12 OF THE BEST MOMENTS
JUST as Usain Bolt has shown that an Olympic Games can be remembered for those who deliver on their promise, there is a flip side to the golden coin. The light being shone on the dark corners of Australia's Games, the demand for answers, litters the first steps on the road to Rio like thumb tacks.
JUST as Usain Bolt has shown that an Olympic Games can be remembered for those who deliver on their promise, there is a flip side to the golden coin. The light being shone on the dark corners of Australia's Games, the demand for answers, litters the first steps on the road to Rio like thumb tacks.Mitch Watt, the beaten long jump favourite, dared reflect that there is nothing wrong with silver, and was shouted down. This is the modern Olympic way, where the notion of winning through taking part is a quaint ideal from another time.Judoka Jake Andrewartha had trained for 14 years for his Olympic moment, only to be eliminated in 24 seconds by a Scottish marine. He fought a losing battle to hold back tears, convinced he had let himself and his country down.Leeane Choo and Renuga Veeran reached the badminton quarter-finals after four pairings were disqualified for trying to lose. It was Australia's best badminton result since Barcelona but, after a tight loss to Canada, an inconsolable Choo slumped against a wall and sobbed.Ten minutes passed words and embraces failed to bring her back. Veeran appeared, bent down, took her partner by the hands and hauled her to her feet and into her arms. This was an Olympic moment for all Australia. "It's OK," it said. "Time to move on."TEAM GBThe catchphrase was "Inspire a generation", and Great Britain's athletes lived it with every stroke, pedal, stride, leap, blow and throw. An Olympic Games is all the better when the host nation is central not only to constructing the stage, but what takes place on it. After a start slow enough for The Sun to run a front page "Wanted" ad featuring a gold medal, the locals mounted the podium's top step often enough to get vertigo (well, relative to a certain long-time rival, anyway). Deep into the second week, Yorkshire would have led Australia on the medal table if it was a country and not a county. Andy Murray even won Wimbledon, sort of. The public transport worked, the military became the friendliest security guards on the planet, and the crowds were warm and generous. With a great soundtrack to boot, London's Games rocked. OPENING CEREMONYWhen it all starts with the Queen hamming it up with James Bond, corgies and all, you know you're onto something. And then she jumped out of a helicopter. Danny Boyle's Games fire starter was so good on so many fronts, not least because it didn't attempt for a second to better Beijing's all-hands-on-deck spectacular. It paid homage to real people, to those who have built the kingdom and cared for it too. It was touching, dramatic and funny, laughing at itself in that priceless British way. It finished with a shared lighting of the most beautiful of Olympic cauldrons. No single person took the spotlight. It was Britain's opening, just as it would be Britain's triumphant Games.LIU XIANGOf all the last-place finishes that had people on their feet, Liu Xiang's was the heartbreaker. China's 110m hurdles star won gold in Athens but walked away from the start in Beijing with a nation dumbfounded and his Achilles mangled. In London he fell at the first hurdle, tore the same tendon, then picked himself up and hopped the length of the straight, stopping only to kiss the final hurdle before crossing the line into the embrace of fellow competitors. Liu is 29, and determined that he'll be clearing hurdles again in Rio, not hopping alongside them.WOMENOf the nearly 11,000 athletes who competed in London, 45 per cent were women. Since Seoul 24 years ago, male athlete numbers have stayed in the 6000s women have climbed from just over 2000 to a little under 5000. In a gigantic tin shed in the docklands, women's boxing entered the Olympic stage. On the power of the stories delivered, it justified its place. Like Nicola Adams, the beaming flyweight from Leeds whose dream started aged 12 when her mother took her to an aerobics class and she ended up in a boxing ring instead. At training every day she would look at a picture of Terry Spinks, who won Britain's first boxing gold in Melbourne in 1956, and read the words, "This could be you." In her head she made a subtle change. "This will be you." And now it is. At the judo, Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympics lasted only 82 seconds but, in becoming the first female Olympian from Saudi Arabia, she had a victory that cannot be measured in points. Her compatriot Sarah Attar followed at the athletics track, finishing almost a lap behind the winner of her 800m heat, yet drawing an ovation as she circled the track in black leggings, long-sleeved green top and white head covering. "I know that this can make a huge difference," she said. Inspire a generation indeed.MICHAEL PHELPSThe greatest Olympian ever won another four gold and two silver medals to finish his career with 18 gold and 22 trips to the podium over three Olympics. Yet it was how he behaved in defeat that was just as defining. After the South African Chad le Clos ended his bid to win the 200m butterfly at three Games in a row, Phelps accepted his silver, then took le Clos under his wing and showed