Admit it. This summer was one of the most lackluster summers in a long time. Very few reasons to get people to come to the cinemas. Dunkirk, however, was one of the films that gave people one of the best reasons to go to the cinemas. One can see why.
The film does share some minor similarities with Titanic. Firstly, it’s a film that features a lot of action as part of the story. This being about the Battle of Dunkirk and the evacuation would be a film that would feature a lot of action and a lot of intense drama. Also like Titanic, it features some fictional stories or story lines inside a moment of history. Like Titanic, they also include historical figures who were part of the Battle, however even there the depictions of incidents do stray away from what really happened and go for the story.
Basically film is so loose, I’m okay with seeing a fictional depiction of moments in history as long as I’m made aware of its fiction. This film is a very good, very complex story of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. We should remember that the Battle Of Dunkirk was very important in the history of World War II. It was the first sign to the Allied forces that Hitler and the Nazi army had a vulnerable side and that the Nazis could be the losing side of World War II, despite how menacing Hitler and the German forces appeared. The rescue mission that accompanied it is a sign of the heroism as 300,000 Allied soldiers survived. The story focuses on three different aspects of the Battle– land, sea and air– and captures in the time frame of a week about what the heat of the moment must have been like for soldiers, civilians, casualties and leaders. The stories of what happened during the Battle of Dunkirk can be told through many different aspects and from many different viewpoints. This film succeeds in capturing the moments as the tension begins, the battles ensue, the devastation is done, the rescue has its own friction and the eventual triumph happens. It allows the viewer to relive the moment of all that happened. I even remember for a brief period of time that I thought the Allied soldiers would lose. Of course I learned in history that they did not lose, but the film succeeded in making me forget it sense that they might lose. That’s the magic of film.
The film is not just about giving a moment in history three different sub-plots. The film also captures the human element of the battle for those part of it. Although the characters are fictitious, they are based on real people from the Battle Of Dunkirk. First there’s young Tommy who goes from being the sole survivor of a battle to joining two other Allied survivors in a new fight for survival and shelter. There are the Dawsons who find themselves rescuing a shell-shocked soldier and seeing their friend George die because of his violent reactions. There’s the RAF pilot who goes from one one of the following pilot to leader of the battle as his leader is shot down. All three stories may not be exact true stories, but they capture the human side of the battle. In all three scenarios, it’s the story about surviving right as they’re witnessing death and destruction around them. It’s likely that what we see in the stories of Dunkirk are similar stories that thousands faced during the very battle. It’s even a reminder of why we should look at those who were part of the Battle, both soldiers and civilian participants, as heroes.
This film is arguably writer/director Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. He came across the idea of doing this film in the 1990’s as he and his wife sailed across the English Channel along the same path of the Dunkirk evacuation. This was no easy film to make. He had his concept of three different scenarios of the Battle Of Dunkirk. He not only had to give the human element to his stories, but also include the action of the battles and the intensity of the various moments. He did an excellent job of constructing such a story that was not only well-done and well-pieced, but was also able to engage the audience as well.
As for the acting, there was not a single stand-out role. Nolan even admitted he didn’t want to put emphasis on the characters for who they are, but instead on will they survive this. Even the role of Tommy was kept very minimal, but Fionn Whitehead did a very good job in his performance as the young soldier struggling to survive. I believe the best acting performance came from Mark Rylance as Peter the mariner who’s caught in the intense situation, but tries to remain cool and calm. Another standout is Tom Hardy as the Spitfire pilot who’s thrown into the leadership role. I know some that are loyal to One Direction may take interest in this because of the appearance of Harry Styles. His performance is good, but his role is limited.
The film needed to have top technical efforts in order to be successful and it had some of the best of the year. There was cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who delivered excellent camera angles,editor Lee Smith who was able to piece the three stories together very well, production designers Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis who did an excellent job of constructing seaside Europe in 1940, composer Hans Zimmer who delivered yet another score that fits the movie to a tee, and the visual effects team for recreating the battles and attacks that occurred.
On an Oscars note, the craziest thing about the months before December is that one does not know which films will have enough juice to qualify for a Best Picture nomination. It’s become very obvious in the last few decades that the big studios save the release for their ‘Oscar bait’ movies for December because they know how things work. Most of the time, a lot of excellent movies that get released in the summer or earlier often miss getting nominated for Best Picture. The year when it was best made obvious was 2002 when all five Best Picture nominees were films either released in December or given wide release in the New Year. Winning an Oscar or even getting nominated is as much about studios doing a strategy or ‘playing the game’ as it is about doing an excellent effort. Don’t forget this is showbiz. Even awards of merit like the Oscars, guild awards or even critics circle awards need to be campaigned and marketed for the win.
