Archive for July, 2012
Day 4: Michael Phelps hailed a superhero after record breaking 19th Olympic medal but no credit for China’s wonder swimmer
On the day Michael Phelps officially became the greatest Olympic athelete of all time, the big question for the host nation is who will claim the first Gold medal for Team GB at London 2012.
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins is the favourite to win the men’s time trial on Wednesday afternoon. But GB’s rowers will have the chance to beat our cycling team to that first Gold in the morning at Eton Dorney.
In pole position are Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the women’s pair. They are the red hot favourites after storming to the final by breaking the Olympic record. And if Team GB are to achieve a projected record medal haul it is essential the rowers fulfil their potential.
The Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University has predicted Team GB will win 27 gold medals at London 2012, and 56 medals in total. Home advantage, they forecast, will equate to an extra 15 medals. Four years ago the same experts predicted China’s record medal haul in Beijing.
SWIMMING: This time round China are the talk of the Games because their teenage wonder swimmer Ye Shiwen won the 400M individual medley in an eye popping time that almost matched the winner of the men’s final.
“My results come from hard work and training and I would never use any banned drugs. The Chinese people have clean hands,” Ye told China News Service after her remarkable swim on Saturday. And the 16-year-old Ye barely raised a smile when she won her second gold on Day 4 in the women’s 200m individual medley.
How tragic that such an incredible display should be overshadowed by unjustified media speculation of substance abuse. It hardly seems fair after no such fingers have been pointed at 15-year-old Lithuanian born Plymouth schoolgirl Ruta Meilutyte, who won gold in yesterday’s 100M breakstroke final.
It is no surprise that the American coach John Leonard, has suffered a backlash of online anger from fans who believe he has tarnished the Chinese wonder swimmer because he is a bad loser. The executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association told The Guardian newspaper that Ye’s performance was “unbelievable” and “disturbing”.
Unbelievable but in no way disturbing was tonight’s historic swim by Phelps.
It was great to see an excited packed-house at the Aquatic Centre pay a respectful tribute to the legendary American who won his 15th Gold when he led home the anchor leg in the final of the 4 x 200M freestyle relay. That took Phelps’ overall tally to a record 19 medals.
What an amazing journey it’s been for the American superhero who made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Sydney 12 years ago. It has been a great privilege to watch Phelps – and how damatic that he made history an hour after one of the most frustrating defeats of his brilliant career
Phelps made a shocking blunder at the end of his signature event, the 200 butterfly, and had to settle for silver. But that made the taste of Gold in the relay all the sweeter.
EQUESTRIAN: Meanwhile, it was silver that put the smile on the face of Great Britain’s Equestrian team.
Tina Cook, William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Nicola Wilson finished runners-up to Germany to take GB’s fourth medal.
What great theatre it was when Tina Cook sealed second place ahead of New Zealand by collecting just one penalty, Germany taking the Gold.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t get gold, but the team’s been awesome,” said the Queen’s grand-daughter Phillips who poignantly received her medal along with her team-mates from her mother, the Princess Royal.
FOOTBALL: What an achievement by Team GB’s women to beat Brazil 1-0 at Wembley to top their group and claim a quarter-final against Canada. And what a outstanding winner it was by left-back Steph Houghton, who struck from a tight angle in the second minute to score her third goal in as many games.
GYMNASTICS: When it comes to inspiring the next generation, Team GB’s gymnasts are having a special Games. The women’s artistic gymnasts were unable to replicate the men’s bronze medal display …but they put on a breathtaking performance to wow the watching nation and finish sixth.
The quintet of Beth Tweddle, Imogen Cairns, Jennifer Pinches, Hannah Whelan and Team GB’s youngest member Rebecca Tunney (pictured), raised the roof of the Greenwich Arena despite being unable to upset favourites USA.
Day 3: Team GB’s Gymnasts stun favourites to win bronze in men’s team final but it’s heartbreak for Daley and Waterfield
ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS: What an astonishing day it’s been for Team GB’s gymnasts – with the men making the podium in the team final for the first time in a century.
Rank outsiders heading into the competition, Louis Smith, Sam Oldham, Kristian Thomas, Max Whitlock and Dan Purvis finished in the silver position before a Japanese appeal nudged them into third place.
