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.

 

 

The Olympics: Day 9

Gymnastics:  Forget Super Saturday.  That’s so four years ago.  In Rio 2016, it’s all about Sensational Sunday.  Gold!  Gold!  Gold!  Max Whitlock Olympic Champion!  Now, we at Random Towers did say that young Max had the look of an Olympic champion about him, but that was on the pommel.  A floor medal was a possibility as he is the world silver medallist, bur with the Japanese Kenzo Shirai being able to throw out quadruple twists, a silver was the most that could have been expected.  But if you are going to do quad twists, you do still have to be able to land them cleanly.  That was the story of the floor final.  Max went out early and was clean, beautiful, elegant.  High degree of difficulty executed with easy brilliance and nailed on landings.  15.633.  Beat that if you can.  They couldn’t.  First Shirai.  Huge degree of difficulty executed with surprising tentativeness and wobbly landings.  The first one had bitten the dust.  Then, the very last competitor, Samuel Mikulak of the USA, the highest qualifier.  High degree of difficulty with…no!  Not happening.  Too many big hops on landings.  Max was the floor Olympic champion!  What what can I say?  I am floored (not a joke that will be doing the rounds, no).  Unexpected medals are such fun.  Unexpected golds are just…amazingly, mindblowingly brilliant.

Golf:  No silvers allowed today, Justin.  It’s Sensational Sunday.  Get with the programme.  Read the script.  A birdie putt to win on the 18th.  In the hole, sunshine.  Sofa coaching is so effective.  Justin Rose did not fluff his lines.  That’s an Oscar…oops, wrong kinda gold, I mean, the Olympic gold for Justin Rose.  Gold medal number 2.  Keep em’ coming people.  Keep em’ coming.

Gymnastics Part II:  The Pommel Horse.  The bonus gold.  Britain were having such a, erm, sensational day that we had the luxury of bonus golds.  In gymnastics.  Who would have thunk it?  After all the excitement of the floor, the first thing we all had to do was calm down.  Which was quite difficult with all these golds reigning down on us.  Statement from the sofa to the others: you are all fighting for the bronze.  You are not touching gold and silver.  End of.  Typically, the American refused to listen.  Alexander Naddour scored 15.700.  What?!  That was a big score.  A threat.  Next up was Oleg Verniaiev, the all around silver medallist.  The only other possible threat.  He was listening and mucked up early.  He looked drained after his all around efforts.  So that was him out.  Next!  Our Louis.  Order to Louis: stay on the bloomin’ horse!   He did!  15.833.  In the lead!  Get in there.  Next up the European champion from Armenia, Harutyun Merdinyan.  He was looking really good until…that pesky dismount.  Next!  Our Max.  Order to Max: bring home the gold, son.  Unbelievable!  Ok, a little ragged on the Busnari, but huge difficulty.  15.966!  Get in there!  The final gymnast to go.  David Belyavskiy of Russia, who Max edged for the bronze in the all around.  The highest he had ever scored was 15.300.  So could he really threaten?  A big error at the start.  Bad.  Then two Busnaris.  Good.  Dismount middling.  No.  Louis’s silver was safe, and Max was the Olympic champion again!  Max mine a double (yeah, yeah, terrible).  Right, who’s next?!

Track Cycling:  The cyclists – who else?  Where else could GB be guaranteed a gold medal?  So, men’s sprint final.  It was going to be a gold for GB.  Or it was going to be a gold for GB.  Ah, how relaxing.  How stress free.  Thank you track cyclists.  About the only lot who show any consideration for the state of our tickers.  So would it be Jason or Callum was the real question.  Answer?  There was only ever going to be one outcome.  King Kenny had it in the bag.  2-0.  It was gold medal number 4 of the day for GB and gold medal number 5 for Jason Kenny.  Jason is fast becoming Britain’s Michael Phelps.  Arise Sir Jason?  Right, next!

Tennis:  When doesn’t the track cycling clash with the tennis?  Andy Murray was taking on Juan Martin Del Potro in the gold medal match.  Now I love Delpo.  If I could be happy for anyone to beat my favourite tennis player, it would be him.  But I just couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t envisage him beating Andy over 5 sets.  If the final had been 3 sets, then yes, Delpo had a punter’s chance.  But unlike the previous rounds, the final was best of 5, which gave Andy a huge advantage.

