What we learned from the Rio Olympic Games in Gymnastics, Hockey, Athletics, Football and Taekwondo

GYMNASTICS

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Simone Biles is the greatest female gymnast of the 21st century. Over the last three years Biles and her American teammates have swept all before them but only now has the wider world realised how brilliant she is. Having won the last three world titles Simone added the all-round Olympic gold by a wide margin and won two apparatus golds. Until she came along no woman had dominated the sport for any length of time since Svetlana Khorkina at the turn of the century.

The gymnastics at the Games would have been much the poorer without the Russian team’s presence. In some sports it was right for Russian competitors not to be allowed to compete but I think the IOC made the correct decision in allowing individual sports to accept or reject Russians. In gymnastics one of the great gymnasts of recent years, Aliya Mustafina, could compete. She won the uneven bars gold and brings an elegance to the competition.

The rule that limits each country to only two competitors in finals is ridiculous.  You want to see the best gymnasts competing for each title yet this rule has time and again over the years prevented some of the outstanding gymnasts from even starting in some finals.  A perfect illustration of this occurred this year when Gabby Douglas of the USA scored the third highest all-around score in qualifying but wasn’t allowed into the final as two Americans were ahead of her.  She would have had a great chance of winning a medal but this stupid rule prevented it.

HOCKEY

 

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If it comes to a shoot-out always back England or Great Britain against the Dutch. In 2013 the Dutch women utterly outplayed England in the semi-finals of the EuroHockey championships but the match finished 1-1 and England won the shoot-out. In the 2015 EuroHockey final England scored twice late on to take it to a shoot-out and won again despite the Dutch being on top for much of the game. So when the Dutch were by far the better team once more but couldn’t hold on in the Olympic final they must have dreaded the shoot-out. History repeated itself as the GB goalie Maddie Hinch showed why she is the best in the world by being unbeaten in the shoot-out and the British took gold.

There are too many penalty shoot-outs in women’s hockey. Since 2013 the gold medal in both European championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics have all been decided in shoot-outs. The teams are often closely matched by this stage and the games will be tight but there should be a period of extra time to try and separate them. At the moment it goes straight to penalties after normal time. Good for England and GB with an unbeatable goalie but not so good if trying to see who is the best team in open play.

ATHLETICS

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We are going to miss Usain Bolt when he retires. The greatest sprinter in history and the most charismatic athlete I have seen compete. The difference Bolt made to attendances is incredible with stadiums that would be half-full absolutely packed. I have been following his career since he was setting world junior records aged fifteen but I never thought one man could carry such responsibility and pressure so well in the most unforgiving events. Over the last ten years with just one exception he has come good when he needed to and won gold. He may not be at the same level as he was at his peak but he is still brilliant when it comes to the big races.

Wayde van Niekerk is not going to be the man to take over Bolt’s mantle as the flagbearer of the sport. His performance in winning the 400m and breaking a 17 year old world record was sensational and on the track he may be the biggest name in the next few years. However, he is a quiet personality and I can’t see the crowds taking to him in the way they have with Usain.

The track officials didn’t seem to know which way to go with the leniency or strictness of their decisions. There were far too many petty disqualifications for putting one foot an inch out of the track or over a line when the athlete or team finished way ahead of any difference it would have made. This happened in the Steeplechase and 4x400m relay where medal chances were ruined by overzealous officiating. On the other hand the officials were very keen to advance people to the next round if they fell over or were barged even if they weren’t going to get through anyway. The best example of this was with Britain’s Charlie Grice in the 1500m. He was treading water in the home straight of his heat and was already out of contention for qualification when an athlete barged past him near the finish. He was disqualified and Grice was advanced to the semis when he wouldn’t have got through. I wonder if in future an athlete seeing that they are going out will try to fall over another athlete to try and get advanced.

Distance runners still don’t try and make things hard enough for Mo Farah. Every distance runner should know by now that Mo Farah has the best finish of anyone in the race. He is the British record holder for 1500m after all. Yet every time in a championship they plod around until the last lap or two so and he runs away with it. He was suffering after the 10000m this time but in the 5000m final after a fast start the pace dropped and again things played into Mo’s hands. It may be that the others have just given up on gold before the start and are looking to the other medals.

The Brazilian crowd takes home support a bit too far sometimes. The pole vault was an exciting competition with an unexpected gold for Brazil. However, the crowd’s booing of Renaud Lavillenie both in the competition and at the presentation isn’t the usual behaviour of crowds of athletics. In the emotion of the final I could see how they might get carried away but at the presentation they could have been more charitable.