The expansion from five Best Picture nominees to a maximum of ten back in 2010 opened doors to a lot of films that were released in much earlier months to have better chances of earning a Best Picture nomination. Dunkirk is one of two films released before the month of November that received a Best Picture nomination. Even before the Oscar season began, Dunkirk was seen as a favorite to be nominated for Best Picture. I myself am relieve to see it as a ‘summer survivor.’
Dunkirk is not just a simple re-enactment of one of the first major battles of World War II. It delivers in the human side of the story as it delivers in the action of the battles. This explains why while the summer movie season of 2017 was known for being lackluster, this movie was a top highlight. And a top-quality highlight too.
When you hear about The Theory of Everything being about Stephen Hawking, you’d probably assume it’s about his scientific conclusions. You will actually be quite surprised.
Stephen Hawking is an astrophysics student at Cambridge in 1963. Stephen is awkward-looking, rather clumsy and already his imaginative thinking is being noticed by students and professors with varying reactions. One night, he meets Jane Wilde, a literature student. They form an unlikely couple with Jane actually taking an interest and liking in Stephen’s imagination.
The following year, there are two incidents that will change Stephen’s life: the first being a lecture on black holes which inspires him to write a thesis about time; the second being when he learns he has ALS–Lou Gehrig’s disease– and is given two years to live. Stephen becomes a recluse upon hearing the news but Jane tells him he loves him and will marry him. The two marry and they have a son Robert.
Stephen continues giving lectures as his condition deteriorates from using crutches to needing a motorized wheelchair and even talking with great difficulty. Jane is always there to help him but it’s becoming very hard on her. Nevertheless he continues to give lectures about black holes, evolution and time to top professors. Some professors find it erroneous while others praise it and give him an honorary doctorate.
Over time Hawking continues to win more acclaim in the science world including becoming a world-renowned physicist. Nevertheless the fame and his physical condition is making it hard for Jane both as a wife and as an educator. Upon her mother’s advice, she joins the church choir where she meets conductor Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Jonathan becomes a friend of the family but the birth of her third child causes suspicion from her mother if Jonathan is simply a friend. Jonathan senses the suspicion and leaves the family for a bit but Stephen tells Jonathan himself she needs him.
While Stephen’s in Bordeaux, Jane has a camping trip with Jonathan and the children and it’s obvious their feeling for each other are shown. The trip ends as Jane learns Stephen contracted pneumonia and needs a tracheotomy in order to fight this. Jane agrees. However Jane finds dealing with Stephen too difficult and hires a helper named Elaine. Elaine works well with him on the letter board. Then computerized technology comes in play and Stephen is able to communicate with a talking machine. He’s able to speak better with the machine than he did when he still had his own voice. It enables him to write a book where he dictates and Jane and Elaine type. The book, A Brief History Of Time, becomes a best-seller and wins Stephen worldwide renown. However it does mark the end of the marriage as he plans to accept an award in the US with Elaine instead of Jane. Nevertheless the film ends on a positive note leaving one to believe Jane and Stephen are still soul mates despite no longer being married.
The remarkable thing about the film is that it shows Stephen Hawking in a light we don’t normally notice. Yes, it shows Stephen and his scientific thoughts. Yes, it shows Stephen in his wild imagination. In fact there are times when it makes Stephen look like the Albert Einstein of our times. However it also shows other aspects of Stephen like how ALS can paralyze his body but not his mind. It’s safe to assume ALS made him a stronger person and the movie shows him acquiring his personal strength over time. He was expected to live only two years when he was first diagnosed and he’s still alive today. It shows how he won’t even let ALS stop him from getting a Penthouse subscription. It also shows him as a father and a husband but also a man with some personal weaknesses such as being sucked into his new-found fame and falling for his assistant Elaine.
But somehow it often appears the movie is not about Stephen. It appears more like it’s about Jane. We shouldn’t forget the film is based off of Jane’s memoirs of being Stephen’s wife. It shows Jane as she’s first attracted to Stephen despite being nerdy and having an eccentric mind. It shows her as the one who got Stephen out and living right after he learns he has ALS and even marries him. It shows her as the one that stood behind Stephen every time he gave a lecture on his Black Holes Theory even when top professors would dismiss it as rubbish. It also shows her as the one who helped Stephen write his legendary book with his talking machine. It almost appears like she was his arms and legs.
