Saturday, 28 July 2012

An armchair view of the London Olympics 1

I have been looking forward to the London Olympics for seven years ever since we won them in 2005. The joy was marred the following day by the murder of 52 innocent people just going about their lives in London. I was pleased that this wasn't forgotten by Danny Boyle in his breathtaking opening ceremony last night.

Indeed, I'd go as far as to say it was my favourite moment, not only for the montage of the photos of the victims, but for the brilliant Akram Khan dance that went with it. The second, and truly spectacular moment, was when the iron workers created five metal rings, which then lifted up to create the Olympic rings, absolutely astonishing to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the ceremony too, which had many elements, and yes, was a bit jingoistic, but these things are events, they are huge one stop advertising campaigns for the host nation.

Opinions have been very divided, with many loving it, but just as many it seems hating it, for all sorts of reasons. Some feeling that its portrayal of British history was just too good, and missed out on the many bad things we had done over time.

Well yes, it would, as I said the opening ceremony is advertising pure and simple, and advertisers always exaggerate the good bits. Others have disliked it for its 'left wing' message, though if promoting things like women's suffrage and the NHS is a purely 'left wing' exercise that would upset a lot of Conservatives, with one or two making unwise comments, which they've then backtracked on.

Some just found it cheap and tacky, but I, and many I know were enthralled, across the spectrum, and treated it like an event. That's all I will say on the actual show, other than to say the final scenes when Sir Steve Redgrave brought the torch into the stadium, and handed it to seven young athletes who then went on to light the cauldron was a fitting end to the entire ceremony, and fits in with the legacy the games is all about.

So what of the first day's sporting trials and tribulations? Well to start with, it wasn't really the first day, as the men's and women's football tournaments had already kicked off, and yesterday two world records were broken in the men's team archery preliminaries. The British men scraped a 1-1 draw against Senegal, whilst the women have beaten New Zealand (1-0) and Cameroon (3-0) to secure a quarter-final place.

Today's big hope for British medals was in the men's road race, which following on from Bradley Wiggins' brilliant victory in the Tour de France, was expected to produce a gold medal for the world champion Mark Cavendish. Alas it wasn't to be Team GB's day, and a probable combination of tiredness (the Tour only finished last Sunday) and poor tactics meant they were never really in it, once the breakaway occurred.

Other than that, it has been a typically mixed day for the British competitors, with a few very good performances in the rowing, which contrasted with a number of early exits in events like the team archery, and men's and women's doubles in tennis, though an honourable mention here to Laura Robson and Heather Watson who ran a combination of Angelique kerber and Sabine Lisicki (Wimbledon singles semi-finalists in 2012 and 2011 respectively) very close.  We did have one victory on the courts with Elena Baltacha dispatching her Hungarian opponent with ease.

One of the advantages of hosting the games is the opportunity for British teams to compete in events they have previously failed to qualify for. Therefore today our women competed in handball, and men and women in the two forms of volleyball. This can only be good experience for the future, and hopefully will encourage children to take up these sports.

A number of medals have already been awarded, with Alexander Vinokourov beating a Colombian rider to that road race. Italy had a very good day, not only surprisingly beating the United States to the team archery gold, but collecting all three in the women's foil in fencing.

A world records was set winning gold in the pool with 16-year-old Yi Shiwen of China (who incidentally won the first gold of the games in shooting) won the 400m individual medley. Ryan Lochtie won the USA's first gold, but it looks like the chinese are already looking the country to beat outside of the track.

So I found it an absorbing first full day of competition, and look forward to the rest of the games. Naturally I hope to see a great deal of British success, but if we see good performances, few, or even better no disqualifications for drugs, and nobody gets seriously hurt, the games will be a success. New stars will emerge, and others will fade, but that is life as well as sport. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I intend to, and will give my second view in a couple of days.

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