My London 2012: Days 14, 15 & 16

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A quick recap of what caught my attention in the last few days of this wonderful Olympics.

On Friday I used my last free zone 1-9 travelcard to journey to the North Greenwich Arena, or the Millennium Dome, for the second of the men’s basketball semi-finals. One of my favourite aspects of this home Olympics has been being able to share my massive enthusiasm for the games with the people I love. I went to the hockey with my whole family for what felt like a proper day out. I took my sister to the only thing she showed interest in, the archery. I was able to sit down for the 100m final with my girlfriend, who promptly screamed through it and on Friday I went to the basketball, like I did every other week in my mid teens, with my two oldest sporting friends. Excitable little boys, the three of us, then and now.

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It was a funny situation, where we were thrilled to have got the semi-final with Team USA in it, a chance to see Lebron, Kobe and Melo but at the same compelled to support the underdog Argentina, who were trying desperately to do what no one else has managed this games and give the US a run for their money. They played some lovely basketball, they had to, there was no other way to score but the Americans were too strong, too quick and too skilful. Quite literally Citius, Altius, Fortius.

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In the stadium Friday saw a spectacular women’s 4x100m relay world record from the USA. Their time of 40.82s smashed the 41.37s set by the steroid boosted East German team of 1985, one the oldest records in all of athletics. The men’s 4x400m relay was very disappointing for Team GB after a strong showing in the semi. I don’t think they should have dropped Nigel Levine for Dai Greene in the final. Greene may be the team captain but he clearly hasn’t had his legs at these games. You can’t help but think the original quartet would have had the extra five metres needed for the bronze medal. An excellent win for the Bahamas though, tightening the Caribbean grip on sprinting and highlighting the USA’s comparative decline. Tirunesh Dibaba looked like her phenomenal 10,000m win had taken a bit out of her as she finished third in the 5,000m and wasn’t able to do the double, unlike…

Mo Farah who on Saturday ran the grittiest 5,000m I can remember and claimed his place as Britain’s greatest male distance runner of all time. His massive step up from good runner to great runner over the last year or so has been a joy to watch. What a great champion. I don’t mind telling you that I did my fair share of crying on Saturday night, in front of the telly. Things got a bit too much for me when the Beeb showed Brendan Foster’s beautiful happy face during the closing moments of Crammy’s commentary. Even Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis, whose weaksauce punditry has been shown up by the class of Michael Johnson got to me, Jackson’s voice taking on a maniacal tint and Lewis high-fiving a random fan below. There will be people invoking the names of Foster, Pirie and Bedford over the next few days, trying to claim they are still the greatest distance runners this country has produced but it will be nonsense. Mo has done the unthinkable in dethroning the Ethiopians and Moroccans who have dominated these two events and he is the first Brit to win gold in either of the long distances, let alone both, in the one games. He will be the long distance runner that all young British boys look to for inspiration for the foreseeable future. Perhaps he can inspire future British runners in the way Paavo Nurmi did for Finland and Haile Gebrselassie did for Ethiopia. This is new territory entirely.

Is Caribbean success spreading from the track to the field with the shock Trini win in the men’s javelin? There’s a lot of love for T&T around these parts of North London so I always cheered extra loud for them in the stadium. Good stuff. The Russian women’s team had an incredible meet, grabbing golds in the 20km race walk, high jump and 800m on the last day alone. It was only right that Jamaica and that man Bolt should get the final act in the Olympic stadium and boy did they perform, ending on a fantastic world record in the 4x100m relay, even with a shoddy last baton change. Blake’s bend was devastating. Game over.

Needless to say I’ve loved the Olympics and I’ll need to write up some summary of my thoughts on it over the next few days but coming into this last weekend I was pretty overwhelmed. With so much positive feeling about the games it was a joy to join the wonderful people at Good Gym, for their closing ceremony party in East London last night. It’s only a shame the ceremony itself was so utterly execrable. I don’t really care to write up how awful I thought the closing was, especially in comparison to the opening ceremony but even then I don’t think it was bad enough to undo the fantastic glow the games has lent to London. Bringing us back to earth will require the return of the summer rain, more government cuts and an ugly start to the football season, so give it a week or two.

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My London 2012: Day 13

Day 13 and didn’t I say that 800m would be special?