him where to pose for photographs, where to acknowledge the Olympic family, how to behave when you're the champion. A star to the end.MEARES AND PENDLETONAnna Meares and Victoria Pendleton were rivals for a decade, so it shouldn't surprise that they haven't always got along. When Meares won sprint gold, a medal the locals' beloved "Queen Vic" craved as the perfect retirement present, Pendleton rode alongside her, took her hand and held it high. "She gave me a hug and said that I deserved it, that I was a great champion," Meares said. "I just broke into tears." Pendleton had earlier taken Meares' keirin crown. They could argue over who was greater, or just call it a draw.SALLY PEARSONThe pressure she was under to deliver an expected gold for an unexpectedly success-starved nation was all over Sally Pearson's face as she stood at the 100m hurdles start. It was raining, just as it had been when she suffered a doubt-inducing loss in the lead-up. She sucked in air, spoke to herself, slapped her hips. Oh no, we fretted, not you too! But Pearson is made of stern stuff. Out of the blocks and safely over the first of 10 obstacles, her steely will and perfect technique took charge. Television viewers knew she had won long before she did, heightening the drama. Then came the relief.The Olympic record was a bonus.USAIN BOLTHe did enough - or not enough - in the lead-up to make us doubt him. He might have a niggle, we thought. He might surrender his title to his fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake. Then he walked out of the blocks while others burst. But he got those long levers pumping and ran past them all. He did the crossbow celebration. Then he went back to his room with half the Swedish handball team. "Men's team, was it?" the great Michael Johnson wondered on the BBC the next day. "Oh, I didn't think so." The late night didn't seem to drain him. Four days later, Bolt stormed around the bend and cruised home to defend his 200m crown, putting a shhhh-ing finger to his lip as he crossed the line ahead of Blake and Warren Weir, an historic Jamaican one-two-three. He dropped to the track and hammered out a few push-ups. Faster, stronger, cooler than the rest.OSCAR PISTORIUSArguments that South Africa's double amputee is an ill-fit at an able-bodied Games were hard to sustain - or even be heard over the crowd - as the "Blade Runner" set off in the 400m. Pistorius lost this lower legs at 11 months but never lost the drive his late mother instilled in him. After reaching the semi-finals he recalled her mantra: "A loser isn't the person who gets involved and comes last it's the person who doesn't get involved in the first place."JAMES MAGNUSSENOne one-hundredth of a second is an untrimmed fingernail of a margin that will dog James Magnussen for many, many laps to come. Having frozen in the 4x100m relay, his shot at redemption had a gut-dropping end when he touched the wall in the 100m freestyle final, looked up at the board and saw the name of the American Nathan Adrian above his own. This was the story of Australia's torrid time in the pool, when victory in the women's 4x100m relay on the opening night was the best it got, and no individual gold was won for the first time since Montreal in 1976. Then, embarrassment spawned a national institute of sport this time there will be a forensic review. Susie O'Neill will be at its helm, and thinks our swimmers no longer work hard enough. "It's been a tough Olympics," Magnussen said. "That hurts."As he is about to discover, it takes four years to shake the whiplash of Olympic disappointment, and there is only one true cure.KATIE TAYLORIreland has its first Olympic gold medallist in 16 years, and a new hero. Coolly, clinically, powerfully, Taylor took apart all comers in the lightweight division. Her first victim, the Briton Natasha Jonas, fought admirably too, then stepped out of the ring and spoke for all in their craft. Anyone who thinks women's boxing has no place at an Olympics should see Katie Taylor fight.FELIX SANCHEZThe frames of his wraparound sunglasses were bright yellow, the lenses filled with the track's red glow. His head was shaved, his moustache a manicured line. It made Felix look very much the cat, but it was what only Sanchez could see that powered him to the line."Abuela", Spanish for grandmother, was inscribed on his shoe. After upstaging more fancied runners and reclaiming the 400m crown he won in Athens, the 34-year-old dropped to his knees and plucked a photo of his beloved "Abuela" from his vest. He learnt of her death at home in the Dominican Republic on the day of the 2008 Olympic heats. Understandably, it threw him. Four years on, he paid her a golden tribute.OPENING CEREMONYWhen it all starts with the Queen hamming it up with James Bond, corgies and all, you know you're onto something. And then she jumped out of a helicopter. Danny Boyle's Games fire starter was so good on so many fronts, not least because it didn't attempt for a second to better Beijing's all-hands-on-deck spectacular. It paid homage to real people, to those who have built the kingdom and cared for it too. It was touching, dramatic and funny, laughing at itself in that priceless British way. It finished with a shared lighting of the most beautiful of Olympic cauldrons. No single person took the spotlight. It was Britain's opening, just as it would be Britain's triumphant Games.