23 August 2008

Beijing 2008

It has been an exceptional Olympic Games, both as a success story for hard-working British competitors and as a whole event. Highlights for me:-

- Swimming. Rebecca Adlington, David Davies and Jo Jackson have helped put to bed mumblings of British underachievement in the Olympic pool over the last two decades, but most of our participants set personal bests and British records in their swims. If they've swum their event faster than ever before, you can't ask for too much more. On top of that, the phenomenon that is Michael Phelps will single-handedly make sure that the balconies in London's pool will be jammed solid every day of the 2012 Games, and I intend to be among them.

- Cycling. The chaps in the velodrome have dominated the event from start to finish and Chris Hoy has made his own spot of Olympic history amidst a thrilling array of gold medals. This proves in particular that serious investment in facilities and training will be repaid with medals and victories many times over - cycling is one of the Olympic sports for which our Government has put its hand in its pocket. Reap what you sow.

- Handball. It's on at the moment, only via the red button, and it's an absolute beast of a game. I wish I'd heard of it when I was ten - I'd have found somewhere to play it.

- Water Polo. This too is on the red button, and I have played this. Keeping control of a heavy football with one hand while being disallowed from standing on the pool's floor and having your shins gouged by the sharp toenails of a crafty opponent is some feat.

- Rowing. Exceptional entertainment and athleticism, not to mention British success. That bloke Redgrave has made rowing an addictive Olympic sport for all of us, for life.

Lowlights, meanwhile...

- Athletics. I feel for Christine Ohurougu, as her legitimate and hard-earned gold medal will be forever tarnished by the nagging feeling that she escaped a life ban for missing three drugs tests, but ultimately this rusted gold medal of hers is likely to be the only one from the so-called focal point of the games, track and field. In Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona, the team representing our country in athletics was essential viewing, blessed with charisma and personality as well as talent (think Ovett, Sanderson, Thompson, Christie, Gunnell) but we don't have that star quality any more, and certainly not the talent. Hopefully a new generation is set for London.

- Gymnastics. Clever, admirable and athletic, but not sport. And if any of those Chinese girls are over 16 (the legal age for Olympic gymnastics) then I'm still 12.

- Rhythmic Gymnastics. Kill me now.

- Diving. Despite Tom Daley's progress to the final in the individual 10m board (and his dignity in dealing with a petulant 26 year old partner slagging him off after the synchronised event), this too is not sport. Although it is a damn sight more entertaining than gymnastics and I'm hoping beyond all hopes that this 14 year old lad does everyone, but most of all himself, proud.

- Anything involving horses. At least it's sport, but it's still not spectator-friendly. I still suspect that the horse does the majority of the work too. And those trainers who've been doping their animals deserve not just lifetime bans, but a criminal prosecution.

- Basketball. One end, basket. To the other end, basket. Back to the first end, basket. Etc.

- Sailing. I think I'd enjoy this more, especially as the British team are very good at it, if I understood just how many races each class had to go through, what the scoring system was and how each class of race differed from the other.

- Football and tennis. It's a commonly held opinion but indisputably the correct one that these two sports do not belong in the Olympics, simply because they do not represent the pinnacle of their participants' ambitions. Footballers want to win the World Cup. Tennis players want to win the Grand Slam titles and, if forced to think of their country, the Davis Cup.

We can predict what is now going to happen to our competitors - Rebecca Adlington will get an OBE (she's 15 years too young to be made a dame, like Kelly Holmes or Ellen MacArthur) and hopefully she'll exercise some principle and decline it because her local council, basking in the glory of their (part) funding helping her to success, are closing the pool she trains in. Tom Daley will be feted as the lad who'll make London's dreams come true and he'll be followed for four years and all diving competitions in which he partakes will get disproportionate national coverage. Chris Hoy, frankly, should get a knighthood, but he won't because he is a cyclist. Paula Radcliffe will claim she'll only retire when she has an Olympic gold, meaning she'll still be doing the marathon at Bamako 2040, when she is 66 years old. And the London games will go helplessly over budget, with the corporates snaffling up the readies which should be helping our athletes maintain Team GB's pride in 2012.

Well done to all our medallists and competitors.

Finally, well done to the BBC for using Jake Humphrey (exceptional), Matt Baker (even though he was commentating on gymnastics, it was still Matt Baker), John Inverdale (our most engaging and natural sports broadcaster, hence why he was on 5 Live as much as he was on TV), Garry Herbert (the rowing commentator and ex-gold medallist whose voice disappears as he gets more and more excited) and that remarkable woman Clare Balding who now seems genuinely capable of reporting on any sport stuck in front of her. I know stuff involving horses is her specialist subject, but this was a woman doing the BBC's coverage of one of rugby league's Challenge Cup semi-finals just three weeks ago, and she anchors Wimbledon for 5 Live too. Cap doffed in her general direction.

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