Special. Watch it here. Andrew Osagie of GB finished last but in a personal best time that would have won the last three Olympic finals. It was that special of a race. David Rudisha, the greatest track & field athlete on earth (whose name is not Usain Bolt).

The GB men’s 4x400m relay team had a stunning run in qualifying this morning. Jack Green was amazing and may keep team captain Dai Greene out of the quartet for the final.

Oh yeah, Usain Bolt became surely the greatest sprinter of all time, by defending both 100m and 200m titles. Unheard of. Blake pushed him again. I really hope Bolt doesn’t get bored and switch to some other distance or sport, or plain old retire because with Blake pushing him we are really seeing him at his best. It was outrageous and loveable watching him coast across the line in Beijing but to see him puffing and stretching across the line in London is something else, it is greatness.

Another great day in the Olympic stadium. Elsewhere, British women kicked the shit out of everyone and took all their gold medals. In the boxing, in the Tae Kwon Do and the horsey dancing.

Three things about the horsey dancing. ONE, I’m sure it’s very hard. It looks impossible. I’ve seen a horse fly, I’ve seen a peanut stand, I’ve heard a rubber band… I can’t imagine how hard it is to train a horse to dance, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the trainers getting the medals, or the horses. The commentators go on about how only the very richest families have these super skilled horses and paupers like our gold medallist only get to ride them through the generosity of these horse hoarding aristocrats. Weirdest sport ever. TWO, I work in a record shop, I know music, horsey dancing music is terrible. Horses. Dancing. To. Phil. Collins. A Lion King medley? It all culminated in a horrible mish-mash of patriotic British tunes with a bit of a beat, throughout which the commentator kept exclaiming “WONderful music!!”. THREE, they all do the same dance. The same exact dance. They’ve got like three moves and they do them in the same order. If this was humans it would be the worst dance competition ever. They’d all be disqualified. As you were.

My London 2012: Days 11 & 12

Days 11 & 12, two days in one post, they said it couldn’t be done but amazing things are happening this week.

In the stadium a strong field who should have known better, left the 1500m wide open for a sprinting Taoufik Makhloufi to win it. God knows what they were thinking. A big surprise but a sprint win at that distance does make for exciting viewing.

Ivan Ukhov managed to stay sober enough to win the men’s high jump. Unlike this time. I thought for a minute he was going to get over 2.40m but apparently that’s impossible nowadays. Progress, eh? Great to see Britain’s Robbie Grabarz share the bronze. I love a good high jumper. Dalton Grant was a hero at Haringey Athletics Club. I was once so transfixed by his jumping in training that I walked out in front of a massive sprinter on the bend and got sent flying.

On a day where Australia finally started winning some things, Sally Pearson set a new Olympic record in winning the 100m hurdles. Such tidy hurdling. Sadly she managed to compose herself before her post-race interview, so we didn’t get a repeat of last time.

Germany are having a tough games so it was heartening (oof) to see Robert Harting follow his two World Championship discus golds with an Olympic win in London. He is a veritable sporting renaissance man, being equally proficient in the singlet-ripping and the trailing-leg-only hurdles.

Sadly the decathlon is looking like a one horse race with America’s new world record holder Ashton Eaton looking untouchable. Where’s a big bad Cuban or Russian when you need them? In fact the States, who were having a fairly hard time so far as the Caribbean nations shut them out of the sprints, had a great day today. They picked up gold medals in the women’s long jump, the men’s high hurdles and the women’s 200m, with Alison Felix looking particularly dominant in the latter.

There was a great race in the women’s 400m hurdles. Almost as good as Chris Hoy’s in the velodrome yesterday, which probably gets my nod for race of the games so far.

There’s two big big big ones to look forward to tomorrow…

Bolt vs Blake, again, in the 200m final. Bolt’s start was excellent in the semi finals and he jogged it in after that. I really can’t see Blake beating him over Usain’s preferred distance and with Bolt unusually serious this week I can see him having a look at his world record. Look out for a possible clean sweep of the medals for Jamaica, with Warren Weir only qualifying in second from his semi because he took his eye off Churandy Martina.