The film however does make Jane out to be a saint. It does show Jane’s struggle of being both a wife to a man with a disability. In fact it was the scene when Stephen is playing croquet just after his diagnosis and Jane sees how much it’s deteriorated him that sent me the message this movie could be about Jane. Despite Jane doing her best to be a supporting wife, there are times she can’t hide the frustration and it upsets her. Her frustration is a common frustration people who are spouses with disabilities go through. The film also shows Jane in another flawed light when she falls in love with Jonathan and has a long affair. This film highlights Jane’s own flaws as it highlights Stephen’s.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the film has to be the performances of the two leads. Eddie Redmayne was beyond dead-on as Stephen. In fact it’s the scene of the divorce where Eddie playing Stephen said more with his face than his talking machine did that caught my attention. There were many times in the film Eddie was able to say more in silence as Stephen than when he was talking. From beginning to end he was excellent and embodied the ALS flawlessly. It wasn’t just the ALS. Eddie also gave us an inside look into Stephen’s imagination which adds to the character. Imaginative minds must be something for a topic for film this year. First Alan Turing and now Stephen Hawking. Felicity Jones was not only excellent but also did a great job of stealing the show. Her embodiment of Jane Hawking helps you get to know Jane better as well as have a new found respect for her. In terms of acting, this is mostly a two-person film. Nevertheless there were some good supporting performances from Charlie Cox as Jonathan and Maxine Peake as Elaine that added color to the story. Even the minor appearances of Stephen’s college mates and Stephen’s family added to the story too.
James Marsh did a very good job in directing, especially since he’s more of a documentarian (Man On Wire). This is his second feature-length film that isn’t a documentary and he does a great job of directing the story and bringing out the characters. Anthony McCarten did a great job of adapting Jane Hawking’s memoirs into a good story with great character depth. However it did often come across as a two-actor screenplay and could have added more depth to the other actors. The film had other great efforts too such as Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography, the score from Johan Johannson and added visual effects that dazzled.
The Theory Of Everything isn’t a perfect depiction of Stephen Hawking and his marriage to Jane but it is entertaining. We get to know the two better and feel for them both.
Stories We Tell was one film that was added to the VIFF at the last minute. I was expecting this to be more of a live-action film but it turned out to be a documentary to my surprise. And quite an intriguing one.
The documentary is directed by famed Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley. The documentary first appears to be her father, siblings and other friends and loved ones talking about her mother Diane Polley, from her career as an actor and a singer to her work in a Montreal play around the time her pregnancy with Sarah was starting (April 1978) to the abortion that wasn’t to the birth of Sarah to Diane’s death. All of those involved tell their story with reenacted images appearing in the style of Super-8 home movies. Some even receive direction from Sarah in telling their story and Rebecca Jenkins is cast to play Diane in the Super-8 re-enactments and fake television footage.
After more than half an hour, you think it’s a chronology of the Polley family, or at least the mother. It turns out to be a lot more: a ‘family secret.’ After the death of her mother, Sarah began to question her birth father. Could it really be Diane’s husband Michael Polley or was it another man? It even became a bit of a family joke at the dinner table when Sarah was a young teenager. Eventually the jokes died down and Sarah did some serious business about it. She learned about the actors her mother was acting within that play. She tried to look up one whom many in her family joke as the father but it’s not. Later she learns through conversations of those with the play and through a paternity test her father was Harry Gulkin, Canadian actor and film producer.
The story about searching for the truth of her birth father is seen and heard from the various angles interviewed for the movie: Sarah, her four siblings, Michael Polley, Harry, Harry’s daughter from a previous marriage, and castmates of that fateful Montreal show. The interviews are real in their retelling of the story but some interview dialogue is dramatized for the sake of the film. Possibly to show how a story that happens turns into a story told. I think that was the point Sarah was trying to get across in this is how people take the experiences of their lives and turning them into stories. That explains why we see Sarah giving those she interviews direction at times.
One thing about this documentary is that despite the re-enactment of events on Super-8 film (which had me fooled into thinking they were actually home movies) and the facts being told dramatically by some of the interviewees is that the drama does stop. There is a point where Michael does admit that there was a time in the late 70’s when the marriage seemed to be going dry: he had ambitions of being a playwright but settled on becoming an insurance salesman. He even confesses he told Diane during that time it’s okay for her to romance another man. Another point near the end, Michael cuts away from his cheery personality and his ability to laugh off the situation into showing the hurt he feels knowing he’s not Sarah’s biological father. It’s like that for all the others interviewed too where they all have a calm face or are smiling when they tell the story throughout but it’s near the end when they’re deep in thought that the hurt comes to them. You can see it in their faces.
This is not just a documentary that exposes a family secret of a popular Canadian celebrity. It’s also about Sarah’s relation to the people around her, both family and friends. New people came into her life after learning the truth. Most of her personal relations with others remained unchanged. She still has a healthy relationship with her siblings from her mother’s side as well as the father she always knew. She also has developed a healthy relationship with her biological father and her daughter: people that just came into her life years ago. Another angle of the documentary is it shows how despite laughing off the story, there are still some that feel hurt knowing the truth about the story. Siblings she always knew as full-siblings are now half-siblings. Even the half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage are hurt knowing the truth. The father has hurt behind the laughter. Harry occasionally thinks of the years he missed seeing Sarah grow up.