It was a bizarre and confusing finale that leapfrogged Japan from fourth place to second behind the invincible China, much to the derision of the home fans. But don’t let that overshadow a remarkable achievement in a sport where no men’s team in the modern era has even come close to matching Britain’s last bronze in 1912.
DIVING: In sharp contrast to the delight at the North Greenwich Arena, it was heartbreaking to watch Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield fall short in the synchronised diving after holding the Gold medal position at the half-way mark.
It was even more upsetting to hear that the pair received abuse on a social networking site for finishing just outside the medals.
The British pair slipped behind China, Mexico and USA into fourth when Waterfield over-rotated on entry in the fourth of six dives. But it was still an outstanding effort by the pair.
How disgusting then to hear that 18-year-old Daley, who lost his father to cancer last year, was subjected to a sickening rant on Twitter.
Devastated Daley responded by making an example of the abuser. ”After giving it my all you get idiots sending me this,” Daley tweeted before linking to the message, from a user named Riley Junior, who had written: ”You let your dad down, I hope you know that.”
WEIGHTLIFTING: Elsewhere, it was also a day for Zoe Smith to hit back at her Twitter abusers when she set a new British clean and jerk record. The 18-year-old lifted 121kg on her way to an 11t place finish in the women’s 58kg weightlifting competition.
It was a stunning effort by the attractive youngster who had every right to turn on her critics by declaring: ”There are people who hate female weightlifters because we apparently all look like men. But we don’t. I’m a girl, I wear make-up and lip gloss and things like that.” Well said Zoe, who looked absolutely stunning when she appeared in the BBC studio with Gabby Logan last night.
ROWING: At Eton Dorney 25,000 fans went crazy when Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins smashed the Olympic record as they made it through to the final of the women’s double scull. Their time of six minutes 44.33 seconds shaved almost five seconds off the previous best set by Germany in 1992. What made their victory margin even more incredible was they eased off in the last 500m to keep something in reserve for Friday’s final.
For 36-year-old Grainger, a silver medallist in her last three Olympics, let’s hope she finally lands that elusive Gold medal.
SWIMMING: How amazing to see 15-year-old Plymouth schoolgirl Ruta Meilutyte win Gold for Lithuania in the women’s 100M breaststroke. It was Lithuania’s first ever swimming medal. And it was a proud moment for her British coach Jon Rudd. The youngster, who attends the same school as Tom Daley, edged out American Rebecca Soni by 0.08 seconds. The look of wonder on the teenager’s face was one of the stand out images of the Games so far. She was so surprised she could hardly speak. It was an uplifting moment at the end of a race that began in confusion when the beep went before the swimmers were told to take their marks, causing a false start.
Day 2: Silver for Lizzie Armitstead in a thrilling women’s road race gets Team GB up and running at London 2012
How fitting that a week after the nation was gripped by cycling fever when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, Team GB’s first medal at London 2012 came in the road race.
After yesterday’s shattering disappointment when Mark Cavendish was unable to win Gold in the men’s event, 23-year-old Lizzie Armitstead showed true grit and determination to win silver in the women’s race.
And what a thrilling women’s road race it was.
Chased by the peloton, the breakaway trio of Armitstead, Marianne Vos and the Russian Olga Zabalinskaya powered through the heavy rain to set up a pulsating finale.
Former world champion Vos held off a gutsy effort by Armitstead in the final sprint for the line. But this was an heroic effort by the Yorkshire girl who claims her place in history as the first medal winner for Team GB at London 2012
It was a great achievement that left the thousands of supporters who lined the streets of London singing in the rain.
“I’m so shocked, it feels really strange,” said the Leeds-born rider as she climbed from her bike. “My teammates did exactly what they were asked and I can’t thank them enough. Emma [Pooley] attacked on Box Hill which was great as I needed an aggressive start.”
As London 2012 is already experiencing, sport is always guaranteed to serve up a kaleidoscope of human emotion. Moments after Armitstead’s joy we heard the news that 38-year-old Paula Radcliffe’s dream of winning her first Olympic medal is over.
After four previous unsuccessful Games appearances the world record holder will not compete in the marathon because of a foot injury.