I think the race I’m most looking forward to in the rest of this games is the men’s 800m. Tune in at 8pm (London time) and you might just catch a world record from the world champion and world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya. Here he is doing two laps of the track in only 1:41.1. Mind boggling. He’s not showy like Bolt and the 800m doesn’t have the glamour of the sprints but by god it’s hard on your legs and Rudisha’s dominance and world records are almost as remarkable as the Jamaican’s. A win tomorrow will make him the first Massai Olympic gold medallist and hopefully raise his profile a bit nearer to where it ought to be. He is a phenomenal athlete.

Tomorrow also sees the start of the relays. The sprint relays should be dominated by Jamaica and the men may well beat their world record but the 4x400s could be very interesting. If the best teams can get through the rounds then the finals could be quite a spectacle.

My London 2012: Day 10

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Day 10 and I made my sixth and final visit to the Olympic park. It really is a wonderful place. All that sporting excellence and human endeavour in one, just about walkable, chunk of East London.

The mood in the stadium was very sober after the giddiness of Ennis, Dibaba, Ennis again, Rutherford, Farah, Ohuruogu and Bolt. You could tell from their reaction to the 100m medal ceremony that the crowd was yearning for some glamour. Bolt got an even longer standing ovation than Jessica Ennis did on Saturday. It was as if the audience were trying to prolong their moment with the great man. Yohan Blake hasn’t done his image any harm this week with his own Boltisms and the crowd cheered his silver. Justin Gatlin’s bronze got a surprisingly large cheer from what I can only assume were the less well informed sections of the crowd. A good few thousand of the faithful peppered it with boos.

Kirani James dipped under 44s for the first time in his career to win one of my favourite events, the 400m. The men’s final represented a major shift in the event on two fronts. Firstly, it was a very fresh field, featuring three teenagers, including the gold and silver medallists, and four men under 25, including the Borlee brothers from Belgium. Secondly, it was the first men’s 400m final without a single athlete from the USA, since they boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980. They have absolutely dominated the distance during my lifetime, more-so perhaps than any other, hoovering up 16 of the 21 Olympic medals available between 1984 and 2008, often taking gold, silver and bronze in one go. Nine of the ten fastest 400m runners of all time are Americans, the tenth is Kirani James, last night. The times they are a-changin’.

I had a great view of the women’s pole vault competition, where American Jennifer Suhr won gold with a vault of 4.75m. I was rooting for Cuba’s Yarisley Silva who performed well above expectations to equal their national record, but fully expected the defending champion and world record holder Elena Isinbaeva to win it. The Russian gambled on going higher with two fouls under her belt and failed at 4.80m. A shock exit that caught out the stadium announcer, who just assumed she still had attempts left. She hid under a blanket while the other two fought it out, with the American eventually winning by virtue of taking one less attempt during the earlier rounds. High drama and the first field event that I’ve witnessed in the stadium to really capture the crowd’s attention.

Felix Sanchez regained the Olympic 400m hurdles title he won in 2004 with a very impressive run to upset the much fancied Javier Culson. The biggest cheer Sanchez got all night was when he broke down in tears during the medal ceremony. Whilst the national anthem of the Domincan Republic was playing and the big screens in the stadium zoomed in on his face, he lost it completely and the crowd tried to catch him, drowning out the rest of the music with cheers and applause. Britain loves a crier.

There’s been some absolutely amazing action in the gymnastics individual apparatus finals. I was very relieved to see Beth Tweddle win a (it rhymes) medal in the parallel bars, after almost single handedly flying the flag for GB gymnastics during her career. Now that all these boys are getting medals it would have been a real shame for her to retire from the Olympics empty handed. She was top class before the funding boost and deserves a lot of respect. The men’s vault competition was bonkers, it almost made me late for the athletics.

I’m going to be stuck to my sofa, almost literally if the temperature rises and I keep this laptop near me, for the next few days before I head to the millenium dome  North Grenwich Arena for a basketball semi on Friday. Needless to say, I will have more Olympic thoughts to share.

My London 2012: Day 9

(Video courtesy of my screaming girlfriend Lilli)

Day 9 and it was all about Usain Bolt.

In the run up to these games, it’s been the 100m finals tickets that people have been interested in. “You’ve got the 100s??”, “I can’t believe you’ll see Usain”, “How much would you sell me your 100m finals tickets for?”. A lot of people that can’t muster any enthusiasm for the Olympics, at least until it actually arrives, can still get into the 100. It’s the big show, the hot ticket, the one everyone is looking forward to, except that, when we pitched up yesterday at the Olympic stadium, everyone was talking about the night before. Saturday‘s  GB gold fest had stolen the show. When the woman behind me gasped “You were here LAST NIGHT?” I had to remind her that she was here for the 100m final. The one everyone wanted to see. Yes it was an amazing night for us Brits on Saturday but this is the one that plays around the world. The 100m final makes the headline news bulletins all across the globe.

