In the rush of gold medals, world records, personal bests, triumphs and disasters which have made for compelling viewing during the London 2012 Olympics, it’s easy to miss some of the stories behind the headlines. Here are ten from the second half of the Games which may have escaped your attention, or at the very least bear repeating.
1. Poetic justice
An electrifying men’s 100 metres final was nearly disrupted when a spectator threw a bottle onto the track just as the runners were settling into their starting blocks. Fortunately, the miscreant’s aim was about as good as his judgement and the missile fell short of the athletes. (As with all bottles sold at Olympic venues, the bottle was plastic and not glass.) However he had not counted being sat within range of a Dutch judo bronze medallist. Edith Bosch struck him in the back with the flat of her hand, and he was subsequently arrested.
Lord Sebastian Coe called it ‘poetic justice’. Personally I think it would have been more apt if she had broken a glass bottle over his head, or if she had been a taekwando player rather than a judoka and treated him to a head kick.
2. So near and yet so far (part 2)
You may recall that last week I highlighted the misfortune of American cyclist Taylor Phinney, who finished fourth in both the men’s road race and time trial, thereby twice missing out on a medal by just one place. Well, step forward 400 metres runner Chris Brown. The Bahamian national record holder has been one of the top men in the event for the best part of a decade. At the age of 33, he was considered a potential medallist in what was almost certainly his last Olympics.
He finished fourth.
That in itself is heartbreaking enough, but consider his past record in the finals of major outdoor championships. Commonwealth Games: fourth in 2006. World Championships: fourth in 2005, fourth in 2007, fifth in 2009. Olympics: fourth in 2008. Taylor Phinney, eat your heart out. Brown has won a world title (in 2010), but that was indoors. Is there a more unfortunate ‘nearly man’ anywhere in major championship history?
3. A horse, a horse my
kingdom gold medal for a horse
It looked more like horse disco to me, but dressage was a big deal at these Games, with Britain winning gold in both the team (courtesy of Laura Bechtolsheimer, Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester) and individual disciplines (Dujardin, with Bechtolsheimer adding bronze for good measure).
It’s an even bigger deal to the Germans though. Excluding the 1980 Olympics (which they boycotted over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) they had won the team dressage at eight consecutive Summer Games coming in to London. Indeed, they take it so seriously that last year they spent an estimated £10m-plus to buy a horse from the Dutch team. However, rider Matthias Rath fell ill before the Games and both he and the horse were unable to compete. Expensive.
4. The path not taken
18-year old British sprinter Adam Gemili had an eventful Olympics. He failed to qualify for the final of the 100 metres, missing out by just one place and 0.04s. Then, running the anchor leg in the sprint relay, a botched change led to a disqualification which again denied him the opportunity to compete in an Olympic final. Nonetheless it has been a fantastic year for the young athlete, who won gold in the 100 at the World Junior Championships earlier this year, setting the second-fastest time ever run by a European junior in doing so.
It could have been very different, though. Gemili only committed full-time to athletics this year, turning his back on the opportunity to forge a career as a footballer. The youngster spent seven years in Chelsea’s youth academy before moving on to Reading and then League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge. I think he made the right choice.
5. I’ll see you in court
A thrilling women’s triathlon ended in a nail-biting finish between Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Sweden’s Lisa Norden. An enthralling race lasting just 12 seconds under two hours required a photo finish to separate the two athletes – the first time one has ever been required in an Olympic triathlon – confirming that Spirig had just held off Norden to deny her the gold medal. Although the Swede broke the finishing line with her head first, it is the torso which counts, and Spirig was declared the winner by ‘less than 15 centimetres’, according to officials.
That was that. Or so we thought. However, the Swedish National Olympic Committee and their triathlon federation lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) asking for both athletes to be awarded gold medals. This came after an initial complaint to the International Triathlon Union was thrown out. However, CAS refused the appeal. And rightly so. It’s a ruthless thing to say but if you finish second, you finish second, regardless of whether the losing margin is one millimetre, one metre or one kilometre.
