic looked happy with her afternoon’s work.  Sure enough, it was her hand that was raised.  The Ren of China was done, and the Ren of Random Towers could contemplate further cultured ramblings, or more like sleep deprived witterings, on the prospect of yet another gold medal for GB.

Diving:  More Chinese Ren namesakes on show, this time in the 10m platform diving.  Ren’s Random Sports Blog salutes them.  At an age when most teenage girls are drinking, smoking, dieting and getting into boys and fashion, 15 year old Ren Qian has probably been spending every waking hour of the day training in the diving pool.  Which is why she was at the Olympics going for gold.  The only competition for Ren was another Chinese teenager, Si Yajie.  I am guessing these teenage sensations have been doing nothing but diving since they were in nappies.  How else to attain such high standards?  The quality of the competition was tremendous with scores in the 80s, and for the Chinese, 90s.  A great dive from Ren in round three saw her take the lead from Si and she didn’t relinquish it.  We Rens are ruthless, you know.  15 years old and completely nonplussed by winning an Olympic gold.  Wait till she has to do her exams.  Then she will know what pressure is!  Now, what was this Ren doing at 15?  Training intensely for the day they would include sprint chocolate munching at the Olympics.  I am still waiting – chocolate bar in hand, obviously.

Taekwondo:  The next time the police want to curb juvenile anti-social behviour, rather than giving out ASBOS, they should march the kids to the nearest Taekwondo club.  This is a sport where it is legal to kick someone in the head.  If that doesn’t tempt the kids to get off the streets and channel their aggression into something positive, nothing will.  That is kind of what happened to Jade Jones.  She was an unruly child, growing up in a council house, with a penchant for beating up boys.  To keep her out of trouble her grandfather got her into Taekwondo.  A prescient decision.  Fast forward several years, and she was Olympic champion in London.  Fast forward four more years, and she was in the 57g final in Rio, looking for her second Olympic gold.

Her nemesis, the second seed Eva Calvo Gomez of Spain, awaited in the final.  A super start for Jade with two head shots in the opening round, giving her a 7-0 lead.  But the Spanish girl came roaring back with her own head shot and a couple of body hits to close the gap to 7-6.  It was all to play for in the final round.  Could Jade do it?  A body hit for each and it was 8-7.  Both women are attacking fighters, so it was a case of who would get the hit in first.  Jade Jones is not known as ‘the headhunter’ for nothing.   No going for the jugular with Jade; it was straight to the head with two head shots in a row, and Jade was up 15-7.  Now it was about holding on to her advantage.  One more point to Jade, and it was all over!  Jade Jones had defended her title in emphatic style, romping home in the end 16-7.  I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of ‘the headhunter’.  Yes, Jade, whatever you want, Jade.  Will that be one Olympic gold, or two, madam?  Two, it is.  GB’s third gold, second silver, and one bronze of the day.  China have been threatening parity in the medals table again with their diving success, so right back at you.

Athletics:  Who’s the greatest?  Ali or Bolt?  During his early warm up, Usain was spotted with his headphones on doing the Ali shuffle, along with some random break dancing.  The only danger to Usain’s supremacy would be if he pulled something doing his dance moves.  Otherwise, the outcome of the 200m final was as much of a foregone conclusion as a Chinese winning the diving event.

When it was time for the race, the emperor entered his domain waving to the crowd like it was his swansong.  It may be the last time he runs the 200m.  It may be the last time he runs in an individual event at the Olympics.  Feast upon his deeds with relish, everyone.  We shall not see his like again.  Hopefully, we shall not see that Usain doll that was being waved in the crowd again either, though the living Usain gave it an amused thumbs up when he noticed it.

Usain was in the mood for dancing.  And smiling, and blowing kisses.  And running 19.78 seconds to win what may be his last ever 200m.  Again, like the 100m, he had to fight for it.  For once, we saw a Usain Bolt gritting his teeth and running hard for the line.  And once again, not in a mind blowing time either.  This was hard work.  But it’s all about crossing the line first, any which way.  Usain had done the sprint double for the third Olympics in a row.  It was his eight Olympic gold medal.  Afterwards, it was time for the traditional lap of honour, soaking in the adulation of the crowd.  Usain, Usain, they chanted, in a mesmerised frenzy.  An almighty roar when he delivered his lightening bolt pose.  That’s a memory for a lifetime.  If this is the last time – Usain, it’s been a privilege and a joy.

 

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 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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