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Mo Farah's gold medal ceremony

Before the main event we had the surprise silver for Christine Ohuruogu in the 400m. A surprise for me because she’s had an awful four years since winning in Beijing and she looks so bad running 400m that it’s almost impossible to remember how fast she can be. All that matters though is how quick you get to the finish line and she timed it almost perfectly, pipping the American to the silver, whereas the Russian who went out so strong faded away completely. It was a hell of a race to watch and a great silver for London, even if Ohuruogu wanted gold.

The women’s triple jump didn’t really grab us in our loftier seats. I don’t know how it played out on TV but in the stadium it got less attention than the high jump qualifiers, where Brit Robert Grabarz looked very comfortable.

In the semi finals of the 100m I was worried to see Asafa Powell finish third behind Churandy Martina and that most unpleasant of sprinters, Justin Gatlin. Powell is an incredible athlete. He squeaked into the final in the end as a fastest loser but pulled up after aggravating an old groin injury. He has run under 10 seconds a record 88 times, was world record holder with 9.77s and 9.74s.  He is the third fastest man ever and has been a credit to the sport but he finishes his Olympic career without an individual 100m medal of any colour. Powell, for me, has been the finest technical sprinter since Carl Lewis, and much more likeable. If I was a kid today, it would have been Bolt that inspired me but Powell who I studied. It’s sad to see him, and the world’s second fastest man, Tyson Gay, finish their Olympic careers without medals.

From a team GB perspective it was no great shame to see Dwain Chambers miss out on the final. We’ve got Adam Gemili running just one on-hundreth of a second slower than him already so just imagine what he can do in the future. Without drugs. Gemili was fantastic, finishing third behind Gay and Yohan Blake and at only eighteen years of age. Most promising of all was that he finished third by virtue of dipping for the line and forcing himself across it. He really wanted it.

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I was pretty convinced that Blake would give Usain more of a race than he’s ever had in a final over 100m but Bolt looked so comfortable in his semi final that the Usain show was back on. He certainly got all the support from the stadium. When they settled down into the blocks it took a long time to hush the crowd. Being a not very experienced athletics audience, weened on football and Wimbledon, there’s a lot of shouting. Some people see silence as an invitation to hear their own voice on TV. Some solid sanctimonious shushing from the other half of the crowd got them to SET and then the gun and then it was all over. All I had time to register, from my vantage point opposite the start line, was the taller yellow shirt, pulling away from the others at the 60m mark.

He certainly got pushed harder than ever. The four fastest men of all time, in one race, for the first time (It’s a shame Nesta Carter couldn’t be there, in place of Justin Gatlin?) and they made him run. Bolt had his trademark awful start but unlike the semi he had a drive phase and that gave him the acceleration to put him into his stride by the half way point, and we know that his stride his bigger than their stride, with a similar turnover, so he duly ate them all up.

Seven of the eight men ran under 10 seconds. The previous best was six men, in Beijing 2008 and in Tokyo 1991. These three must make up the greatest 100m races of all time. In Berlin, where Bolt set the current world record, only Gay went with him and was never in front. Bolt had to run 9.58s then because people had criticised him for showboating in Beijing. Yesterday he had to run 9.63s, the second fastest time in history, because nothing else would have beaten that field. That is good news for sprinting. Bolt is just 25, Blake 22 and Ryan Bailey of the USA, who ran a personal best in the final, is only 23. This show never ends.

The 100m doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. Not until you watch the slow motion replay. It just goes in a flash. It couldn’t contrast more with Mo Farah or Tirunesh Dibaba’s 10,000m finals of the previous two days. The atmosphere in the stadium was very different. Make no mistake though, people will be watching those ten seconds, on that track, allover the world for decades to come.

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My London 2012: Day 8

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Day 8 and I sat in row 20 of the Olympic Stadium, in my London, and watched the greatest night in British athletics history. Oh boy.

