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Olympic swimming, like cricket, is one of those sports that the lower middle-class loves. It's not too posh and it's not for the too poor and certainly cheap to do. Dedication and heart is all you need. Public pool bustle mean you have to get up at 5am before school to get clean and calm water. But with new training methods and sports science you don't need to have been swimming competitively since you were five any more. Missy Taylor, the six-foot-on0 American Olympic champion in London, didn't start swimming proper until she was 17. She wanted to go to college with a sports scholarship and so chose swimming, three years later picking up gold in London2012. Once you identify the talent and through money at them they don't need to get jobs around the sport or you can build training programs around them at university so they don't have to get up early. Alas, although Team GB threw a lot of money out our swimmers, we made a lot of finals but not many medals.
American Ryan Lochte was set to be the star of the pool and the air apparent to the great Michael Phelps, going head-to-head in London, the 400m medley getting the contest underway with Lochte landing the first blow. It turned out to be a bit of a flop in the head-to-head with Phelps only finishing fifth to Lochte's imperious gold. These two guys are very different characters with Phelps very organized and regimental with his training and media work, whilst Lochte is gregarious and somewhat patchy with his training, preferring to hump tractor tires around and throw beer barrels than crunch weights in dust free gyms. He is great fun and the media love him, spending rather too long in the media mix zone chatting up the pretty announcers from around the world. Sharon Davies had some nip and tuck for London to impress the young hunks and continued to ask dumb questions for the rest of the meet.
Sun of China became that countries first men's medalist of the week and breaking the great Ian 'camp' Thorpe's Olympic Record. Thorpe has been wearing strange fashion statements from designers all week and a rather odd and aloof character if the truth be told, working for the BBC all week, not one for smiles but fun all the same.
China won the next race with 16-year-old Ye Shewin in the women's 400 medley. In fact she was so fast she matched Ryan Lochte's time for the last 50m at 28.93 in the male race at the same distance??? In the bad old doping days China won 13 of the 19 medals in the 1994 World Swimming championships and then two coaches and one player arrested at Sydney Airport at the 2000 Olympics as they prepared to unleash those doped swimmers on the Games. It seems like they are back on the juice. She didn't fail the test but we are right to be suspicious and not just because it's China. Damming photos in the Daily Mail showed undercover images of preteen Chinese girls being pulled and twisted in excruciating angles in a Chinese gymnastics training camp where the future gym champions are literally bent into shape. The little girls were in tears and clearly don't have much choice about whats going on, why it's likely that their athletes are not allowed to turn down the performance enhancing drugs. The superfast Speedo suits of the Beijing Olympics claimed 79 our of the 82 world records yet Ye beat one of those latex records by a whole second. To put her WR time in context she would have won the 1964, 68 and 72 men's Olympics with it. Since the 1990s Chinas swimmers have failed 40 tests, most for variants of EPO, the difficult to detect drug that helps endurance.
The big grumble of the night was the empty seats in the swimming arena, most likely cooperates still stuffing themselves on the red salmon elsewhere. What people don't realize with freebies is the connected people who get them, get them for all the other events and stuff across London and so can pick and choose where they go, which they did, hence the empty seats. Why would you want to turn up to watch the early morning handball qualifiers if you had a swimming ticket at the same time? You can understand the frustration of the demand from normal punters being ignored so some Eurocrat in a pastel brick red suit and cream trousers can ponce around and have a lie in and so leave those seats empty. What I hate about the ticketing method is that friends and families that tried to book specific seats to watch their kids at the swimming and end up watching Kayaking in Hertfordshire. I understand it was the best method for Coe to sell the crap events and reserve the good seats for the sponsors and dignitaries but more seats should have ended up with fans and family of the competitors.
Day two and Rebecca Adlington tried to defend her surprise 400m gold medal from Beijing but only qualifying 8th for the final, not a good sign. But she is a gutsy Mansfield girl and earned a brave bronze as the medal rush got underway. Interestingly she went faster here than in Beijing when they all wore those special suits but no one calling her a drug cheat. For me she fits the criteria for someone who has gron too fast. Make of that that you will. Lochte's second expected gold was silver in the relay as the over-performing French pipped them in the 4 x 100m freestyle in a cracking race. It was also Olympic medal number seventeen for Phelps.