In theory.  Andy never makes life easy for us – or himself.  He broke Del Potro in his opening game, but promptly lost his serve.  No problem.  Break him again.  Problem – he got broken again straight away.  What was going on in Andy’s head?  Taking control and then giving it way.  This was going to be another gruelling epic.  Over 45 minutes gone and only 8 games played.  We were going to be here all night at this rate.  The momentum looked like it was firmly with Delpo now, but tennis does strange things to a player’s psychology.  From nowhere, by dint of serving first, Andy earned a couple of set points on Del Potro’s serve.  And took it on the second.  7-5.  One set up.  Quite how he had won the set with a first serve percentage of 39% only he will ever know.

On to the second set.  Goodness knows what new crisis would befall Andy.  In both his previous matches, he had won the first set comfortably, only to falter in the second.  The pattern seemed destined to repeat itself as inexplicable inconsistency led to a loss of the opening game.  Example – a gorgeous backhand down the line, followed by a delicate drop shot, followed by an unforced error.  It was like a battle between good and evil for Andy’s tennis soul.  Del Potro continued holding on to his advantage and won the set 6-4, sending the Argentinian fans wild.  After 2 hours and 15 minutes, it was one set all.  It was going to be a really, really long night.  Not good.  Had they not seen the schedule?  Did they not know Usain was running tonight?

Andy really needed to improve his first serve percentage, but at 2-3 in the third set, it was Delpo who struggled with his serve, hitting two double faults.  Andy grabbed his chance, breaking on the second break point (why does he never break on the first?).  It was clear Delpo’s level had gone down, which was hardly surprising considering they had been playing for 3 hours and they were still in the middle of the third set!  Some weary forehand errors from Del Potro and good Murray pressure earned Andy 3 set points.  He fluffed the first with an unforced error (quel surprise), but made no mistake with the next, a driving crosscourt return of serve to win the set 6-2.  Come on Andy!  One more set to go.  We might just be in time for Usain!

But Andy is Andy.  If you thought he was on easy street now, hah, you haven’t watched enough Murray matches.  For those of us who have, it was same old, same old.  Took his eye off the ball and lost his opening service game.  Not wise to give away a free game to a mental giant like Delpo.  This is a man who, if it wasn’t for those horrible injuries, would have been a member of the Big Four, or perhaps made a Big Five.  Make no mistake Andy, you were messing with a champion.  But, boy, does Andy loves a fight.  Get into hole.  Get out of it.  Get broken?  Break back.  But Andy was still struggling to get rhythm on his serve.  Break again.  Bad.  Break back.  Good.  4 breaks in a row and we were level.

By now, Delpo looked like he was really starting to suffer.  He had been clutching his thigh and grimacing during the previous service game, and looked like he was just hanging on with those get-out-of-jail bludgeoning forehands.  At the next break, Delpo had his thigh massaged.  There must have been some magic in the oil because it seemed to revive him.  He held his service game to love with a plethora of thunderous forehands.  What a lionheart.  This really was a battle of attrition.  Gruelling.  Grinding.  Draining.  An incredible mental and physical effort from both players.  Suddenly Delpo seemed to be back in the groove, and looking ominous.  Andy was back to struggling on his serve and Delpo only needed one break point to go 4-3 up.  Soon, it was 5-3.  Although Andy finally held his next service game comfortably, Del Potro would be serving to take the match into a fifth set.  Time to give on seeing Usain.  In fact, forget Usain.  At this rate, they would still be playing at the closing ceremony.

Andy was back in that hole.  And there is only one thing he does when he’s there.  He grits and grinds his way out of it.  Gets break points and mucks them up.  Too easy.  Need to do more work.  More unbelievable defending.  An unreal epic rally somehow won by Andy brought up another break point and had the crowd on its feet, raucously applauding both players.  Poor Delpo had to rest on the net to recover.  But if you thought he was done, forget it.  What a first serve to save it!  What champions they were!  “This is macho tennis,” said the awed commentator, and, boy, was he right.  A cruel drop shot from Andy which Delpo somehow got to – how?! – but Andy was able to hit the winner past him.  Break point number 4.  Come on Andy!  Get it done.  In the end, stamina did it for Andy.  Delpo just couldn’t give any more, and a weary forehand into the net meant we were level.  Now could Andy hold his serve?  There was a feeling that if he held his serve, this might be all over.  But this being Andy, it was hardly going to be straightforward, since Del Potro wasn’t giving up without a herculean final effort.

Andy was soon 0-30 down to yet another forehand onslaught from Delpo, and a wondrous backhand winner down the line (a heartening sight considering those debilitating left wrist injuries) gave him two break back points.  Andy saved the first, and finally hit an ace to save the second.  Another ace!  Wow!  Now it was advantage Andy.  Come on, one more.  One more.  Yes!  At last, he held.