It started badly. British captain Dai Greene looked fine as he passed me on the back straight of his 400m hurdles semi-final but he faded in the second 200m and had to fight for fourth place. Then Jack Green (no relation) hit his hurdle and collapsed on the track. Dai eventually qualified for the final as a fastest loser but it really didn’t seem to bode well.

Then it all got a bit blurry. Christine Ohuruogu qualified with a season’s best for the 400m final. The men’s long jump started and before the crowd could really focus on it, GB were lying in first and third and Jessica Ennis was out on the track. She had about eight seconds to spare over Chernova who was lying in second and she’s a good 800m runner so I knew she was going to win, failing a collapse. I also thought she’d fancy a pop at running 2:05 and breaking the 7000 points barrier but as Schwarzkopf and Chernova passed her on the back straight it looked to me as if she was going to win the easy way, just staying in touch with them and not giving away too much time. I was wrong. The crowd, who were already making a monumental racket, reacted to her move into the home straight and screamed her up to and across the line. The loudest noise I’d heard humans make. Then. What a race.

Jess finished the seven events with a British record points total of 6955 points. The fifth greatest points total in history, only bettered by titans like Carolina Kluft, Sabine Braun and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She performed incredibly throughout, with personal bests in the 200m and the javelin and a heptathlon world record in the hurdles. I don’t know why Lilli Schwarzkopf finished ahead of Chernova for the silver but there was some kind of stewards enquiry, regardless, Jessica Ennis blew them all away, ending with a margin of 306 points. To put that in context the gap between first and second in Beijing was just 114 points.

She is a lovely athlete. Not something you can often say. Any time she was shown on the big screen in the stadium the crowd roared their adulation. She is beloved of GB athletics fans and to see her take the Olympic gold, after missing out on Beijing entirely, was a thing of beauty. She is strength and skill and grace and determination. A great champion.

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As Jess was doing her lap of honour, with the rest of the heptathlon field, Greg Rutherford, already lying in first with a jump of 8.21m, pulled out a massive leap of 8.31m and sealed the gold. He really was the only man getting decent distances and a deserved winner. We may not be near the heights of long jumping these days but it is still a hell of a spectacle to watch up close, and this was right under my nose.

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Two golds then. Surely Mo Farah couldn’t add a third, could he?

The men’s 10,000m was fast. Mo spent the entire race tucked in, just behind the front, exactly where he ought to be. The crowd applauded the pack as they passed, lap after lap, for twenty five odd minutes. As the race entered the closing stages, the whole stadium, even the posh seats where I was, rose to their feet in appreciation. This was serious distance running, at pace. With a lap to go, at the bell, Mo moved to the front. He accelerated the whole way round that last 400m. With great runners on his heels, chasing him, he had to. When he entered the home straight and Bekele appeared to be catching him, the noise of the crowd was even louder than for Ennis’ win. With the way a long distance race winds up, the crowd had grown in voice with Mo’s progress and as he kicked, to fend off the last attacks, the noise in the stadium reached an indescribable pitch. My voice was cracking, 80,000 voices were cracking and stretched. He crossed the line and the scream grew, louder again, into a roar. A victory roar, for homegrown athletic achievement that we are unlikely to see again on these shores.

As a lifelong fan of track and field, who took immense joy and inspiration from the scattered glories of Christie, Jackson & Jarrett, Gunnell and Akabusi, I cannot imagine how a night like last night plays to an aspiring young athlete. It’s an embarrassment of riches. An unprecedented night of success and it was utterly thrilling to be there. I am incredibly grateful.

I waved the first Union Jack I’ve ever bought, I sang God Save The Queen, and cried a little during Jess’ medal ceremony at the end of the night. I’ve seen a lot written recently, on the left, about the vacuousness of patriotism. I understand what people are talking about there, I really do. I don’t value the lives of one set of people over another, down that road lies war and persecution.

Where I think the flag, and the pride comes in, is this: I revere Michael Jordan. He is a herculean god amongst men to me, but I cannot relate to him. He is six foot six, grew up playing basketball every day in the far off lands of Carolina, USA, and his circumstances were completely other to mine. These incredible athletes of the Great Britain team, went to the same schools, ran around the same parks, trained in the same rain, ate the same spaghetti hoops, watched the same Grange Hill and played the same conkers as I did but they went on to win Olympic gold medals. THAT is why I waved the flag and screamed til I was hoarse and clapped til my hands stung last night, because they came from the same stuff as us and they made it, they are the best in the world.