SWIMMING: What an outstanding display of guts and determination by Rebecca Adlington to defy the odds and win bronze in defence of her 400M freestyle title.
It was no surprise that French favourite Camille Muffat took the Gold this time. But the hugely popular swimmer from Mansfield – a double Gold medallist four years ago in Beijing – sent the home fans wild with delight when she gave everything to force her way onto the podium.
“I’m so proud to win a medal at my home games,” said an emotional and clearly relieved Becky as her thousands of supporters cheered in the background. It was a magnificent effort after she only squeezed into the final as the eighth fastest swimmer.
GYMNASTICS: Beth Tweddle produced one of the best routines of her life with a brilliant performance in qualifying for the final of the uneven bars. And then crowned a remarkable day by leading GB teammates Imogen Cairns, Rebecca Tunney, Jennifer Pinches and Hannah Whelan to the team final.
It continued the buzz of excitement around the British gymnasts started by the men’s team who yesterday qualified for their final.
Former world champion Tweddle, aiming for a medal at this her fourth and final Games, recorded the highest score of the day on the uneven bars. She pulled off an intricate routine with a seven star manoeuvre, one of the hardest in gymnastics, and wowed the crowd with a double, double dismount which included two somersaults and two turns.
For good measure she threw in her signature move, the Tweddle, when she catches the bar with her hands crossed. The judges awarded her a score of 16.133.
It’s been a tough road to fitness for Tweddle, in this her fourth and final Olympics. It has meant sleeping with an ice chamber on her knee to ensure competing in today’s qualifying round.
SAILING: Ben Ainslie made a great start in his bid for a fourth consecutive Olympic Gold medal with second place behind Denmark’s Jonas High-Christensen in both of his Finn class races on the opening day at Weymouth.
The 35-year-old Brit – traditionally a slow starter – lies two points behind his rival in the 10-race series.
BEACH VOLLEYBALL: The hottest tickets in town on the first Sunday at London 2012 were arguably the Beach Volleyball. And what a treat there was for British fans who braved the wet conditions at Horse Guards Parade – and were rewarded when Team GB’s women won a thriller.
Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin dramatically fought back after losing the first set to beat Canadians Marie-Andree Lessard and Annie Martin 17-21, 21-14, 15-13. “To bring home a win for GB was amazing,” said Mullin. “The crowd just kept us going. It would have been amazing whether we won or lost.”
“I lived every point and all the ups and downs.” added Dampney.
Day 1: No medals for Team GB but roar of home fans, Olympic record for rowers and host of outstanding results augurs well
Inspired by an outstanding opening ceremony that was brilliant, bonkers and right up there with the best the Great British public are the extra driving force that promises to drive Team GB to new heights.
On the streets of London our cyclists were outmaneuvered by the rest of the world who denied the world’s undisputed fastest sprinter Mark Cavendish the chance to win the Gold medal so many of us hoped he was destined to collect.
But the scale and enthusiasm of the thousands of supporters who lined the route all the way to the Mall was out of this world. And the sheer enthusiasm and fervour was a similar story right across the board.
“The crowd were ludicrous,” said GB rower Richard Chambers after helping the lightweight men’s four win their heat at Eton Dorney. ”I’ve never felt anything like it. The public supporting us makes us quicker.”
Meanwhile, it spurred Helen Glover and Heather Stanning into setting a new Olympic record. The duo, who have won gold in all three World Cups this season, clocked six minutes 57.29 seconds in the first heat of the women’s pairs.
There was a similar patriotic fervour in the Aquatics Centre where British competitors were greeted with deafening screams for the opening round of swimming heats.
“All I could hear was the crowd going haywire,” said Fran Halsall, after qualifying for the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly.”They tried to quieten them down and everyone was still shouting. It really made me smile and relax.”
Enjoying a similar experience in the table tennis Team GB’s Joanna Parker confessed after winning her first round match at the ExCel Arena: “I’ve never played in this type of atmosphere before. I’m speechless.”
Much is made every year of the pressure put on our tennis heroes to succeed at Wimbledon and Andy Murray broke down in tears earlier this month after narrowly missing out on becoming Britain’s first winner since 1936 when he lost the men’s final to world no.1 Roger Federer.
