Tag Archives: London

London 2012 Paralympics: Best Ever

Margaret Maughan lights the cauldron of the 2012 London Paralympics.

On Sunday night, the fourteenth Summer Paralympic Games closed in London. They were contested only a month after the main summer Olympic Games began. These Paralympic Games were another effort of the International Paralympic Committee to help put disabled sport upon the same parallel as able-bodied sport. They became the biggest and best ever.

START AND DEVELOPMENT

Sport for the disabled has existed ever since there were people with disabilities who still wanted to remain active and had the will to make it happen. However the start of formal sport for people with disabilities had its start and development at the Stoke Mandeville hospital in the English town of Stoke Mandeville 55 km northwest of London. It was after World War II and through the iron will of war veterans left permanently injured with either paralysis or amputation to develop sport to stay physically active and through the guidance of neurologist Ludwig Guttmann. It was on July 28, 1948–the day before the main Summer Olympics of London opened–that the Stoke Mandeville Games For The Paralyzed took place. It consisted of a single archery competition between fourteen men and two women, all from the UK.

You could say it was those Stoke Mandeville Games where the Paralympic sports movement would be born. True, but it would take some time and development. The Stoke Mandeville Games would become an annual sports competition and would consist of UK athletes only. In 1952, Dutch athletes participated at the Stoke Mandeville Games making it the first ever International Stoke Mandeville Games. The Games would continue to be contested annually and would continue to become more international. Then a breakthrough occurred in 1960 when Rome, host city of the Summer Olympics that year, agreed to host the International Stoke Mandeville Games just weeks after the main Olympics ended. This was the first time those Games were held outside of Stoke Mandeville and would later be remembered as the first ever Paralympic Games. It consisted of 400 athletes from 23 countries participating in 57 events in eight sports.

Paralympic sport would continue to grow. The International Stoke Mandeville Games would continue to be contested annually in Stoke Mandeville for three more years. Then in 1964, Tokyo would host the Games just weeks after the main Olympics ended just like Rome did four years earlier. The Stoke Mandeville Games continued annually and the 1968 Stoke Games we held just weeks after the main Olympics ended. However they would be held in Tel Aviv, Israel instead of Mexico City which hosted the main Olympics. This would continue on for twenty years where the Stoke Mandeville Games would be held in Stoke Mandeville in non-Olympic years and be held in an international city. There would be two dissimilarities during this period of time. One would be no mention of Stoke Mandeville in the title and having tiles like ‘Olympiad For The Physically Disabled’ or ‘International Games For The Disabled’. Another dissimilarity was the host city as it would be a different host city than the main Olympic Games. Also noteworthy was the creation of the first ‘Winter Olympic Games Of the Disabled’ in 1976. Like the Summer Games, the Winter Games would also be contested in cities that didn’t host the main Winter Olympics. One notable achievement of those Games is that over the years they would be recognized seriously enough for national heads of state to formally open them at their Opening Ceremonies.

Another breakthrough occurred in the summer of 1988 when the Games were held in Seoul, Korea just weeks after they finished hosting the main Olympic Games. This marked a return to the original format of 24 years ago when these Games took place in the same host city of the main Olympic Games and this partnering would continue to be the format to this day. Another notable thing of these Games was that they would be the first such Games to be referred to as the ‘Paralympic’ Games for ‘parallel’, not paralyzed and most people think. The ‘merger’ of the two Games that year would prove to be a great success and would even spawn the formation of the International Paralympic Committee the following year.

Also in case you’re interested, the International Stoke Mandeville Games would later be renamed the World Wheelchair Games and are now called the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games. They are headed by the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation, a sports federation separate from the International Paralympic Committee, and take place annually except during Paralympic years and at various cities worldwide.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE: VANCOUVER 2010

As many of you know, I come from Vancouver. Our city hosted to 2010 Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games of that year. I had tickets for the Opening Ceremonies, alpine skiing, nordic skiing and sledge hockey. It was a very good experience. The Opening Ceremonies held on March 12th was a fun occasion which featured a DJ performing for the parade of athletes as they were coming out. The opening ceremonies also involved audience participation and featured a wide array of performers from a breakdancer with Arthrogryposis named ‘Lazylegs’ to an amputee rock band to wheelchair riders practicing halfpipe tricks to a deaf poet. The Ceremonies also paid tribute to two of Canada’s greatest athletes with disabilities: the late Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. There were speeches made by Hansen as well as past Paralympic athletes like Aimee Mullins and Chantal Petitclerc. The ceremony ended with a grand lighting of the flame by teenage athlete Zac Beaumont: a Paralympic snowboarder. He was selected to represent the future of Paralympic sport not just because of his age but also because he was a snowboarder and snowboarding was not part of those Paralympics. Snowboarding will make its Paralympic debut in 2014 under the name Parasnowboarding.