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My London 2012: Day 7

Into the stadium

Day 7 and the big top opens to the public. Roll up, roll up.

The Olympic Stadium is very straightforward. There’s no fuss around it. It’s 80,000 odd seats and some steps to get to them. That’s it. It doesn’t have interminable corridors to walk around, the shops and toilets are all external, you just go in and sit down. Walking up the dark stairs as the hum of the crowd grew, I think I forgot to breathe. When I got to the top and the light and the space and the air hit me… It took me a minute to get my head back. I walked to my seat with a most foolish grin. The Germans and Italians in the seats next to me must have wondered for my sanity, a lone man with a maniac’s smile.

What a noise. What a noise. I’ve been to some big stadiums and heard some loud crowds but this takes the cake. I think it helps that the crowd isn’t very well informed. They really aren’t an athletics crowd. They’re a British Big Event crowd. One part the Proms, one part Wimbledon and one part FA Cup Final. They had no interest whatsoever in the field events. Tomasz Majewski, defending his shot put crown, barely registered with crowd, though the German crew next to me went wild for David Strol taking silver. I was rooting for Reese Hoffa, simply because he looks like Mr. Strong with a headband and a beard.

The crowd also ignored the long jump qualifying, despite two Brits making it through. To be fair it looked like a very weak field with Olympic champion Irving Saladino fouling out and only two athletes jumping the automatic qualifying distance. There’s definitely a chance of a medal for GB in this one.

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I tell you what the crowd did notice, Jessica Ennis. Every time she was announced in the shot put she got the most phenomenal roar from the 80,000. It takes a while for them all to cotton on so there’s this strange delayed climax to the sound. Her 200m was the home highlight of the night, without question. The flags waved, the flashbulb diamonds glinted all over the stadium. She ran her socks off. Ennis caught the Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers on the line and posted a time of 22.83 seconds. That translated into an overnight lead of 184 points over Austra Skujyte. She bent down to the camera and gave the stadium two thumbs up on the big screen. The crowd went mental. They are utterly in love and she is living up to the hype. The star of the games and if she finishes the job tonight she’ll be a household name for decades to come.

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The most amazing performance of the night was from Ethiopia’s legendary Tirunesh Dibaba defending her women’s 10,000m title in majestic style. With the two Kenyans, she had already broken free of the group but with just over a lap remaining of the half hour race she switched on the turbo. The crowd, to a man, rose to their feet and applauded the display from surely the greatest women’s distance runner of all time. The Ethiopian team, on the opposite side of the stadium from me, were in ecstasy, a writhing mass of yellow tracksuits. What a way to end the evening.

Today we see our first sight of Bolt and tonight, fingers crossed, Jessica Ennis will win the heptathlon. I’ll be down there again, sat right by the long jump for the men’s final. This is all a bit much for my tiny mind to process. So exciting.

 

My London 2012: Day 6

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One of the greatest pleasures of having the games here in London is being able to share my enthusiasm for this crazy fortnight of sports with my friends and family. Me and my sister went to Lords yesterday. When Olympic tickets originally went on sale, I asked her if there was anything she’d like to go to and she only fancied archery and maybe ping pong but the table tennis tickets never came through so we swam west against the Olympic current to St John’s Wood.

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I’ve never been to Lords before, cricket ranking near last in my preferred team sports list. The place seemed like a cross between a small football ground and the Natural History Museum. Not very glamourous. Thankfully the atmosphere in the temporary seating inside was great, with passionate Korean fans doing the bulk of the shouting. They were joined by a vocal contingent of Mexican fans, there to see their bowmen bowwomen archers claim the silver and bronze medals.

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The bows have got a gang of weights and sights added to them but the discipline is basically unchanged since paleolithic times, and to me that makes it a perfect Olympic sport, in the same way that running and swimming are. You don’t appreciate the skill involved when watching archery on the telly. They are shooting at targets seventy metres away. They are having to account for the wind and aim up to counter the gravity. After all that they are deeply disappointed if they score less than an eight. Sometimes they just hit nines and tens for whole sets. The eight women were whittled down very swiftly to South Korea’s Ki Bo Bae and Mexico’s Aida Roman. They’d been the strongest two all session and were so closely matched that they drew five sets all and had to settle the gold with a single arrow shootout. It was incredibly tense. Unbelievably they both scored eights and Ki Bo Bae was given the gold because her arrow was marginally closer to the centre. The eruption of noise from the Korean fans around us was the only indicator that she’d won, as the more ignorant sections of the crowd tried to work out what had happened. You can watch the ending here.