But ask any athlete if it helps having such great support behind them when they are going for glory and you will be given a resounding ‘yes!’ While passion is no substitute for genius or natural talent, at the highest level where the smallest of margins are the difference between winning and losing, there is no doubt that home support definitely helps. And Team GB’s Greatest Team arguably have the Greatest Supporters.
FOOTNOTE: Watching the Road Race on TV along with millions of other cycling fans I was left fuming by the shocking coverage by the host broadcasters. The BBC blame OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) for the lack of onscreen statistics and timings. But the Beeb’s commentators also made some howlers including calling fourth place to a rider clearly chasing in the peloton well down the field.
The frustration of watching was made a million times worse by the realisation that Mark Cavendish’s dream of winning Gold had been ruined by rivals who sacrificed their own medal hopes to stop him fulfilling his destiny. The world champion’s hopes died when just about every rider avoided pushing the Brits at the front of the peloton in their pursuit of the breakaway group.
Such negativity does not belong in the Olympic Games. In contrast it was humbling to see the extraordinary effort made by Team GB heroes Chris Froome, David Millar, Iain Stannard and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who all gave absolutely everything for their teammate Cavendish.
As Team GB’s cycling heroes prepare for the weight of expectation on their shoulders at London 2012, it is worth listening to the wise words of Performance Director Dave Brailsford, one of the driving forces behind the sport’s outstanding success story in this golden era for British riders.
With one eye on cycling’s legacy after the Games Brailsford told me: “This is the top of one wave as it were where people want to perform and absolutely execute and deliver what they’ve been working for for a long long time. But also we want to inspire the next generation.”
Clearly, the British cycling guru wants Team GB to continue their global domination of their sport. And it was mission accomplished at the Tour de France when Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win cycling’s premier event, with world champion Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome sharing in the glory.
But the charismatic coach is on a mission to grow the sport as well as Britain’s medal haul.
“There’s winning which is obviously the most important thing. But it’s not the be all and end all either,” said Brailsford, adding: “People can be inspired not just by winning but by the way you go about it.”
When I asked him if he felt any extra pressure to maintain British cycling’s domination at London 2012 he replied: “I don’t feel any pressure. But there’s a responsibility to be the best that we can be.”
This has been the greatest day in the history of British cycling: Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France as Mark Cavendish claimed his fourth consecutive final-stage victory.
With Team Sky teammate Chris Froome completing a Tour de France 1:2 for Britain it just does not get any better than this.
With London 2012 just six days away and Team GB favourites to win more cycling gold medals this is a golden generation for a sport where quite literally the sky’s the limit for Britain’s elite.
London 2012 Countdown: Richard Kruse is one of only two members of Team GB fencing team picked purely on merit
Richard Kruse is Team GB’s leading hope in the fencing – and he proved his credentials at the European Championships in Italy last month when he came home with a bronze medal.
Controversially, British Fencing selected eight of their 10 strong team by virtue of discretionary ‘wild cards’ when they took advantage of the host nation status that allows Team GB to ignore rankings and select any athlete they choose, even if they do not meet the qualification standard.
Natalia Sheppard qualified for the women’s foil on merit. But the rest of the team have been selected for London 2012 “with the sport’s longer term future in mind,” according to performance Manager Alex Newton.
In May four overlooked fencers – Jo Hutchison, Chrystall Nicoll, Alex O’Connell and Jon Willis – unsuccessfully appealed against the Team GB selection policy. Despite expressing strong reservations about the selection process, an independent panel ruled in favour of British Fencing.
Former British champion Keith Cook also appealed, claiming he was left out because the selectors said they did not know he wished to be considered. The 31-year-old Scot, who has beaten four of the world’s top 16 players and won five medals at Commonwealth Games, did fail to complete the registration process. But British Fencing’s David King insisted he was not selected because “he did not meet the grade.”
King added: ” We will continue to support his aspirations, he’s very talented, but not everyone gets to go to the Olympics.”
