A week after the Games in Rio here are my reflections on some of the sports. Some are general points about the Olympics and world sport but there are some extra thoughts about British performances:
Even with a relatively limited budget you can still produce a spectacular Opening Ceremony. It may not have had the huge resources thrown at it as the previous two Ceremonies but it still had many memorable moments. The sculpture around the Olympic Flame was beautiful.
Politicians can get a rough ride when appearing in front of large numbers of their people in a stadium. The interim President of Brazil gave what must surely have been the most hurried declaration of The Games being open in history as he appeared to a chorus of boos. That’s what you get for deposing a leader who still retains a lot of support in host nation.
Onto the sports:
Adam Peaty is already one of the greatest swimmers Britain has ever produced. He may have gone under the radar with the British public over the last two years as swimming doesn’t have a high profile but Peaty has been brilliant winning world titles and breaking world records. After his 100m breaststroke heat where he smashed the world record again and looked as though it was something he had been expecting there wasn’t much doubt that he would win the final. He won by a huge margin to complete his collection of titles in another world record.
Michael Phelps is without doubt the greatest swimmer in history. If there was any question about that, coming back to take the 200m IM gold for the fourth time, the first person ever to win an individual swimming event four times confirmed it. The total number of medals he has won is a little exaggerated by the sheer number available to swimmers including relays but the achievements on his own are the real mark of greatness. How many titles would Laszlo Cseh, who stood beside him and Chad Le Clos on the podium after a tie for silver in Phelps final solo event, have won if Phelps hadn’t been there?
We may have seen emergence of the next star of the pool in Penny Oleksiak. The sixteen year old became the first Olympic gold medallist to have been born in the 21st century and also won a handful of other medals. Canadian swimming has been in the doldrums for many years. She could be the leader of a revival in fortunes and also the star of the next Games in swimming.
Katinka Hosszu was given a major fright by Siobhan Marie O’Connor. Hosszu as usual competed in a ridiculous number of events but pulled out of one of them after the heats of the 200 IM saw O’Connor put in a performance that put her very close. Hosszu just won the final but if she hadn’t dropped that extra event there is every chance O’Connor would have won gold. She looks like the next champion as Hosszu reaches the end of her career.
The swimming crowd has a very low tolerance for Russians being allowed to compete. The loudest boos for any sportswoman at the Games were for Yuliya Efimova. She has managed to wriggle out of doping bans twice and the crowd weren’t in a forgiving mood. Russians in other sports got a relatively easy ride from the crowd but at the swimming they didn’t.
Katie Ledecky is close to being the best female distance swimmer ever. She has been unbeatable at all the longer distances and has even gone down to 200m freestyle and won titles there. As a pure distance freestyler I would probably just have Janet Evans ahead for the moment but Ledecky’s versatility is outstanding. It surely won’t be long before she becomes in my eyes the best ever.
Fran Halsall seems destined to miss out on a global title in an indivudal event. She concentrated on the 50m freestyle but that event is always such a tight affair that the slightest mistake can cost you a medal. I’ll miss Fran when she retires as she has been a great competitor and has given some of the most enjoyable post race interviews of any British athlete.
Mel Marshall, Adam Peaty’s coach, is one of the best in the business. She was a fine heswimmer although sometimes underachieving at the highest level. However, I remember her being brutally honest about that and never making excuses, for which I respected her. She has gone on to be an exceptional coach with Peaty and others and I suspect that no-nonsense attitude is part of that success.
Tough road race courses make for exciting, in some cases too exciting, races. Both men’s and women’s races were thrillers although the accidents on the final descent were a little too much to accept. However, riders have to learn where the margins are and respect the conditions, which in some cases they didn’t.
Never underestimate the British track cycling team. The last four years have been something of a disappointment for the British track team with the retirements of Pendleton and Hoy together with other countries becoming more professional. After an average world championships at home earlier in the year I for one thought they would be lucky to win more than a few golds. The domination that they showed was a huge surprise and you could hardly blame the other countries for being suspicious of the improvements in recent months. Perhaps the kit was the difference, and some nations were disappointingly off the pace.
Juan Martin del Potro is getting back to his best. Novak Djokovic must have despaired when he saw who he had drawn in the first round of the singles. At Wimbledon del Potro showed good form and on hard courts was always going to be a dangerous opponent. So it proved as he went all the way to the final, beating Nadal in an epic semi-final and making Andy Murray dig deep to win that. He has only made the US Open as a wild-card but nobody will fancy playing him there.
Monica Puig is one of the most improved players in the women’s game. She has shown promise all year and had a great run to make the semis at Eastbourne. It wasn’t a huge surprise that she did well in Rio but winning Puerto Rico’s first ever gold at the Games was.
RUGBY AND GOLF
Rugby 7s and golf may actually have a place at the Olympics. I thought that it was worth giving rugby a chance at the Games and for the most part it proved a welcome addition. The crowds weren’t that good but in a country with no tradition of rugby that was to be expected. The women’s competition did have rather too many uncompetitive matches but hopefully Olympic status will increase the level around the world. The men’s tournament was enjoyable and saw the masters of the 7s game Fiji win a first Olympic gold medal in anything.
I had far more reservations about the inclusion of golf and the absence of so many of the top men for rather spurious reasons confirmed my doubts. As they are so worried about Zika will they all now be leaving their homes in Florida now that Zika has arrived there? As it turned out some of them will be regretting their decision and the ones who made the journey seemed to really enter into the Olympic spirit. The crowds were good although not always au fait with the etiquette of being spectators at golf. However, that can be forgiven and the tournaments were enjoyable with winners who are near the top of the sport.