The thing that surprises me most about this is how successfully the family and others involved were in their ability to keep it secret and away from the media. We shouldn’t forget that this was all happening when Sarah was a public figure. The first secrets were unraveling during her days as Sarah Stanley in Road To Avonlea. It accelerated just as she was becoming the it-girl of Sundance in the late 90’s. The truth was finally revealed just as she was making a name for herself as a director in Away From Her. If this secret had been let out earlier, this could have put a big dent in her career and her image as ‘Canada’s Sweetheart’ during her child actor days could have been tarnished. It’s good to see the family and those who knew the truth kept quiet about this and that only Sarah herself could allow this to be exposed through this film only now. In a world that’s tabloid-obsessed and loves celebrity scandal, it’s good to see this was kept quiet enough to give Sarah the privacy she wanted.
THREE BITS OF TRIVIA: First, Diane Polley was a casting director for two made-for-TV movies of Anne Of Green Gables: the Canadian novel series the family drama Road To Avonlea was spun off of. Second, Diane died only three days after the pilot episode of Road To Avonlea was aired across Canada. Third, Sarah notes on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) website that at least two journalists knew of the story for years but respected her wishes to keep it private and for her to be the first to let the truth out.
Once again, Sarah can add another accomplishment to her resume. She has already accomplished television acting as a child, movie acting as a teenage adult, directing and scriptwriting just years ago and now documentary director. It’s interesting how back during the late 90’s, Sarah turned her back on Hollywood in an attempt to be taken more seriously despite being referred to as the Sundance it-girl. It was a risky move that has paid off over the years. That’s something to admire especially since we’re in a time when people are mostly willing to become famous however they can, even if it doesn’t involve talent at all.
This is one documentary I saw at the VIFF that works well as a big-screen film. I myself saw it at the 1100-seat Vogue stage theatre in Vancouver. However this is one documentary that would best draw a crowd with Canadians or those into arthouse films. Those are the filmgoers who recognize Sarah best. Outside of that, it’s still a documentary that can touch one who may have a similar story like this in their own family. For the record, American film company Roadside Attractions has purchased the film and plans to release it in the US in early 2013. No word yet on Canadian theatrical release. It’s all in the hands of the NFB.
Stories We Tell is an amusing and touching documentary about the retelling of a family secret within Sarah Polley’s family. It’s as charming and witty as it is intimate, touching and even heartbreaking. Definitely worth seeing.
A while back I remember one writer I’m subscribed to posted their Top 10 list in may with the title ‘Better Late Than Never’. Now here I am three months later with mine. I’ll bet the reason for her list being published late is the same reason for mine. While the professional critics have the luxury of access to all the preview DVDs or special screenings before the year end. I have to wait until they’re released on the big screen or the DVD store to see them. I’m sure it’s probably the same reason for her too.
As for me being extra-late, I’m sure all my writing about Euro 2012 and the London Olympics can explain that. Yeah, I was so hyped up over those sporting events as well as the feedback and the record-setting hits I was getting from my articles about them, I forgot about my movie list. In fact I just watched the last DVDs of 2011 I had left to watch just yesterday. Believe me three DVDs in one day is no easy chore. Interestingly enough one of my articles about certain athletes to watch for the London Games is still getting hits even though the London Games ended two weeks ago.
Anyways it’s about time I created my Top 10 of last year, especially since some people are still hitting my Top 10’s of past years. So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Movies of last year along with five films worthy of Honorable Mention:
MY TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2011
6)Midnight In Paris
9)The Tree Of Life
10)Of Gods And Men
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
-Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
-The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
So the seventeen days of Olympic action has ended. History was written in London. Some of these athletes’ dreams came true, some dreams had to be put on hold for another four years, and some died right there. Nevertheless they were a seventeen days that gave the world lots to cheer about.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND NAMES IN HISTORY
One of the unique things of these Olympic Games were that two of the biggest stars from the Beijing Games were back to thrill the world again. An aging Michael Phelps was back in London proving to the world he still has it. He left London with four gold and two silver, successfully defended his gold medal for the third straight time in two different events, set a career Olympic medals record with 22 over three Olympic Games, and ended his Olympic year as arguably the greatest Olympian of all time. Another great from Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, won the 100m, 200m and anchored Jamaica’s 4*100m relay to gold as he did back in 2008. He too solidified himself as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. It wasn’t just Bolt and Phelps who added more glory to their Olympic careers in London. There was the American beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor who won gold for the third straight time. There was British cyclist Chris Hoy whose two gold medals at the Velodrome gave him a career total of six gold medals. No other cyclist has won more. Also British yachtsmen Ben Ainslie won gold for the fourth straight Olympics. Only one other sailor, Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom, has won as many yachting golds.