The following day I was to see the alpine skiing competition at Whistler. It was cancelled out due to foggy conditions and heavy snow. Even despite the cancellation, there was an area at the basin of the hill where children and adults could try Paralympic sports on their own. There was sledge skiing trials, sledge hockey trials and even an amputee skiing trials. It was also an introduction to the equipment used for sports competitions like the sledges for sledge skiing and the ski poles for amputee skiers called outriggers whose edges first act like poles then flip to become skis to support balance. Over at a visit to the main Whistler Town Square there were performances by rock bands throughout the square and celebrations galore at the restaurants. The medal ceremonies happened later that night. It was a great occasion and all the athletes were excited for what they achieved and the mood was festive. Whistler would be the competition grounds for all but three medal events of the Paralympic games so these Games were as much Whistler’s as they were Vancouver’s.

Me with IPC President Sir Philip Craven during Vancouver 2010.

I returned to Whistler Thursday the 18th to watch nordic skiing. There were three types of competitions: sledge, blind and amputee. Both sledge skiers and blind skiers were all ranked by their finish time. Amputee skiers were different as there were different types of amputees through the competition and times had to be adjusted due to the amputee level of each athlete for the sake of a level playing field. A unique thing I learned is that blind skiers, both nordic and alpine, would have guides with full vision guiding them through telecommunication letting them know of what to expect while they’re on course. Often guides for Paralympic athletes have to be athletes of Olympic caliber ability. I also remember groups of schoolchildren were at the events as part of a special promotion from the ticket sales. Later that day i went back to the village where they had a special igloo shaped exhibit called ‘Spirit In Motion’. Inside was an exhibit of Paralympic sports and its history. It was almost like walking through a museum learning all the information. Most of the exhibits were provided by Otto Bock, a German prosthetics company. I was also able to meet Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). We talked for a short bit as he had to head back to Vancouver. I told him I was to see a sledge hockey game tomorrow and that’s when he gave me the news that Canada lost their semifinal to Japan. My heart sunk because I wanted them to make the gold-medal final of course. The day ended with more celebrations over at the Whistler Olympic Plaza. Medals were given out and two of which went to Canadian athletes that were some of the biggest winners of these Games: five-time gold medallist Lauren Woolstecroft, an amputee alpine skier; and three-time gold medalist Brian McKeever, a blind Nordic skier. The ceremonies ended with a concert by Serena Ryder.

Friday the 19th was the day for the bronze medal game of sledge hockey. I was too late to get a ticket for the gold-medal final. This was the match I was hoping NOT to see Team Canada play in. Of course I wanted them to play in the gold-medal match. Sledge hockey has been one Paralympic sport that has caught a lot of attention over the past few years. Canada has also welcomed the sport with open arms and matched have stimulated interest in the sport.  Anyways it was held at a hockey stadium over at the UBC Campus. The game was scoreless during the first two periods. Then a goal for Canada happened at the beginning of the third. During the third period, things started looking bad for Canada as they had only one shot on goal while Norway was having plenty. Then the nasty moment came. A foul by a Canadian was committed which allowed Norway a penalty shot. This infuriated the Canadian goalie enough for him to throw his helmet down. When the Norwegian took his penalty shot, he scored. Tied 1-1. Then one of the Canadian players took a bad hit and was lying on the ground. He was lying still and the coach came rushing out onto the ice. The whole arena was silent. Fortunately he was able to get up. The whole area was so relieved he was alright we didn’t seem to care if we won or not. We didn’t; Norway scored the bronze medal-winning goal with less than four seconds to go.

ACCOLADES AND CONTROVERSIES

The Paralympic Games have had their greats over the years. the most medaled Paralympian is American blind swimmer Trischa Zorn who won a total of 55 medals, 41 of them gold, from 1980 to 2004. The most medaled Winter Paralympian is Norwegian Ragnhild Myklebust who won 27 medals including 22 golds in three different winter sports: biathlon, Cross-country skiing, and ice sledge racing. It’s interesting to know that while Michael Phelps is the only Olympian with 10 or more gold medals, there are a total of 39 Paralympians with ten or more. The most medaled Canadian is Chantal Petitclerc, a Wheelchair racer who has won a total of 21 medals including 14 gold. Another Canadian Paralympic legend is Arnie Boldt, a single-leg amputee performer in athletics, who has won a multitude of Paralympic medals and was especially dominant in the high jump. Many consider him to be the best Paralympic athletics performer ever. The most golds in a single games is 12 won by Trischa Zorn at the 1988 Summer Paralympics. While Phelps is the only Olympian to win eight golds in a single games, there are six Paralympians who have won eight or more.

