The Olympics: Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Olympics: Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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