Something has to be done about the hyperandrogeny rules.  As anyone who has watched athletics this year predicted Caster Semenya won the women’s 800m with ease.  She could have gone much quicker and could even break the 33 year old world record.  She has been in a class of her own this year and a likely reason is that she hasn’t had to take anything to suppress the hormones that seem to be such a benefit.  She has a condition called hyperandrogeny which means that she has excess testosterone produced naturally in her body.  For the last few years the IAAF has ruled that any athlete with this conditions should have the levels suppressed by drugs but this year an appeal by another athlete has meant this rule has been abandoned.  Semenya and the other medallists in the 800m all have the condition and it seems to much of a coincidence that all three should have.  There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the athletes but it is unfair on their competitors.  Ironically Semenya missed out on gold to a Russian drug-taker in 2012 so there is a certain justice that she won a gold medal but athletes with hyperandrogeny shouldn’t be allowed such and advantage again.

Women 1500m runners don’t seem able to run the race to suit them in championships.  At nearly every championships this century the 1500m has turned into a sprint as the first two laps have been so slow.  This was no exception and when she reflects on it Laura Muir will be frustrated at the way things developed.  She is in the form of her life and is capable of running faster than just about anyone in the field if the race is hard from the start or from 1200m to go.  This one became a 700m race and although she could go with the really fast pace on the third lap it seemed that with 200m to go lactic acid made her very heavy-legged and she lost places.  Lactic isn’t such a factor with a sustained pace from the start and I hope that Laura will be brave enough to take it on herself in future championships if she is in such good shape.

The women’s 10000m world record wasn’t quite as good as everyone thought.  In 1993 the Chinese women set a series of world records in distance races which stood for many years.  The last of them was broken in the 10000m in Rio and people were amazed.  It was such a great run that many were sceptical about the legitimacy of the performance.  However, there are a few factors that make the performance more understandable.  Very few top-class women’s 10000m races are run each year and often these are in championships.  Sometimes those races are tactical and often the conditions are hot and unfavourable.  This time everything was perfect.  The conditions were good, the top runners were there and the pace was fast from the start.  It was still an extraordinary run but perhaps not as impossible as some thought.

No matter how consistent you are in the heptathlon if a very talented athlete has the competition of her life it is hard to win.  Jessica Ennis-Hill was again the model of consistency in the heptathlon and her performances would normally have been easily good enough for gold in the present era.  Last year she won the world title with a lower total because all of her main rivals underperformed while she was near her best under the circumstances of her comeback.  This time she found an inspired opponent in Thiam who recorded PB after PB.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson needs to stop getting so down on herself.     KJT is one of the most naturally talented athletes Britain has produced but so far she hasn’t really done herself justice in a major championships.  It seems to me that she loses heart too quickly if things don’t go according to plan.  In Rio she produced a brilliant high jump, higher than the gold medal winner in the high jump itself, and should have been buzzing.  However, the next event, the shot, isn’t a good one for her and her effort in Rio was disappointing.  Her overall total was still good however because of the high jump and she needed to be positive.  Instead the 200m seemed a bit flat and she didn’t seem at her best on the second day either.  She didn’t seem able to make any adjustments when the javelin didn’t start well and her body language didn’t look at all positive.  She has to get the mental aspect right to achieve what she is capable of.

FOOTBALL

Hope Solo isn’t going to get a job as a diplomat when she retires from football. She made some comments on Social Media about the precautions she was taking over Zika, although these seemed like they may have been a joke, and the Brazilian crowd booed her every time she touched the ball. Following the USA’s loss to Sweden in the quarter-finals on penalties she accused the Swedes of only playing for a draw, further endearing herself to the wider football world. The Swedes were outmatched by the USA and did the right thing to get through and it worked for them.

The Football Associations in Britain need their heads banging together to make sure there is a British women’s team in the next Olympics. The England women were third at lat year’s world cup and thus won a place at the Olympics for Britain. However, because of the self-interest of the football associations of the different countries in Britain there was no British team in Rio. They claim that it could endanger the independence of the different countries in future football tournaments despite assurances from FIFA and UEFA and no moves to that effect after combined British teams at the London Games. It would benefit players in all of the home nations to play.

TAEKWONDO

You have to concentrate to the last second of a fight.  Lutalo Muhammad was two points clear with one second to go of his gold medal fight.  All he had to do was avoid a head kick and he had the gold.  He could have run away and still won but instead chose to stand his ground and was caught by a head kick to lose the fight.  He gave an understandably emotional and heartbreaking interview immediately afterwards and a very dignified and impressive one the next day.  He may have lost the gold medal but he won many admirers, including myself, who had previously questioned his credentials.

CLOSING CEREMONY

They have to get the athletes on more quickly.  Even though there were far fewer athletes than at the Opening Ceremony and they don’t enter in separate teams it seemed to take almost as long to get them into the stadium.  The ceremony took a long time to get going because of this and the commentators were running out of things to say.  I enjoy the ceremonies but they should try and make things flow more quickly.

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