Even with greats adding to their legacy here in London, this was also the arena where great were born. American swimmer Missy Franklin won five medals, four of the m gold. American sprinter Allyson Felix won three gold medals. British distance runner Mo Farah dazzled the home crowd by achieving the 5000m-10000m double. American decathlete Ashton Eaton and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis gave brilliant wins. Right after the US won the women’s team event in gymnastics, it was American Gabby Douglas who won hearts and the all-around gold. Swimming wasn’t only Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. American Ryan Lochte also provided some great rivalry for Phelps in the pool. The women’s swimming also saw double golds from China’s Ye Shiwen and the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Tennis made a double-winner out Serena Williams in both individual and doubles with her sister Venus. There were also brilliant team efforts in London too. China dominated badminton and table tennis while the Americans dominated basketball. China also won six out of the eight diving events. While the American women’s gymnasts were the clear winners, it was China again who was the class of the men’s field. And the football contest showcased the gold medal-winning brilliance of the Mexican men and the American women.
Despite all the sports action, one of the biggest attractions of these Games were the attendance of members of the royal family at events. The most notable were Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton. They were seen taking in the athletic action and cheering for Britain. Some of the most notable appearances of them were at the men’s team gymnastics tournament, the swimming finals where they saw Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin in action, the track cycling events where the British women’s pursuit team set a world record in front of them, and the equestrian competition where they cheered Duchess Zara Phillips to a team silver in the eventing competition. Her medal was placed around her neck by her mother Princess Anne: a former Olympic equestrian rider and a member of the International Olympic Committee.
As for medal totals, the most medaled male athlete of these games was once again Michael Phelps with six: four gold and two silver. The most medaled women were three swimmers–Austrailian Alicia Coutts and Americans Missy Frankin and Allison Schmitt– who won five medals each. The American team won the most medals with 104 as well as the most golds with 46. Next in line was China with a total of 88 medals, 38 of them gold. Russia was third in total medals with 82. However it was the host country of Great Britain with the third-most gold medals with 29 which I will elaborate on later in this article.
As for Canada, Canadian athletes won eighteen medals over eleven sports. The eighteen medals was the same medal total as in Beijing but Canada only won a single gold. Canada’s only gold medalist was trampolinist Rosie MacLennan. Canada’s other medals were also worthy of respect too. Both of Canada’s rowing eights teams took silver. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek regained her past winning form to take silver in her category. Canada’s female synchro diving pairs both won bronze. Christine Girard became Canada’s first female weightlifter to win a medal, a bronze. Swimmer Brent Hayden won bronze in the 100m freestyle in his third Olympics. Derek Drouin was a surprise bronze medalist in the men’s high jump. And it was Canada’s women’s football team that won the hearts of the country after their controversial semifinal loss against the Americans and their win in the bronze-medal game. There were even non-medallists like Jessica Zelinka, Damian Warner, Mary Spencer and Canada’s women’s gymnastics team who won the respect of the nation.
The Olympic Games here showed that inspiring a generation doesn’t strictly mean winning a gold medal. For the first time in London, all Olympic sports had events for women or were mixed. Also every competing country sent female athletes with their delegation. This was especially victorious for women of Muslim nations as they could finally compete for their country. There was also individual achievements here in London too. There was marathon runner Guor Mariol from South Sudan. South Sudan was just formed as a nation one year ago and has not yet formed its own national Olympic Committee. Guor was given the option to compete for Sudan but refused. Because Sudan it is the country responsible for the genocide of two million of his people, including eight of Guor’s own brothers and sisters, he believed competing for Sudan would be a betrayal to his people. The IOC agreed to have him compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete, one of four at these Games. His appearance could lead to a South Sudan team for the 2016 Olympics. There was South African double-leg amputee runner Oscar Pistorius who had only run in the Paralympics previously and won a long battle with the IAAF to run as an Olympic runner. He ran as part of South Africa’s relay team and in the men’s 400m event. He only made it to the semifinals in the individual 400m but the highlight was at the end as eventual Olympic champion Kirani James did a name tag exchange with him as a sign of respect. There was the American men’s 4*400m relay where the first runner Manteo Mitchell broke his fibula halfway through his run but still ran to the exchange to help the US qualify for the finals. In the finals, Bryshon Nellum who was shot in the leg three years earlier and was told he would never run again ran as part of the silver-medal winning team. He would be chosen as the American flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. And there was delight in the home crowd as British diving prodigy Tom Daley wanted to win a medal for his father who died one year earlier. Those in Britain and the diving world were well aware of the close relationship he had with his father whom wholeheartedly supported Tom during his lifetime. He faced a tightly competitive field in the men’s platform diving but won the bronze. You don’t have to win a gold to be a hero.
