Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympic Moments

I know every paper has them, but I though I would compile my top ten Olympic moments

And so, in no particular order:

1. BBC coverage
From their decision to stream up to 24 live channels on their website and on the red button to dedicating the whole of BBC1 and BBC Three to coverage, the BBC has done the Olympics proud. On the radio and TV, their presenters, commentators and summarisers have been (almost) universally excellent, but I'll pick out Claire Balding. Michael Johnson and Leon Taylor as the best. You almost forget that Balding was confined to horse racing as recently as a couple of years go. She's now the number one choice for the big event. I know Johnson has fallen out with many in the US, but their loss is our gain. As someone tweeted - give him a couple of weeks and he could put Lawrenson and Hansen in their place on the Match of the Day sofa. And Taylor was brilliantly clear as he explained the twists and turns of the diving competition and accurately predicted the judges' verdicts every time. When someone is able to explain why a particular dive is worth an 8 rather than a 9.5 a novice feels much more comfortable watching.

But whilst there were highs, there were a couple of lows too. The football sofa surfers were shown just how inadequate they were. And John Inverdale clearly went into the games with an unreasonable level of expectation for the GB team. His downbeat interviews with silver and bronze medallists really did the athletes little credit. In 1969 he would have opened up with "So Neil Armstrong, you only landed on one moon?" Clearly someone had a word and he lightened up for the second week, but the damage was done.

2. Tom Daley
After the (relative) flop in the synchronised competition, the knives were out. 'He spent too much time on the TV rather than practising'. You could see that there were pundits willing him to fail. Well he didn't. He won a fantastic bronze medal and will be back in four years time.

3. BMX riders
They're nuts. Broken collar bones and ankles littered the 440 metre track but still the riders picked themselves up and tried to cross the finishing line. Addictive viewing.

4. Nicola Adams
The first ever woman to win a boxing gold medal. Forget Usain Bolt and his 'I am the greatest' claims, she just wanted a Nandos. Down to earth star.

5. Sarah Attar
Not every superstar at the Games broke a record or won a medal. Sarah Attar was the first Saudi Arabian woman to take part in a track and field event when she ran in the 800m. She may have finished almost half a minute behind the pack, but there wasn't a single person who wasn't clapping her when she did so and, I suspect, few dry eyes either.
This was the equality games as women could, for the first time, compete in every sport that men could (and one more - men don't do synchronised swimming). British women won more medals than our men and the overall number of athletes was as close to 50-50 as you could wish. And, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain finally included women in their teams.

6. Horse dancing
One of the two surprise sporting hits was the dressage competition or, as almost everyone I know took to calling it, horse dancing. Even on the radio it was addictive listening. It was great enough when they were doing it seriously early on, but the freestyle section to music was fantastic. It's just a shame that so many horses apparently like Phil Collins.

7. Ben Ainslie
Cornish boy makes good for the fourth Olympics in a row. And even better, the man who denied him gold in his first games - Robert Scheidt of Brazil, got beaten by the Brits in another class.

8. Leftie Crap
Managing to totally misjudge the mood of the entire nation, Aidan Burley MP became the hate figure of virtually everyone with his tweets about the opening ceremony. Danny Boyle was never going to match the regimented precision of Beijing but he turned in a quirky and brilliant effort which set the mood of the games as quintessentially British.
And things turned even worse for Burley with Super Saturday when a Somali refugee, mixed race woman and ginger bloke all won gold medals in the athletics stadium.
Some Olympics are political in their nature. Beijing was all about China's place in the world, Athens was reasserting theirs and the games of the 80's were all about geo-politics and boycotts. But, like Sydney, London was primarily a celebration of sport.

9. Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins
For all his 'I am Legend' hyperbole, Bolt is a genuinely likeable chap. His jokes and fist bumps with volunteers before the race are engaging and he seems to believe that you don't need to be a wannabe gangsta to be a sprint champion.
Only one man can get Britain off their seats with excitement on two Saturday nights in a row - and it isn't Simon Cowell. Mo Farah was the man. Everyone knows his story and everyone knows his family - the 9 month pregnant wife and the lovely bubbly daughter who insisted on going onto the track after the 10,000 metres. I fear they won't get a moment's peace for many months.
A week before, Bradley Wiggins had been the man. Coming into the Olympics fresh from winning the Tour de France, Wiggins gave his all to try to win gold for Mark Cavendish. That didn't happen but he was still able to blitz the field in the time trial for a stunning gold. He too is a fantastic role model. He wears his heart on his Fred Perry sleeve and has inspired a nation to get cycling again.
Together with Jess Ennis, never give up Kath Grainger and so many others, these are people to be proud of.

10. Britain
If you watched Twenty Twelve, the BBC's sitcom about the organisation of the games, you probably imagined that we were heading for a very expensive disaster. Before the event began, the papers were full of stories of queues, missiles and security blunders. Whilst nothing will excuse G4S and there will have been other problems along the way, the UK has proved that we can organise a major sporting event and do so with humour and pride. Full marks to Seb Coe, Keith Mills and the people who put it together. And well done too to Blair, Livingstone, Boris and all the politicians who believed in it.

Bubbling under: The GB men's gymnastic team. Track cycling. Handball.

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