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 It was great to get out to one of the venues outside of the Olympic Park and see how smoothly they’re integrated into normal London life. We walked through Regents Park to Oxford Street afterwards and the whole place is calm and quiet. The only busy spot I found was the Olympic Shop on the fifth floor of John Lewis which was crawling with people. It was so busy that they’d sold out of the team running vest. Boo.
Amazing golds for Britain yesterday, especially the double doubles win in the canoe slalom. More gold today and the thirty four stone Judoka that everyone’s talking about.
The Olympics steps up a gear for me today with the start of the athletics. The first session this morning was a great start with Jessica Ennis setting a heptathlon world record in the 100m hurdles and posting a decent score in the high jump. That hurdles time would have won the individual hurdles gold in Beijing. I don’t think I’ve been so in love with an athlete since Michael Johnson. It was also great to see the young, and so great they named her twice, Katarina Johnson-Thompson setting a personal best in the high jump and getting the very partisan crowd behind her.
I’ll be in the crowd this evening for Ennis’ shot put and 200m sprint, not to mention round one of the women’s 100m, the men’s long jump qualifiers and the women’s 10,000m final. It’s going to be a great night and I cannot wait.

My London 2012: Day 5

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Day 5 and I split my day between the sofa and Eastlondonsportswonderland. The morning rowing gold for Glover and Stanning was incredibly dominant. I’ve watched my fair share of rowing finals over the years and this one was unequivocal. They bossed it from the start and left nothing to chance. No fancy tactics, just blow them away and keep it that way.

I was going to head to the park early and watch the time trials on the big screen but it started to rain, so the sofa won. By the time Wiggins had done his lap of the fancier bits of South-West London, the sun was shining on a second GB gold and a monumental month for British cycling. I’m really looking forward to the velodrome opening it’s doors tomorrow. By the way, if the answer to cycling gold is recruiting stereotype Mods, I suggest Dave Brailsford comes to see me at Flashback Records. I’ll sort him out some middle aged men in Parkas.

I ran out of the house before the medal ceremony and headed to the Olympic Park. I was pleased with myself for finding the shortcut from Hackney Wick station. It’s horrible to hear of a cyclist being killed around those same roads by an Olympic bus this evening. The park is wonderful but it’s surrounded by awful roads, for cyclists and pedestrians.

I got to the park early enough to enjoy a quiet beer, in the sun, by the canal, surrounded by flowers, looking up at the Olympic Stadium, in my hometown. I can’t tell you how lucky that makes me feel. When my handball gang got there we caught a bit of what looked like an excellent display in the men’s all-around individual gymnastics, on the big screen, and then grabbed some “foreign food” from World Square. The queues for “British food” are hilariously long. Methinks there may be some out-of-towners about.

Watching gymnastics on the big screen

Being world renowned experts in handball, especially my mum, we didn’t need to spend most of the first match (Spain vs Denmark) working out the rules, but for some reason we did enjoy the second game more. We decided to back Croatia’s women against perennial movie villains The Russian Federation. Handball is a fantastic spectator sport but I’m far too much of a wimp to play it. These young women though, bloody hell. Tough as anything, flying into clothesline attacks and slamming into the floor after scoring. They just get back up, with no malice for the person that squashed them and get on with the sport. Ashley Young or Joey Barton they are not. It was really easy to get behind the Croats, especially as they trailed the Russians by a couple of goals for most of the game. In the closing minutes my girlfriend, normally the shy retiring type, even managed to start a “CROATIA, CLAP CLAP CLAP” chant, that spread to half the arena. They duly won, lead by their phenomenal number 2, who was impossibly small and seemingly invincible. She was our unanimous choice for woman of the match, or woman of the day. Miranda Tatari, we salute you.

Everyone photograph the Olympic Stadium

I did want to have a big moan about people calling Michael Phelps “the greatest ever Olympian” but that may have to wait until tomorrow as it’s past my bedtime and walking around the Olympic Park is almost as exhausting as playing handball. I imagine.

The Olympic Stadium