6. You just couldn’t make it up (I)
The opening heat of the first round of the women’s 400 metres hurdles saw a Bulgarian athlete take a tumble. Her name? Vania Stambolova. You just couldn’t make it up, right?
Geeks promptly declared it a prime example of nominative determinism – the theory that a person’s name can have a significant role in determining their job, profession or character – in action. In case there’s something in it, I’m going to rename my children Lottery-Winner, CEO and Faster-Than-Bolt, just to be on the safe side.
7. You just couldn’t make it up (II)
I love serendipity in sport, when two events coincide to provide the perfect narrative, which goes some way to explain why this particular story is one of my favourites from the entire Games. Joanna Rowsell formed one-third of Britain’s women’s team pursuit squad, which swept to the gold medal in style, breaking the world record on each of their three rides.
Rowsell has suffered from the hair loss condition alopecia since the age of ten, and is now bald. Although she sometimes wears a wig, she always competes without one and has become something of a poster girl for the condition, a particularly horrible one for any child to have to live with. Where’s the serendipity? The team pursuit final took place on August 4th – which just happens to be International Alopecia Day.
8. You just couldn’t make it up (III)
Not so much a story as another interesting little coincidence, but what do cyclists Jason Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy have in common with Mo Farah? Yes, they are three of Britain’s five multiple gold medal winners at London 2012 (cyclist Laura Trott and dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin are the others, by the way). But they also share the same birthday: March 23rd. Kenny, born in 1988, is the youngest, while Farah was born in 1983 and Hoy in 1976. That’s 11 Olympic golds between the three of them. Not bad.
But do you know who else was born on the same date in 1962 (and therefore celebrated his 50th birthday this year)? None other than Sir Steve Redgrave. That’s 16 gold medals shared between four men sharing the same birthday. What are the odds?
9, The social media Olympics
With smartphones increasingly prevalent, this has been the first Olympics where social media has played a huge role in sharing news updates and images from the Games. It has also democratised the process, meaning that opportunistic photos of Venezuelan fencer Ruben Limardo travelling by tube wearing his gold medal can be immediately transmitted around the world and shared by anyone, granting image-hungry viewers candid insights into the athletes and the events which the massed pack of professional photographers at the venues would otherwise miss.
Mind you, even the pros have used social media to share all manner of wonderful images from this most photogenic of sporting events. Here’s one of my favourites, which requires little explanation:
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 4, 2012
10. The real stars of the show
Yes, we all love the headline-making names who have helped make London 2012 such a memorable Games: Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt, David Rudisha, Michael Phelps, Bradley Wiggins and so on. But the real stars of the show have been the army of purple-shirted Games Makers – all of them volunteers – who have played an enormous role in welcoming spectators and providing a congenial and hassle-free experience at every venue. It has been gratifying to see them receive a considerable amount of coverage in the media, but this (abbreviated) story provided by Lord Coe to BBC 5Live’s Sportsweek sums it all up beautifully.
I was on the tube going out to the stadium early the other morning with one of our Games Makers in the now familiar uniform. I said, “What do you do when you’re not doing this?”
“I’m a consultant at a large hospital in London – A&E.”
And I said, “Thank you very much for doing this. We can’t do it without you.”
And he said, “No, no, no, thank you .This is closure for me. I was a consultant anaesthetist on the morning of 7/7. I didn’t even know whether I wanted to be a volunteer. I ummed and ahhed over putting the forms in. I got the job, did the training. I wasn’t even sure frankly whether I’d make it through the first morning. But for me this has been closure because I saw the worst that day of mankind. I’ve now got into this and I’m seeing the best. For me this has been an extraordinary journey these last few days.”
That really summed up for me what the volunteers are doing here, and for that one person, just to have that conversation – it was a conversation I shall remember for the rest of my life.
No, no, no. Thank you – to all 70,000 of you.
These are just a small selection of the thousands of stories thrown up over the last 17 days of Olympic sporting action, a crucible of newsworthiness every bit as intense as the flames from the Games’ iconic cauldron. Roll on Rio, I say.