The full squad selected is:
Louise Bond-Williams – Women’s Sabre (age: 30, born: Cheltenham)
Sophie Williams – Women’s Sabre (age: 21, born: Rinteln, Germany)
James Davis – Men’s Foil (age: 20, born: Edgware)
James Honeybone – Men’s Sabre (age: 21, born: Truro, Cornwall)
Richard Kruse – Men’s Foil (age: 28, born: London)
Husayn Rosowsky – Men’s Foil (age: 21 born: Sheffield)
Corinna Lawrence – Women’s Epee (age: 21, born: Plymouth)
Natalia Sheppard – Women’s Foil (age: 28, born: Gdansk, Poland)
Anna Bentley – Women’s Foil (age: 31 born: Aberdeen)
Sophie Troiano – Women’s Foil (age: 25, born: London)
Super Heavyweight Anthony Joshua is predicting great things for Team GB’s boxers at London 2012 – but it’s the charismatic Finchley fighter who could be one of our biggest winners.
I’m not just talking about medals. Joshua – one of our great hopes in a team of 10 outstanding men and women – has all the ingredients to go right to the top of his sport.
But this is a young man with much much than boxing skills to win the support of the public. His engaging personality looks destined to make him one of Britain’s most popular sportsmen.
In sharp contrast to so many of the stereotypical arrogant pros who get carried away with all the pre-fight hype, Joshua is a genuine nice guy with poster boy looks and a refreshing honesty.
When I asked him about the lure of becoming rich and famous, he countered: “Boxing’s not about being a superstar. It’s about fighting and winning. That’s what it’s about for me. I just wanna win.”
Team GB boxers at London 2012:
Men: Anthony Joshua (super-heavyweight), Anthony Ogogo (middleweight), Andrew Selby (flyweight), Luke Campbell (bantamweight), Josh Taylor (lightweight), Thomas Stalker (light-welterweight), Fred Evans (welterweight).
Women: Nicola Adams (flyweight), Natasha Jonas (lightweight), Savannah Marshall (middleweight).
With less than a fortnight to go before London 2012 kicks off with the opening ceremony, David Beckham has served up a timely reminder that he has still got his golden touch.
Since being left out of Team GB by Stuart Pearce, Becks has hit top form. His latest flash of genius came on Saturday when he dished up a spectacular equaliser from 35 yards. It was the first of a glorious double for LA Galaxy on their way to a 5-3 win against Portland Timbers.
Women’s beach volleyball will be one of the most popular spectator sports at London 2012 – and there will be no complaints from the vast majority of male fans that our British girls have given a thumbs up to playing in bikinis.
Beach volleyball’s governing body, criticised in some quarters for trying to sex up the sport’s image by enforcing the skimpiest possible bikinis, recently brought in a new dress code that permits shorts and sleeved tops.
The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) have relaxed the rules to cater for different countries’ cultural or religious beliefs. Until now players had to choose between a skimpy bikini and a full bodysuit – usually used in cold or wet weather.
But FIVB insist they are not trying to shed the sport’s sexy image and Team GB duo Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin say they have no absolutely problem competing in bikinis.
Mullin insists it’s not a requirement to look sexy. But adds: “Obviously it’s the best thing we can play in. I would not want to be on the sand in anything else. ”
Last year the pair cashed on on the sport’s glamorous ‘Baywatch with balls’ image when they signed a sponsorship deal with bookmakers Betfair to rent out their rears in an advertising deal that encouraged spectators to photograph their sexy bums.
It meant the girls wore bikini briefs with a Quick Response (QR) code printed on the back designed to catch the eye of spectators. When photographed on a smartphone, the matrix barcode takes the user to the sponsor’s website.
“When I was playing I was not thinking about the barcode on our bikinis,” said Dampney. “But obviously we’re professional athletes and a way for us to make money is through endorsements and we were approached by a company and we saw it as a good business deal.”
At London 2012 Dampney (left and bottom right) and Mullin (bottom left) will of course be wearing the stunning Team GB kit designed by Stella McCartney. And the girls report they are absolutely thrilled with their outfits.
Beach volleyball will take place on Horse Guards Parade and it seems the sport is proving a favourite for MPs and civil servants. It has been reported that the Government has spent £26,000 on 410 tickets for the event, more than for athletics. Now who would have thought that would happen?