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Until athletics was spoiled by the blatant drug cheats where it seemed like every top sprinter was involved then I used to love watching the big events especially those ones outside of the major championships that seemed to have a whole atmoshere of their own with a passionate crowd tight little tracks where the runner in lane nine could sign autographs without leaving his lane.
Places like Oslo and Zurich had a particular atmosphere and seemed to always produce great meetings, admittedly some of the races were almost constructed around the top runners attempts to break particular world records with pace setters employed to lead them off but there wasa sense of excitement about these places that UK venues like Crystal Palace or Gateshead could never replicate as the stadiums were almost too open to the elements, a particular problem in the North East given the weather and high winds they seem to get more of than other places in the UK.
The Olympics is still special and this years largely drug free event helped to revitalise my faith in the sport helped by the absolutely superb performance of Bolt in the 100 and 200 finals which still sends a shiver down my back when I see the races, the runner has superb talent and while the show boating is a bit off putting at only 22 it is great to think what he could achieve in 2012.
It took until day ten of the Olympic Games for Britain's first medal winner not to be a nice white middle-class university type, young Lois Smith impressive performance on the pommel horse earning bronze in the gymnastics to break that duck. But athletics is different, dominated by people of color with the majority of the winners coming from third world countries these days, especially in the long distance races, and would be no different in China, that racial and class divide broken down by shear talent alone on the rostrum. You don't need thousands of pounds of funding to run very fast at altitude on the East Coast of Africa or throw a metal ball in the Ukraine. I think British athletics should see a big cut in that finding so to bring our runners and jumpers down to earth and back to basics. Chambers admitted that he spent his Lotto funding on steroids.
For team GB it was all rather disappointing, the 27 million of UK sports funding producing only three medals. Rather ironically the medals that have poured in for Team GB have come from the sports we have spent the most Lottery money on but the competitors come from the people who are least likely to buy the tickets in Britain, rowing and sailing an example of. Sadly of late we have fallen away in the more cross-class and race sports like athletics and it showed in Beijing. Kids with athletic talent these days either go to college for a three year piss up or drift out off the sport and into booze and crime.
When Steve Ovett was asked to comment on GB's record medal haul away from the track he was scathing on how well we have done in the expensive sports, and so not so in the cheaper ones, effectively saying we have bought the medals and it was unfair on the third world that can't possibly compete against teams like our cyclists and sailors. The Olympic 800m champion quoted that:" the Africans don't have enough water to drink let alone float around on for sport" .That is fair comment to some extent but we just so happen to be good at the sit down sports at the moment because of that lottery money. Steve needs to come back from Australia where he has lived for twenty years and start coaching the next Steve Ovett for 2012 or shut it.
-The track highlights for Beijing 2008-
In the 1980s, a six-foot-six Jamaican roaring down the track at 30mph could only to be a quick bowler, blowing away English batsmen, not a supreme athlete winning three gold's and WR's in astonishing style during these games. The gap to silver medal from Bolt in all three races, blowing the field away, reminded me of Soul 88, and we all know what happened there. But I don't get that grubby feeling with this particular Jamaican and I think he really is just a freak runner and so clean', the "bolt out of the blue", as the headline writers quipped with cliché, the real deal. The way he celebrated in the critical last ten meters of the 100m when sprinters think only about their fastest time of the year and there best dip of the season, was unreal, Usain having time to wave to his granny in Kingston. Time even to light up a joint he was that laid back in that astonishing 100m. You all know how unbelievable it was and already one of the great sporting moments. Sadly for American audiences, even though NBC had spent $2.4 billion on the TV rights, the race was not shown live for the first time in US TV history, even though it was on at 9:30am Saturday morning on the East Coast.
-The 100m WR-
The record had got stuck on 9.77 of late with Asafa Powell and then Tyson Gay sharing it, before Powell claimed it back at 9.74, then Bolt surprisingly breaking it in NY on a wet and windy night in June with 9.72. What's amazing about the Olympic run is it was into a slight head wind! What time can this guy possibly do? 10:59!
Top 10 times...