3h 53 mins played.  Delpo was serving to stay in the final.  Come on Andy, time to give it over to Usain.  Finish it off.  The sofa coach was knackered watching from the sofa.  Sofa coach needed a lie down.  Another brutal forehand winner from Delpo, cancelled out by a great return and follow up volley from Andy.  15-15.  A return of serve long from Andy redeemed by a great forehand from him to draw an error from Delpo.  30-30.  The momentum swings were dizzying.  Andy was now two points away from victory.  The tension was gut wrenching and the partisan crowd could barely contain themselves.  A great return from Andy to Delpo’s backhand drew a short ball, but just as Andy was about to put away a winner, someone shouted out from the crowd and put him off.  Idiot!  Andy looked too exhausted to do anything but glower in frustration.  Game point Del Potro.  Another great return from Andy to Delpo’s backhand to draw an error.  Deuce.

Then, more drama as the play was suddenly stopped.  A rowdy Argentinian, wearing a very silly Jester hat in his country’s pale blue and white colours, and his mate were ejected from the arena, but not before he had waved goodbye to everyone in the crowd – talk about milking it – to boos, jeers and cheers.  After that prolonged delay, and with the crowd in a frenzy, the umpire somehow, eventually, managed to get the crowd to be pin drop quiet.  Let’s play.  A rally and missed cross court forehand from Delpo!  Match point Andy!  Come on!  The clock had hit 4 hours.  Could Andy do it?  No!  Return into the net.  Argh!  Deuce again.  Better return to Delpo’s backhand, and Delpo netted!  Match point number two.  Another rally, another final weary backhand into the net from Delpo!

At last, at long, long last, Andy had done it.  Four exhausting hours, and he was the Olympic champion again.  In a touching moment at the net, both men were hugging and crying on each other’s shoulder, such was the emotion.  It was a pity there had to be a loser, because neither player had given an inch.  Neither player deserved to lose.  It may have been Sensational Sunday for Britain and Andy Murray, but it was also a sensational silver for tennis’s lost champion.

So, Andy’s epic, marathon win made it 5 gold medals and 1 gold pending in the sailing, plus 3 silvers, for Team GB on Sensational Sunday.  8 medals in one day.  What a remarkable day of sport for Britain.

Athletics:  Finally, after four thrilling, but energy sapping, hours of tennis, we could get to the athletics.  Fortunately, with Andy’s impeccable sense of timing, he had managed to win the final just in time to be able to catch Usain Bolt’s 100m semi-final.  Another cruise to victory in 9.86 seconds, and a stroll into yet another Olympic final.  It really is a foregone conclusion, isn’t it?

It wasn’t just the tennis and Sensational Sunday for Team GB that was threatening to overshadow the Bolt show.  An amazing world record in the 400m from Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa, who smashed Michael Johnson’s record, to win the Olympic gold in 43.03 from lane 8.  MJ’s record had stood since 1999 but van Nierkerk bettered it by 0.15 secs, and a new star was born.  Beat that, Bolt.

Who is trying to steal my thunder, Usain might have asked.  Don’t they know I am the Lightening Bolt?  The king of the track.  Waves and claps to the crowd even as he was preparing for the race.  A smile and point to the camera.  Ever the showman.  Really, the only thing that was going to steal the show was Usain not winning.  And that was never going to happen.  Not even with his usual atrocious start.  Too damn tall.  Not even with public villain number one, Justin Gatlin’s, brilliant start.  Not even with a big gap to overcome.  For a split second of a moment we might have wondered…and then he powered through to the finish line in his customary first place.  Nothing spectacular this time; no world record.  A solid 9.81.  He had to work for it.  But he was still easing up as he was pounding his chest in his trademark victory salute.  No wonder Gatlin had to resort to drugs.  Even then, he has never been able to get anywhere near him.  Don’t bother Justin.  You are in the presence of greatness.

Usain is a man of the people.  He interacts with the crowd: smiling, waving, kissing, hand slapping.  He takes selfies with the heptathletes.  Usain and Jess – what a photo.  He takes off his shoes and stands up on the boarding so he can get to his Jamaican team mates.  Handshakes and thanks.  Then, the money shot.  The lightening bolt pose for the photographers.  He soaks up the adulation of the crowd.  They chant his name as though he is a gladiator.  Forget gladiator.  He is the emperor of athletics.  A hug for the young pretender van Nierkerk, who dared to steal his thunder with a world record.  But no one can take the attention away from Usain.  He is too compelling to watch.  If sport is entertainment, Usain is your man.  If sport is pushing the limit of human endeavour, Usain is your man.  The fastest man on earth.  A running god.  A Man United fan (he has good taste).  Winner.  Hero.  Legend.

The Olympics: Day 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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