THE NEW POSSIBLE: NEW RECORDS SET
Have you been seeing all those ads from AT&T where they show a winning moment and a young athlete writes it as their goal followed by the tagline: “Here’s to the new possible?” The new possibles have been celebrated as new World Records and new Olympic Records countless times here in London. Archery saw the world records fall in the ranking rounds of both the men’s individual and team tournaments. Athletics saw the Olympic record broken in twelve events: four of them new world records. The most amazing had to be the American women’s 4*100 relay team breaking a 27 year-old world record held by East Germany by more than half a second. Cycling saw ten world records broken in four events. All but two were set by British cyclists. Shooting saw seventeen Olympic records and seven world records broken or equaled. Both Modern Pentathlon events saw new Olympic record totals set. Swimming saw the Olympic record fall in twenty events and the world record fall in eight events. The women’s events were the ones with the most change as only two events saw the old Olympic record still standing. Weightlifting saw nineteen Olympic records set, eight of them world records. They say records were made to be broken. Makes you wonder how many of those new records will be broken in 2016?
THE FIRST OF THEIR COUNTRY
Remember how I made mention in my segment of Botswanian sprinter Amantle Montsho that one of my favorite Olympic moments is when a country wins their first ever Olympic medal? Here in London, seven nations won their first ever Olympic medals here in London. Botswana was one of them but it wasn’t Montsho; it was Nijel Amos who won silver in the men’s 800m run. Bahrain’s first ever medal was a bronze in the women’s 1500m run won by Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Montenegro’s women’s handball team won their country’s first medal, a silver. Guatemalan race walker Erick Barrondo brought his country on the medals table for the first time ever with a silver in the 20km walk. The victory ceremony of the men’s heavyweight category in taekwondo saw Gabon’s flag raised for the first time ever at the Olympics for silver medalist Anthony Obame. Cyprus arrived on the medals podium for the first time ever thanks to sailor Pavlos Kontides winning silver in the Laser event. And finally the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada with a population of only 110,000 had an Olympic champion in 19 year-old sprinter Kirani James in the men’s 400m run. With that Grenada set a unique Summer Olympic record for most gold medals per population, beating The Bahamas in 1964 when they had a population of 130,000. The Winter Olympic record is another story. Anyways back to the focus of this segment, one of the reasons why I like seeing a country win their country’s first Olympic medals is because you know they will come home to their country a national hero. That’s the biggest example of the London Games motto “Inspire a generation” happening here. No doubt they’ll inspire their country’s children to excel like them.
HOST NATION PRIDE
The British Olympic Committee has existed possibly ever since there was an Olympic Games. However things changed in the late 90’s after the Atlanta Games of 1996 where Britain won a total of 15 medals and only one was gold. The Olympic Committee revamped itself as Team GB in 1999 and meant to unify the team as one body, irrespective of one athlete’s particular sport. It’s formula appeared to pay off as Team GB, had set targets of medal achievements in each sport at the London Olympics and a total medal target of at least 48 medals; one more than the total won in Beijing. That seemed a pretty high target considering Beijing had one of Britain’s biggest medal hauls ever. It actually turned out to be a very realistic target as Great Britain won a total of 65 medals including 29 golds in a total of 17 sports. It all started with a silver medal won by cyclist Lizzie Armistead in the Women’s Road Race and ended on closing day with pentathlete Samantha Murray winning silver in the women’s modern pentathlone event. In between were loads of reasons for the host country to cheer, especially on Saturday the 4th when Britain won six golds on what will be known as ‘Super Saturday’.
One of the benefits of Team GB’s sport unity was the ability for Brits to excel better than ever in sports Britain was never much of a power in. Taekwondo had only one British medal in the past and here in London they had their first Olympic champion. Previously underrated tennis player Andy Murray won the men’s singles tournament and later won silver in the mixed doubles tournament. Britain won its very first triathlon medals here through the Brownlee brothers: Alastair taking gold and Jonathan taking bronze. British canoeists won more gold medals than ever. And the British gymnastics team here in London won a silver and three bronze; the same total of medals British gymnasts have won in all past Olympic Games combined. There were also some sports where Britain used to dominate in the past that saw a return to the dominance here in London. British boxers won medals in five of the thirteen categories including three wins. Britain’s equestrian riders won gold in three of the six events. And British sailors won medals in five categories including a gold medal for Ben Ainslie in the Finn class: his fourth consecutive.