9.69 0.0 Usain Bolt -Jamaica 16 August 2008 Beijing
2 9.72 (+1.7) Usain Bolt -Jamaica 31 May 2008 New York
3 9.74 (+1.7) Asafa Powell -Jamaica 9 September 2007 Rieti
4 9.76 (+1.8) Usain Bolt -Jamaica 3 May 2008 Jamaica
5 9.77 (+1.6) Tyson Gay- United States 28 June 2008 Eugene
5 9.77 (+1.6) Asafa Powell- Jamaica 14 June 2005 Athens
5 9.77 (+1.5) Asafa Powell -Jamaica 11 June 2006 Germany
5 9.77 (+1.6) Asafa Powell- Jamaica 18 August 2006 Switzerland
9 9.78 (0.0) Asafa Powell- Jamaica 9 September 2007 Rieti
10 9.79 (+0.1) Maurice Greene -United States 16 June 1999
The reason I don't believe Usain is a cheat is because of his laid back demeanor, his ungainly style and, most importantly, his height, his 8ft stride pattern turnover unique in the short sprints. You just don't see six-foot-six, 100m runners as the convention has always been pocket battleships with low wind resistance for the short sprint. Anyone over 6, 2" are nearly always put in the one lap race training groups at athletics clubs, with a view to being a one lap hurdler or sprinter. What if all those frustrated fast bowlers on the Caribbean Islands want to try sprinting now cricket is dying there? What if tall black guys are told to try the shorter sprints before they do the 400m on the Islands, the traditional tall guy race? Sprinting is about to change radically. Another theory is that although the Island has only a two million population the testosterone levels are unusually very high there from a young age and that could be where the extra zing comes from. Fellow Jamaican born Linford Christie just blamed it on the islands ginseng...
Previous 100m Olympic Champions...
2004: Justin Gatlin USA 9.85
2000: Maurice Greene USA 9.87
1996: Donovan Bailey CAN 9.84
1992: Linford Christie GBR 9.96
1988: Ben Johnson CAN 9.79
1984: Carl Lewis USA 9.99
1980: Allan Wells GBR 10.25
1976: Hasely Crawford TRI 10.06
1972: Valeriy Borzov URS 10.14
1968: Jim Hines USA 9.9
Tyson Gay, who I do feel is yet another cheat straight off the American production line, seemed disinterested by not making the final, whilst Asafa Powell yet again bottled a medal by finishing sixth. In fact in his trackside media chat he looked gobsmakecked that Bolt had just effectively ended his career here - let alone any of his remaining street cred in Jamaica. It was an extraordinary thing to see in so many ways and for me one of the greatest sporting moments of all time, as is Ben Johnson's race in 88 for all the wrong reasons. Let's only hope this one will be for all the right reasons. Indeed the Jamaican team had been moaning on just how many times they have been targeted for drug testing in China, complaining that they are 'running out of blood'. But sadly history dictates only bad news on Olympic 100m final winners, only lawyer Donovan Baileys 96 Olympic gold still unquestioned from the last five games. It's noticeable that since the BALCO scandal there have been fewer sprint medals in the stadiums of the world for team America.
Those who think Usain is in the clear need to read this article by the BBC when Tim Montgomery broke the 100m WR in Paris in 2002. The sport is always desperate for a clean 100m champion, their blue riboned event, and many though Montgomery was the one. Montgomery is now banned for drugs and in jail for cheque fraud, as was Marion Jones, briefly. The sport is getting tough and America is tumbling down the medal table because of that.
One defense of the US runner's under-performance was the gap between the US trails and the races in Beijing, some 8 weeks. The US guys have to peak for the trials as only the first two guys or girls go through to the Olympic team and that's it. If you are sick on the day then you are out. They then have to peak again for the major championships.
Not to be party-poopers the Jamaican girls performed as equally as well as the boys, a blanket 1-2-3 finish in their 100m final, Shelly-Anne Frazer leading them home in an impressive 10:79, three tenths of a second behind Flo Jo`s seemingly untouchable L.A 84 time of 10:49. The Jamaican athletics federation clearly got their drug testing policy spot on leading up to this game. They didn't have one!
Lightning struck twice some four days later, Bolt winning gold in the 200m with another WR, again into a head-wind, this time by only a hundredth of a second, which will please his manager some as now he can make some serious money on the GP circuit, continuously breaking it. Bolt is the first guy since Don Quarry-a fellow Jamaican- to hold both WRs. So dominant was the 'Lightning Bolt' that the second and third placed athletes had run out of their lanes on the tight bend to try and earn any sort of advantage on the big man to put pressure on, and so both disqualified. Big Michael Johnson congratulated him with some kind words from the BBC box but the head of the IOC in Jacques Roggiers was not in the Jamaican party mood... telling Usain off for showboating and being unsporting, an idiot comment after the world had just reveled in two amazing runs to practically save athletics reputation single handedly.
Top 200M top 10 times...