Jennet Saryyeva of Turkmenistan was the slowest girl at the meet, the young Turk going one way up the pool and the rest of the field long since turned and going the other direction, finishing one minute behind the winner in the 200m race with the other girls toweled down and in the showers. The IOC decided to allow wild cards in this year for a bit of fun and she earned warm applause.
Yet again we are not seeing many black people in the pool, or in the Olympic crowds, come to think of it. The lack of black international swimmers is nothing new, of course, and this mostly down to the fact only one in every three black people can swim in the west. Because of that the swimming competitors and most sports crowds remain very white and middle-class and London's black community, on the surface, seemingly not supporting the Games. But without a Visa card (the only direct debit card allowed at The Games) you can't buy tickets anyway, yet more barriers for black people to enjoy elite sport.
Day three and Missy Franklyn, the 6, 1" American, was the star of the show for the girls, one of those happy Americans you just want to slap. She is some athlete and won gold in one event just 20 minutes after qualifying for another? Now that takes guts.
On the medal table (or not as the case may be) and you just feel team GB were not quite on it throughout the meet with lots of fourths, fifths and sixths, especially from guys who had medaled in world championships. We have reached much more finals than the last few Olympics but still off the pace for the podium. France, who had taken only four gold's in their history of Olympic swimming, had taken 3 gold's by half-way in London 2012.
Tom Daley and his partner Waterfield mucked up the 10m diving pairs by spectacularly bungling the fourth dive, almost deliberately so, at that point in gold medal position. Daley seemed to be teasing the camera all the time to the point of posing in the warm down area to get coverage and thinking more about his future media career and sponsors than gold. The fact Waterfield is 31 and out dived Tom here suggests the 18-year-old, although three more Games in him, may choose not to battle on and pursue his TV career without gold. I doubt he would drop out of a chance to go to Rio but he is distracted, maybe even confirm his sexuality, Rio the place to explore it.
A 15-year-old Lithuanian girl, Mila Lietheu, trained in Plymouth by a top English coach, won a shock gold medal in the women's 100m breaststroke on day four. She is the youngest competitor in the games and the poor girl couldn't speak a word of English but airhead Sharon Davies kept on straight after the race with dumb questions and so the girl just walked off bemused. She has only been in England three years and looked stunned to win. Unlike the 16-year-old Chinese girl, Mila would have no real reason to take drugs. The youngest competitor in the Games history was just 10, a Greek gymnast.
Phelps had his first gold of the meet in his hands in the 200m butterfly but lost it on the touch for silver to a handsome South African. With that medal he tied the most ever medals for the Olympics, an extraordinary achievement. He leveled gymnast Larissa Lateniva of Russia from the 1950s.
Ye won her second gold with an Olympic Record in the 200m freestyle whilst Phelps broke that record in the 200m freestyle relay for his 15th gold and 19th medal to take the record on his own.
Britain's men finally medaled, young Jaimeson of N.Ireland securing a brilliant bronze in the 200m breaststroke, joining such British legends as David Wilkie, Adrian Morehouse, only beaten for gold with a WR by an odd looking Hungarian.
Guerilla marketing was clearly stamped down on in London 2012 but the makers of trendy headphones didn't miss the chance to advertise their wares in the pool, giving free sets to the racers poolside, the swimmers claiming they were to help blank out the bias crowd in the heats and finals, Dr Dre's 'Monster' series the most prominent.
Phelps, Lochte and clearly did battle for team USA on the penultimate day with an individual gold each, Phelps finally up there alone on the podium. It was his twentieth Olympics medal and 16th gold. Gold number 17 came in the men's 200m backstroke, his hatrick in that event. Adlington could only take bronze in her 800m and beaten to gold by a 15-year-old from America, Katie Ledeker, who also faced drug allegations.
