Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 6:17 PM
As much as I hate to, I feel obliged to begin the last of my Swimming commentaries on a sour note:
I led the chorus of those questioning the remarkable improvement that enabled 16-year-old Chinese Ye Shiwen to blow away the field in the women’s 400m individual medley on Day 1. In the interest of fairness, therefore, I feel constrained to question the remarkable improvement that enabled 15-year-old American Katie Ledecky to blow away the field in the women’s 800m freestyle just yesterday (Day 7).
No doubt Briton Rebecca Adlington, the reigning world record holder in this event, is questioning Ledecky’s performance as much as her own considering that she finished this race in third place – more than six seconds off her best time. Not to mention how she must feel about disappointing the British royals who were cheering her on for what was generally expected to be her mere coronation as the gold medal winner. Garcia Belmonte of Spain finished second – more than four seconds behind Ledecky.
So much for Missy Franklin becoming the female Michael Phelps by winning seven gold medals… I warned in my commentary on the U.S. trials about the precedent Katie Hoff set when she was touted as the female Michael Phelps in 2008: she did not win a single event. But I think Missy will fare better….
(“Day 1,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 28, 2012)
Well, I’m happy to report that Missy did fare better. In fact, she won individual gold in both the 100m and 200m backstroke (world record), gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay, gold in the 4x100m medley relay (world record), and bronze in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay. Again, not quite Phelpsian, but 4 gold and one bronze (with two world records to boot) made her the most decorated female swimmer of these games, which is pretty damn impressive for a 17 year old. (For the record, she placed 4th in the 200m freestyle and 5th in the 100m freestyle.)
Speaking of Phelps, what more can one say except that, with his win today in the men’s 4x100m medley relay, Phelps’s haul of 4 gold and 2 silver medals at these Games merely padded his title as the most decorated Olympian in history. He now has 22: 18 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze.
He insists that he will now rest on his laurels, and who can blame him. But I fully expect him to tire of being a couch potato after a year or so and begin training to defend his titles in the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, and 4x100m medley relay at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
I’ve been pretty dismissive of Cycling. But I am mindful that if I’m going to dismiss this entire sport because of the doping scandal of a signature cyclist like Lance Armstrong, then I must also dismiss the entire sport of Track and Field because of the doping scandal of a signature runner like Marion Jones. And I’m not about to dismiss Track and Field.
Therefore, I am happy to acknowledge that, after getting off to a dispiritingly slow start – where winning gold in any sport is concerned, host nation Great Britain has now found a veritable gold mine at the cycling Velodrome. Specifically, after settling for silver in the women’s road race on Day 2, Britons have won gold in the men’s individual time trial, the men’s team sprint, the men’s team pursuit, the women’s keirin, and just today in the women’s team pursuit. And all indications are that there’s more gold to be had for them in the Velodrome.
Meanwhile, this booty, coupled with an equally impressive haul in rowing, has already enabled Team GB to rise from the cellar in the medal standings to third place, trailing only quadrennial leader Team USA and Team China. The Brits are over the moon.
I wrote in an earlier commentary that I am loath to heap more attention on sports like Tennis that enjoy it perennially. Yet I cannot resist reveling with schadenfreude at anything that constitutes comeuppance – no matter how indirectly – for that Lilliputian Vladimir Putin, Russia’s latter-day czar.
Accordingly, I hail Serena Williams of the USA for routing Maria Sharapova of Russia 6-0, 6-1 to win gold in the women’s single. Sorry Maria, but you were one of those talking smack about Serena when she was injured and unable to defend her ranking as the number 1 player in the world. Well, enough said … and done!
Serena will now join her sister Venus to defend their Olympic title in women’s doubles tomorrow. They are prohibitive favorites. (In another family affair, the Bryan twins joined forces to take gold for Team USA in men’s doubles.)
In a rematch of last month’s Wimbledon final, Roger Federer of Switzerland will be playing Andy Murray of Great Britain in the men’s single final tomorrow. But the only thing that will be worthy of comment is if Murray manages to beat Federer. But, to be candid, not even a royal decree could grant him a victory. (I’ll gladly eat my words if he does.)
Track and Field
In Gymnastics, the winner of the all-round is considered the best athlete in the sport; in Swimming that title goes to the winner of the individual medley. In this sense, the winner of the decathlon for men and heptathlon for women is considered the best athlete in Track and Field.
In the heptathlon athletes compete over two consecutive days for the most points in seven events: the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200m on the first day; and the long jump, javelin, and 800m on the second. And Jessica Ennis of Great Britain lived up to her billing as the best female athlete in this sport by winning the heptathlon in such dominant fashion that she had a practically insurmountable lead of 188 points going into the final event, the 800m. Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany won silver; Tatyana Chernova of Russia, bronze.
From the sublime to the surreal, I never thought one could be riveted during every second of the men’s 10,000m race. But completely riveted I was watching Mo Farah of Great Britain outfox and outkick his training partner Galen Rupp of the USA and the highly favored Ethiopians to become the first Briton in Olympic history to win this race. Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia took bronze.
Who would’ve thought this tiny island nation would outperform the mighty United States in the premier events of these Olympic Games? Yet Jamaica has done just that by winning gold now in the men’s 100m, gold, silver and bronze in the women’s 100m, gold in the men’s 200m and is poised to win at least silver in the women’s 200m.
(“2008 Beijing Olympics: Day 12,” The iPINIONS journal, August 21, 2008)
But the Jamaicans wasted no time proving that Beijing was no fluke. For Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took up right where she left off by defending her Olympic title in the women’s 100m in thrilling fashion, clocking an impressive time of 10.75. Carmelita Jeter of the USA spoiled their fun by sneaking in for silver; Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica won bronze.
I began today’s commentary on a sour note and shall now end on another:
Florence Griffith-Joyner set the world record of 10.49 in the women’s 100m in 1988. But it seems unfair to hold these women to that standard. Because I have no doubt that if the sophisticated tests we have today were available back then they would have revealed that she was aided in that stunning race by performance-enhancing drugs. Moreover, no matter the autopsy report, it strains credulity to think that such drugs did not contribute to her early death at the very young age of 38.
MEDAL COUNT: USA: 54, China: 53; Great Britain: 29