1. 19.30 (-0.9) Usain Bolt Jamaica 20 August 2008 Beijing
2. 19.32 (+0.4) Michael Johnson United States 1 August 1996 Atlanta
3. 19.62 (-0.3) Tyson Gay United States 24 June 2007 Indianapolis
4. 19.63 (+0.4) Xavier Carter United States 11 July 2006 Lausanne
5. 19.65 ±0.0 Wallace Spearman United States 28 September 2006 Daegu
6. 19.68 +0.4 Frank Fredericks Namibia 1 August 1996 Atlanta
7. 19.69 +0.9 Walter Dix United States 26 May 2007 Gainesville
8. 19.72 +1.8 Pietro Mennea Italy 12 September 1979 Mexico City
9. 19.73 -0.2 Michael Marsh United States 5 August 1992 Barcelona
10. 19.75 +1.5 Carl Lewis United States 19 June 1983 Indianapolis
There was a shock in the men's 400m when LeShawn Merritt ran down defending Olympic and World Champion Jeremy Wariner In an impressive 43.54. No one was expecting that and it was perhaps the tracks biggest surprise of the games. Team GBs Martin Rooney, on the other hand, looks a real talent, possibly another Roger Black, bagging an impressive 6th in the same final.
It was no surprise the 100 meters relay for men's was crazy though, both America and Britain being disqualified for baton infringements, leaving the gold to the Jamaicans, who hadn't practiced baton exchanges previously .When the US women dropped the stick in their semi-final it was the first time since 1948 that both US teams had failed to make the Olympic relay finals. Craig Pickering bravely took the blame for the team GB defeat for going too early on the anchor leg but as the medals were rolling in elsewhere so no one really cared. Do we really want to defend an Olympic title that was won with Dwaine Chambers in the side? The Jamaican girls were not going to let the boys have all the fun, Veronica Campbell winning the 200m final and then running in the 100m relay final an hour later.
The party wasn't over for the Jamaicans just yet, Bolt and co nailing the 100m relay gold with another WR. Bolt ran the final leg and this time ran through the line with such aggression that he nearly caught up with the seventh place runner on his deceleration! The Reggae girls couldn't match the boy's effort, dropping the baton with the Brits, giving Russia a fluky gold, a gold that put them level with us in the overall medal table in third spot and top of the athletics one. The 400 relay boys and girls performed much better for team GB by making their respective finals and could medal four years from now, America picking up both gold's.
The British girl's middle-distance highlight had to be Lisa Dobriskey, 4th in the women's 1500m final, which could have been a podium if, like Andy Badley in his 1500m final, they had been more tactically aware, Lisa failing to defend Kelly Holmes title. Natasha-Danvers Smith bagged a gutsy bronze in the women's 400m hurdles final, for me what the Olympics is all about, an un-fancied runner who pulled one out the bag after a very bad year.
Paula Radcliffe, as expected, limped over the line in the marathon in a flood of tears and excuses, clutching her calf all too demonstrably on exactly the same mileage (37k) she walked off the track in Athens. Her game seems to be all about image these days and when she had a baby, for me, she should have retired. These injuries are about getting old and not about bad luck girl. There is hope for Paula in London 1012 though, the Romanian girl who won the race was 38 years old, the oldest ever winner of the Olympic women's marathon. But we have yet to hear if she tested positive or not as she looked like one of those typical bleached blonde Eastern European walking chemists. Irena Blonska from the Ukraine, who came second in the women's heptathlon, did test positive and the biggest name to in Beijing.
Our main medal hope for the girls was always Christina Ohuruogu in the 400 meters, and she delivered, winning in grand style, running down the over-confident American in the final ten meter's. There was no time for waving to the crowd for team GBs most controversial athlete. It was the first British one lap sprint gold since Eric Liddle in the 1924 Olympics. But the crowd weren't waving back much, the drugs cloud still drizzling over her somewhat masculine head. I personally want to believe she's clean and my instinct says she is. The evidence that got her ban lifted was because on the days she missed the three drug tests in that 18 month period she was also tested at events and meetings clustered around those three failures, meaning she wouldn't have failed those test if she had taken them, that the reason she was allowed to compete in Beijing.