On the final day Phelps closed the meet with his 18th career gold in the 200 medley relay, 22 Olympic medals in total and 46 major titles. It's an astonishing record and it will be hard to beat. Team GB, on the other hand, were not great in the pool, however much cash the Lottery through at it, no gold post boxes for these guys and girls! We still win most of our medals in the sit down events because we refuse to cheat and take drugs, technology our only edge, which is a more accepted cheating for some reason.
On the whole though it was a great time in the pool had by all and at least some family and friends getting tickets although, again, a very white middle-class affair in the arenas, very few Stratford locals able, or wanting to, get tickets or, indeed, invloved. The team coach was sacked soon after...
The Final Medal Table
1 United States ----30 Medals
16 (G) 8(S) 6(B)
2 China ---- 10 Medals
5(G) 2(B) 3(G)
3 France ---- 47 Medals
(G) 2(S) 1(B)
14 Great Britain & N. Ireland 1(S) 2(B) 3 Medals
This was a time when the Olympic Gods peeked over the Australian clouds down onto a swimming event and smiled wryly on a man called Eric, and with their mighty fingers pushed two Olympic swimmers off their starter box into the crystal blue drink during Sydney 2000 in the first qualifying heat 100 metres free style, before the starter gun had 'sprung like a trampoline' - as circumstances have it, only three competitors were competing. Eric was the only man left standing, after the false start. All perturbed he turns and nonchalantly saunters off thinking it is all over; then is called back to the starting box by a Sydney official. He stood unfocussed, unsure what he should do - lost in an absurdity no other Olympian has ever had the pleasure to relish. Bewildered by what had occurred just like Charlie was as his comrades succumbed to sweet temptations in Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. Eric's destiny awaited him, all rolled out on a crystal blue shimmering carpet. After several seconds of officiated echoed murmurings, the Centre roared - twenty thousand vocals elevated into the air in unison, it was nearly enough to make Eric topple off his starter block canvas - One lone man, racing against 'himself'; on a quest for solitude stardom. Eric was an unemployed man from Equatorial Guinea - who trained in an elongated bath of 20 metres in length, once a week; alone - if he is lucky he sporadically trained with the crocs in a murky local river, mainly devised for the ultimate speed test.
Eric crouches down, 'knees knocking into each other' as if he's about to embark on a number two, in lane four. His eyes squashed into his skull by his tight goggles, he grits his teeth looking as if he is grinning, he then quickly licks his dry upper lip, the voyeurs get a flash of his pearly whites - he waits for the spring gun.
A cartoon audio suddenly vibrates around the pool - a shortened spring audio, mimicking a dolphin call. Eric leaps into the blue lagoon arms spread-eagled simulating a wind-up toy diver, anticipating water impact while in the bath. The first thirty metres was an uncoordinated frenzy of rapid arm, head and feet movement what can only be described as an eel - Taking the term free-style to another spectrum. Side by side his head wobbles as if he was looking for his competitors, only the ripples caused by his erratic 'free style' was evident. Perhaps, the internal mechanism of seeking crocs while in water sparked fear; Eric had only been an Equatorial Guinea swimmer for 8 months (beforehand he couldn't swim) - not that this part of the world have a plethora of swimmers to compete with either. Eric qualified through of his nation's natural selection policy; not that he was a natural swimmer. There aren't any Olympic sized pools in Equatorial Guinea, so Eric deemed to the naked eye to have over exerted himself when he had covered 35 metres - already 15 metres longer than what the norm was for Eric. Swaying from side to side, he closed in on the line of giant gobstoppers; his eel navigational sensors made the required adjustment, frequently. Pale attired statuesque officials stood 5 metres from each other at poolside - Monitoring their section as if it was an engrossing library book. All eyes were on the tiring 22 year old Equatorial Guinean, the sole competitor on this qualifying heat.