However it was in the sports that Britain has consistently done best in over the years that saw their biggest successes. It was the sports of cycling, rowing and athletics that most gave the home country something to cheer about. The GB cycling team that included greats like Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins always got the crowd cheering especially in the velodrome as they won twelve medals, eight of them gold. No other country did better in cycling. British rowers won the most medals winning in nine of the fourteen categories including four gold. Athletics saw huge success with four gold and six total medals but it was on ‘Super Saturday’ August 4th that Britain had three Olympic champions: Mo Farah in the men’s 10000m; Greg Rutherford in the long jump; and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. There hasn’t been that many athletics wins by a host country in a single day since the Los Angeles games of 1984. The only sport Britain fell short in was swimming where they targeted five medals at the least but wound up with only three. A far cry from the six medals won in Beijing. There were other sports where Britain made no target and no medals resulted. Even in soccer Britain’s teams lost their quarterfinals: the women to Canada and the men to South Korea via (what else?) penalty kicks. Nevertheless it was their biggest Olympics since 1908 and it gave the whole of Great Britain something to cheer about and a Games to be proud of.
Even though these were an excellent Olympic Games, it’s not to say they weren’t without their problems. First was to do about their security. In the days leading up to the Games, the media made highlights of the security inadequacies. This lead the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to bring in British troops from even as far away as Afghanistan to help. Another was to do about the use of Twitter by some athletes. The bad tweets got most of the attention but two athletes–a Greek triple-jumper and a Swiss soccer player–wrote tweets bigoted enough to get them taken off their team.
There were lowlights during the events. First was news about all the empty seats at some events. despite ensuring fans that tickets were all sold out. Even the non-ticketed qualifying rounds of archery held just before the opening ceremonies raised eyebrows. Another controversy was a man from the stands threw a bottle at the track just before the start of the men’s 100m final and was subsequently arrested. One boxing referee was dismissed from the Olympic for awarding a win to an Azerbaijani fighter who was knocked to the canvas six times by his Japanese rival. A women’s fencing semifinal was given extra time because of a clock malfunction. That allowed German fencer Britta Heidemann to win the match against South Korea’s Shin A-Lam. A-Lam protested with a one-hour sit-in to no avail. One scoreless judo quarterfinal led to the judges unanimously deciding the win on the Korean fighter at first then changing it to the Japanese fighter with no explanation.
However of all the lowlights outside of actual cheating, the two most notable came in the gymnastics events and women’s soccer. Gymnastics first saw scoring problems first in the case of two scores–one by a Japanese gymnast in the team competition and another by American Aly Raisman in the balance beam final–leaving the individual and team out of the medals. Their country’s respective official immediately appealed the score in both cases and both were changed to a score that allowed the gymnasts to win their medals. Another case came when British gymnast Louis Smith and Hungarian Krisztian Berki were both given the same score in the pommel horse final. However Berki won the gold because of a higher execution score. This broke the hearts of both Smith and the British people especially since had Smith won the gold, he would have become Britain’s first-ever Olympic champion in gymnastics. No doubt gymnastics scoring will be debated and reassessed by the FIG in the years before the 2016 Olympics. And a woman’s soccer semifinal received a rare delay-of-game call against the Canadian goalkeeper which allowed an American player to get a penalty kick to tie the game. The American team won the semifinal and went on to win the gold medal. The Canadians were disheartened but not enough to win their bronze-medal match three days later.
The biggest Olympic lowlights are always the cheaters. Usually the Olympic cheaters that make the biggest news are often those that test positive for drugs. Here at these Olympics the cheaters that made the biggest news were the ones that cheated through different means. The biggest news came in the women’s doubles badminton tournament. Four teams deliberately lost in their preliminary bouts so they can get a more favorable position in the elimination round. When it was revealed, all four teams were disqualified. Also newsworthy was the stricter rules in sports such as the no-false-start rule which means even a single false start in swimming and athletics would get one disqualified. It almost happened in two swimming finals but both false-starters were allowed to compete as the starts were on technical malfunctions. Another case of stricter rules came when Canada’s men’s 4*100 relay team was third across the finish line but was disqualified of the race as one of their runners stepped on the lane’s line only once. In the past runners were allowed a maximum of three steps.
There were even some cases of cheating later admitted and cheating being questioned now. First was the swimming feat of China’s double-gold medalist Ye Shiwen. Her 400m Individual Medley win was set in world record time with her final 50m swum comparable to the time of the men’s winner Ryan Lochte. Despite the controversy, she tested negative in all of her drug tests. Another swimming shocker came in the men’s 100m breaststroke when South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh won in world record time. He later admitted to using more than one allowable dolphin kick during the race. He was not disqualified. Britain may have provided some of the biggest highlights of the cycling competition but the Men’s sprint team provided a lowlight as member Philip Hindes crashed and the team was given a restart. Hindes claimed in an interview that he crashed deliberately after a slow start to get the restart for his team. He later retracted his statement and so far no action has been taken against him. And then there’s men’s 1500m run champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. On the day before his gold-medal run, he withdrew himself from the 800m heats after 200m. The IAAF disqualified him feeling he didn’t give an honest effort. He was later reinstated after providing a medical certificate showing that an ailment hampered his efforts. Whatever the truth is, Makhloufi will continue to be under suspicion. One thing about these incidents of potential disqualification is that it shows the sports feds need to get their acts together.
