The London Olympic Games surpassed my expectations. The enthusiasm and numbers of the crowds, the helpfulness and friendliness of the vounteers, the smooth running of the Games, the weather (especially after the dismal summer so far – it was almost as though that was the deal, it will be awful all summer but you can have two nice weeks for the Games) and the performance of the British team.
I thought that we would probably improve on the performance in Beijing although I didn’t think we should be calling the British team “Our Greatest Team” before we knew how the 2012 Games would go.
So many sports have improved out of all recognition in the last decade. Our gymnasts had hardly ever competed at the top level but now not only do we have brilliant individuals like Beth Tweddle and Louis Smith but we have teams that can win medals in Olympic Games. That is something that even four years ago I didn’t think would happen. Another sport which I never thought we would be successful at is dressage. For as long as I can remember Germany would win the gold and Britain would be nowhere but over the last few years it has been noticeable how the British have been improving and I fancied that we would get something from the Games, but not two golds. The show jumpers also did very well. So often in the past they have underachieved in the Olympics and it seemed that it was just the same old faces competing for Britain as they got older and older. Well this time those old faces have been joined by some much younger riders and that is the boost the sport needed. Hopefully now some other young riders will come through.
On the same afternoon as the dressage was being completed I also watched Britons on the way to winning medals in taekwondo and boxing. It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast than these sports but that summed up the achievement of the British team. We were winning medals in sports across the board, even those where we have little tradition. The brilliant fighting of Jade Jones and Nicola Adams was matched by the elegance of Charlotte Dujardin.
The Games were a triumph for British sportswomen. Last year the BBC Sports Personality of the Year disgracefully overlooked all the outstanding British women who won world titles. This year that surely won’t happen. Even if they employ the same system of voting from sports editors who can’t be bothered to spend much time thinking about it. At least half of the nominees are likely to be women this year.
One man who ought to be nominated is Ben Ainslie who added a fourth Olympic gold to the world title he won earlier in the year. He was really up against it in this regatta but showed what a champion he is by pulling off the victory. In my opinion he is Britain’s greatest Olympian. He may trail Steve Redgrave and Chris Hoy in terms of medals but every one of his has been achieved on his own rather than in a team and he has only had one gold available at each Games.
Britain’s first gold medal of the Games and many others were achieved in rowing. This is a sport where there are plenty of medals on offer and the opposition tends to be limited. I was surprised at the lack of depth in some of the events where there weren’t many entries and some of the crews were well adrift. Rowing is a sport which is dominated by European and other major sporting nations such as the USA and Australia. There are very few crews from outside these traditional areas although it was encouraging to see a South african boat winning gold. The number of events also means that if you have a good crew which finds itself in an event with a better one then it’s possible to find another event if you have other rowers to make a boat with. This can dilute the quality of events in depth. Rowing certainly appears to me to be a sport where it is realtively easy to win a medal, although the effort involved in the training and rowing itself makes it one of the hardest sports to do.
Of all the British golds I was most pleased for Kath Grainger in the rowing. After winning silver at the last three Olympics and many world titles she really deserved a gold. I like to see great sportsmen and women get rewarded for a career by achieving the ultimate prize. If an athlete has been at the top of their sport for a long time without a gold I usually want them to win. It doesn’t always happen of course. This time I would have liked to see Luciana Aymar, who is probably the best women’s hockey player of all-time, win an Olympic gold on her 35th birthday. However, her Argentinian team were beaten in the final, deservedly, by the Dutch. I wonder if she will stay on until Rio to try again?
The women’s hockey also provided the only medal success for Britain in a team sport at the Games. They have really worked hard over the last few years and have become one of the top teams consistently. We came fourth in the men’s hockey but didn’t get too close in the other team sports. I’m glad that we entered teams in all the events. It was good to see British fans getting behind the team in sports they have never seen before. I hope it inspires some to take up the sports. Perhaps we can qualify for future Olympics in some of them. Some of the British teams did well despite not winning medals. I enjoyed watching the GB women’s volleyball team beating Algeria at 12.40 am. The GB women’s basketball team would have beaten the eventual silver medalists France had it not been for a brilliant 3-point shot in the last seconds by the French captain. The men’s basketball team beat China and pushed some of the top teams. Small things perhaps, but they could “inspire a generation”, as the Games slogan put it. They certainly inspired me.