Monday 18 August 2008

Shattered in Shunyi

So it's 3 Olympics and 3 silvers for Katherine Grainger. While in Sydney the quad came late to grab an unexpected silver by the narrowest of margins, then in Athens the pair overhauled the Belorussians to finish behind the Romanians, on Sunday in Beijing the women's quad led at the halfway stage but were reeled in by an impressive Chinese crew who passed them in the last hundred metres or so to win by a few feet. (Watch the video on BBC here).

Sharon was distraught as she saw her friend's dream of a gold medal slip away, although her disappointment was nothing to that of the crew who were utterly dejected that they had not managed to win the gold they had targeted from the outset of this campaign. On a weekend where GB had near-unprecedented success, clinching several golds in cycling, sailing and rowing, it was especially hard that Katherine and the rest of the quad did not join the ranks of gold-medal winners.

Aside from that disappointment, the run of Jamaican giant Usain Bolt in the 100m was nothing short of astonishing as he danced over the line in 9.69s at least two metres ahead of his closest rival. The last time I was amazed by a 100m run was Ben Johnson's 9.79s demolition of the field in Seoul twenty years ago, but his subsequent positive test for nandrolone cast a shadow over the sport from which it has struggled to emerge. Time will tell but Bolt seems a different character who will do the sport a lot of good. In the pool, the utter domination of Michael Phelps as he won his 8 gold medals, each in a new world record, was also fascinating to watch. It was in the first Olympics that I remember, Munich 1972, that Mark Spitz won seven golds, a record that Phelps, now the most decorated Olympian ever, has just eclipsed. There is a degree of envy that a swimmer like Phelps, talented as he undoubtedly is, has the opportunity to go for so many golds whereas someone like Katherine, who will train every bit as hard, has only one chance at one event.

Whether Sean will remember these Olympics is debatable. He and Finn have been insisting on watching the evening highlights but that is more of a stalling tactic to avoid going to bed than genuine interest, although Sean does have his moments. What I remember most about the 1972 Olympics of course, is coming home from school (P2) and wondering why the Olympics weren't on; the coverage instead being that of the Israeli team being held hostage. Events like that put sport into perspective but it is no less heart-breaking to see someone like Katherine who has put so much into her sport and achieved so much (she is the first British woman to have medalled at three Olympics) be denied the Olympic gold she had set her heart on.

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