Closing in on the 50 metre line, was a compelling moment, whereby Eric must remember to roll prior to contact with the wall; the WR' (World Record) time of 22.83 secs appeared. On foot contact, the elapse time was: 18.14 secs outside the WR elapse time. No 'WR' was at risk; although, importantly Eric was on course to beat the Equatorial Guinea record! He could splash it! - Probably because it didn't exist before the emergence of 'Eric'. Sydney 2000's underwater camera exposed his blue non aerodynamic trunks that even 12 years ago deemed prehistoric, white speed lines implying speed is the essence with this product worked as well as a 1980's Ford Cortina, side of the door speed-king transfer, when it came to speed technology. Eric's trunks waved back at the camera, a gregarious 'hello mum' wave. I didn't peer too closely to seek out any frayed edges caused by river crocs.
Two of Eric's slightly embarrassed Equatorial Guinea team looked on from the designated area for national supporters. Alone, just like Eric. He wasn't the favourite to win the heat out of three competing, initially. Thirty metres to go, Eric's head disappeared under the water for a second; his stroke velocity had slowed considerably to the point that BBC commentator Adrian Moorhouse gasped:_"This guy doesn't look like he's going to make it"._Two of Eric's Equatorial Guinea team stretched up their necks like concerned swans to see Eric's progress. Sydney's Aquatic Centre crowd roared in encouragement - no different to calling in a tired out dog from a long run in the park. Little by little Eric etched forward, obviously out of his depth, out of steam, and nearly out of his trunks. Eric Moussambani was the epitome of a 'wild card' - the Sydney Games reveled in the spectacle, the drama. "I am convinced this guy is going to have to get hold of the lane rope in a moment," Moorhouse exclaimed profoundly. Watching Eric literally drinking up those last twenty metres was no different to watching an agonizing documentary birth, I was gasping for air. Five metres away from the finishing wall, Eric dimmed again, almost motionless - then a spurt then motionless - was Eric a wind-up? The elation from the Aquatic centre was immense when Eric Moussambani eventually touched the wall in: 1min 52.72 sec.
Later it emerged, Eric was told by the Equatorial Guinea Olympic establishment the event was only 50 metres. He'd never attempted beyond 50 metres in training.
*27TH MAY** I know that it is a while since the Olympics but I just wanted to update this op. My original op follows with the update at the end. Original Opinion I have been an avid viewer of the Olympic coverage of the swimming, more so because as an ex swimmer I actually trained with some of the Great British team. I have been disappointed by our finishing positions as have most of the viewers, but then questions must be asked. 4 years ago after the Atlanta games, the exact same questions were asked, mainly "why are we nowhere near the U.S., Australians and now even the Dutch?" The obvious answer has to be facilities and sponsorship. There were 2 competitors who showed this...Inge De Bruin from Holland has won 2 gold medals so far and broken numerous world records this year, when asked about her good form, she explained that last year she upped sticks and moved to America in order to have the best coaches and facilities. Obviously, since this move she has become world class and nigh on unbeatable. Then we have Mark Foster from Great Britian, who is an ex world record holder, but finished out of the medals in 50m freestyle. When he was asked if he'd be around for the next Olympics, he replied "Maybe, if I manage to get some sponsorship". The world class swimmers are full time swimmers, who train in Olympic like facilities, our swimmers also have to hold down full time jobs in order to finance their swimming, and a lot of them, most notably Susan Rolph are training in pools that were designed for bathing at the turn of the century. Come on Kate Hoey, you are the minister for sport, look at the issue of funding, it is what will make the difference in 4 years time. **Update** Susan Rolph's please went unheard, and she left City of Newcastle Swimming Club, and has moved to Cardiff where there are better facilities. This is a sad and most unhappy outcome, as the
region has lost another potential star.
I was watching the 50m freestyle this evening and I was surprised to see so many swimmers missing from their heats. Then the commentator explained the Olympics has a 'no false start' rule. If you leave a bit early on your first offense you will be thrown out of competition. Imagine training for four years or more, making your Olympic team, qualifying for a swimming event, and then getting disqualified for a single false start. In athletics they give you one before disqualifying you on the second false start. Athletes still complain, but you can't feel too bad for them-- at least they'd been warned. I think this incredibly harsh policy is cruel and heartless to athletes who spend years training and slip up once. It should be changed immediately.