And then there are the positive drug tests. The IOC and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have developed tougher doping rules over the last few years such as having half the competitors of the London Games, 6000 in total, being tested between the start of the Olympics and the end of the Paralympics. All medalists and fourth-place finishers will be tested. The Olympic anti-doping agency will test up to 400 samples a day for more than 240 banned substances. Samples will also be stored and tested over a time period of four year for in the case of additional substances added to the banned list. Even WADA set an ‘in-competition’ time starting July 16th and declared that any athlete can be tested during the in-competition time without notice. During the in-competition period, thirteen athletes from thirteen countries tested positive for banned substances and sent home with suspensions. The only Olympic medalist to test positive was women’s shot put champion Nazdeya Ostapchuk of Belarus. She tested positive for Methenolone and was stripped of her gold medal. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, second-place finisher behind Ostapchuk, now has the gold medal. One thing about all this cheating is Canadian magazine Maclean’s wrote an article about it asking: “Whatever happened to sportsmanship?”
RIO 2016: A LOOK AHEAD
The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. This marks the first time ever a South American city will host an Olympic Games. There’s no doubt Brazil is hoping to use these Games to showcase themselves to the world. This comes at a busy time as Rio will also be facilitating to two more major events within the next four years: World Youth Day in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014. These Olympics already have their own official motto: “Live your passion.” They will begin on August 5 and end on August 21. There are expected to be 304 events in 28 sports. There will be no new sports introduced to the Olympic program in Rio but there will be one making a comeback. Rugby will be making its Olympic return since it was last contested in 1924 although the Olympics will stage Rugby sevens instead of the Rugby union conducted in the past.
The city of Rio is planning on hosting most of the events within the greater city. There are four districts of Rio where the majority of facilities are planned: Deodoro, Maracana, Copacabana and Barra. Deodoro is planned to host most of the modern pentathlon events as well as whitewater canoeing and mountain biking. Copacabana is the perfect place planned to host events in rowing, canoeing, yachting, marathon swimming and beach volleyball. Barra will be a hub for contesting sports such as swimming, gymnastics, hockey, tennins, boxing and wrestling. Maracana will have the biggest hosting of events with the legendary Maracana stadium for football events and the ceremonies, Joao Havelange stadium for athletics, the Maracanazinho arena for volleyball and the Sambadrome which normally host Carnival will host the archery and marathon events.
Most of the events will be held in facilities that already exist like the Maracana, the Joao Havelange Stadium, the HSBC Arena, Pio Olympic Velodrome, the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and the multipavilion Riocentro. There are some temporary facilities planned strictly for the Olympic Games like the Copacabana stadium for beach volleyball, the Deodor Modern Pentathlon Park, an Olympic Hockey Center, an Olympic Hockey Park and a temporary pavillion at the Riocentro. There are only six new venues planned for these Games like the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, the Olympic BMX Centre, an Olympic Tennis Centre and an Olympic Training Centre consisting of four halls and a total seating capacity of 50,000. The only competition venues held outside Rio will be soccer stadiums in four different Brazilian cities.
As for the Brazilian team, Brazil’s team here in London won a total of seventeen medals including three golds in eight sports. That’s their biggest medal haul ever although the most golds they won were five back in 2004. Brazil is one country whose Olympic prowess has really grown in the last twenty years. The first Olympics where Brazil ever won ten or more medals was back in 1996 and the Brazilian team has left every Summer Olympics since with ten medals at the very least. There’s no doubt Brazil wants these Games to have their biggest medal haul ever. What they will have planned in preparation for their Olympic team for these Games will be decided and carried out gradually in the next four years.
The Olympic flame won’t be lit again until the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. By now all the Olympians are either home or heading home. Each nation’s Olympic Committee will be taking home the one of the 204 pedals of the cauldron that has their country’s name on it. One has to agree the London Games gave a lot of great memories and once again brought the world together. The Olympic flame may be extinguished in London but the flame still burns in the hearts of the athletes. That’s what continues to make the Olympic Games so great. Its ability to unite the world, put on a show and inspire the young. The motto of the Games was “Inspire a generation” and you can be sure there were many children watching that were inspired here. Thank you London for a job well-done.
WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: 2016 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_GB>