For me because she is from a black African/British background it also helps to prove her innocence, the majority of black athletes that do test positive around the world coming from Caribbean islands, the parentage from the likes of Jamaica and Barbados. Few sports hacks dare go there but I think the drug problem really is in the U.K Caribbean population and not black British Africans. The latter tend to be more educated here and hope to have careers after athletics, where as Caribbean's are in the sport for everything as there's usually not much after, which you can hardly blame them. Cheating in a way is a kind of payback for colonial history and two fingers to the intrinsic racism in this country that they may feel denies them proper jobs and careers elsewhere. As we saw with Dwayne Chambers there's nothing there for him afterwards so he had to cheat to keep his lotto money coming in. And lets face it he needs to get anywhere near the Lightning Bolt he needed those steroids! You may find those findings controversial but we need to have this debate so people like Ohuruogu have a percentage defense. She is university educated and there's only been one case in UK athletics that I can recall where someone with a decent degree education has tested positive, that being 400m runner Mark Richardson...
There were just two silvers for team GB, one somewhat disappointing and one unexpected. Germaine Mason (Caribbean dad and English mom) scooped that surprise medal, second in the high jump after three Brits qualified for the final 12, his phlegmatic Jamaican manner and ascent suggesting he's more Bob Marley than Lenny Henry. We can hardly claim him as one of our own and the big man had been training in Jamaica all year any way. It was, though, very pleasing to see the three Brit vests in the pit with 2012 in mind. So confident were the boys that young Gary Parsons managed to sneak into the stadium to jump with his lucky Aston Villa socks on, although like his football team, underachieved when the bar was raised. Mason jumped 2m:34cm`s to claim his silver, nearly eight foot to you and me, which is like jumping over your living room ceiling! High- jump is perhaps the absolute truth as far as rampant drug abuse is in the sport as the heights haven't really moved on that much since the Frosbury Flop was invented, although I don't suspect there are many drugs out there that can make you jump higher!
Phillips Idowu disappointment in not winning the gold was his own, the confident triple-jumper jumping a seasons best to lose by just five centimeters. The fact he was the same distance ahead of the bronze medalist would suggest it was too tight to claim he was unlucky and great motivation for London to go one better. The boy did well and should be proud.
Greg Rutherford qualified for the Olympic long-jump final and had the jump to medal. But after two fouls, stacked the pressure on himself and failed to make the last eight, finishing tenth. Jade Johnson, very much team GBs diva, was a lackluster seventh in the girls final. If ever you wanted to see an example of wasted lotto money then it's Jade. If you cut off her 25k a year I'm sure she would have medaled in the Games.
The long-jump was the type of event where team GB was looking to pick up a surprise medal in what looks a very average team this Olympics, even though they had a surprise win in the European Athletics Cup in June in Paris. Goldie Sayers was the highlight in the girl's field team events, claiming a brilliant 4th place in the ladies javelin final with a season's best, but too far behind the steroid pumped Eastern Europeans to trouble the medals. Again London 2012 she's a big prospect in a sport we have history in with two Olympic champions.
Irving Saladino captured the gold and Panama's first Olympic track and field title, the 78th of the 205 nations here to medal so far at this point. Robles of Cuba took gold in the 110 meter hurdles, the second Olympics out of the last three for Cuba to do that. The Chinese fans cheered him on out of respect they never got to see the showdown with Xia Xang.
Women's pole vault sensation, Isinbeyeva of Russia, really wowed the crowds in the Birds Nest stadium as she went through her eccentric routines and show stopping flirtations with the crowd to eventually win gold. One of her favorite's things to do between jumps is to hide under a duvet she brings into the stadium for the big events, for what reason we dare not ask. She also whispers to her pole on the end of the run up, before spinning around and hurling herself down the runway to propel herself into the heavens. She was in top form to steel the gold and earn the Olympic athletics its fourth world record at 5 meters 5 centimeters. The equally sexy Serva Blanca of Croatia won gold for the girls in the high-jump.
-The BBC coverage-
Sue Barker did a sterling job with Michael Johnson alongside, although I felt Darren Campbell is in the Sally Gunnell class and will surely be dropped from his contract. He was even worse on the Radio Five Live coverage and you felt the BBC definitely skimped on the talent there, Steve Backley and Campbell pretty much left alone to mumble their way through it with John Inverdale. They had little research or statisticians on hand and the banter was tacky and childish to say the least. Alison Curbishley, on the other hand, did impress. Colin Jackson just about got away with it and I'm surprised they didn't use Jonathan Edwards more.
I think it's fair to say we should have won more than four medals-the target was five-and now we know why they made sure Ohurugu ran. But we had lots of people in finals and they placed highly. If we do better the 77 medals team GB won here I believe it will be because of some of these guys maturing in 2012.