Each Paralympic sport has had their greats. While there’s Zorn and French swimmer Beatrice Hess in swimming, there’s Sweden’s Jonas Jacobsson in shooting, Germany’s Gerd Schoenfelder in alpine skiing, Myklebust in nordic skiing, Petitclerc and Switzerland’s Franz Nietlispach in athletics, and Britain’s Lee Pearson in athletics.

The Paralympic Games are not without their controversies. The biggest example of cheating came at the Sydney Games of 2000 when Spain’s intellectual disability basketball team was ruled to have at least ten members who weren’t intellectually disabled. Mental tests, which were to be conducted before the Games, weren’t conducted. It was later admitted ten members weren’t intellectually disabled and the team was stripped of the gold. That was considered by many to be one of the ‘most outrageous sporting moments’ in history. Intellectually Disabled Basketball has not been contested at the Paralympics ever since and it wouldn’t be until these Paralympics in London where Intellectual Disability sports would make a return, and under close scrutiny.

There have also been doping violations at the Paralympic Games too. The first positive tests came at the 1992 Barcelona Games. The Sydney Games of 2000 was the first Games to ensure their Games met the International Medical and Anti-Doping Code. Out-of-competition tests were introduced at those Games. Those resulted in fourteen athletes testing positive, ten of them powerlifters. There’s even a form of doping unique to Paralympic sport: boosting-where the athlete is induced with autonomic dysreflexia to increase blood pressure. It’s an ongoing problem that still exists.

THE LONDON GAMES THEMSELVES

These Paralympic Games were anticipated to be the biggest ever. Organizers were expecting before the Games to be the first Paralympics to achieve mass market appeal, fueled by the public enthusiasm continuing after the end of the main Olympics in London, the UK’s role in Paralympic sport and growing interest and media in Paralympic Sport. The torch bagan its journey on August 24th with torch lightings in London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. All four met in Stoke Mandeville on the 28th, the day before the Games’ opening, to unite to create a special cauldron during a special ceremony commemorating the village’s role in the history of the Paralympics. The flame headed for London was lit and it arrived at the stadium after a 24 hour relay during the opening ceremonies just after being declared open by Queen Elizabeth II. The cauldron was similar to the multi-pedaled cauldron used for the main Olympics and it was lit by Margaret Maughan, Britain’s first Paralympic champion. The opening ceremony was as star-studded as the Olympics featuring acting from Ian McKellen, music from group Orbital and an appearance from Stephen Hawking. The closing ceremony was just as star-studded as it included Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z. The Paralympic flag, by the same tradition as the Olympic flag, was handed from the mayor of London to the mayor of Rio. And British Paralympic champions Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds extinguished the flame and shared its last flame on torches to others throughout the stadium.

4300 athletes from 156 countries participated at these Games in the 503 events throughout the twenty sports. The competitions were a delight themselves and you could guarantee Olympic appearances by South African runner Oscar Pistorius would stimulate attention. He attracted a lot of attention but was surprised in the 200m run when he was beaten by a Brazilian runner. The sprinting star of those Games was actually a British teenage sprinter Jonnie Peacock. A single-leg amputee, he won the 100m for his disability class. His coach was Dan Pfaff, coach of 1996 Olympic 100m dash champion Donovan Bailey.

The most medaled athletes were Australian swimmers Jacqui Freney and Matthew Cowdrey with eight medals each: all gold for Jacqui and five gold for Matthew. The athletics competition had two quadruple-gold medalists with American Raymond Martin and Brit Dave Weir. Another British athlete, cyclist Sarah Storey, also won four gold medals. The most medaled Canadian was swimmer Summer Mortimer who won seven medals including two gold. Britain’s Sophie Christianson won two gold medals in equestrian. Brazil and Russia won the two football tournaments. The powerlifting events were won mostly by Nigeria, Iran and Egypt. China proved to be as dominant in Paralympic table tennis as they are at Olympic table tennis winning 14 of the 26 golds. China also won six of the twelve wheelchair fencing events.

In terms of the medals race, China won the most with 231 medals, 95 of them gold. Host country Great Britain won the second-most medals with 120 including 34 gold. Russia won the third-most medals with 102  including 36 gold. The USA was fourth in medals with 98 including 31 gold. Canada had its lowest Paralympic medal haul in 40 years with only 31 medals, seven of them gold. Canada usually ends up in the Top 10 on the Paralympic medals chart but ranked 20th at these Games.

GAMES MARKETING

Having the Paralympics start weeks after the main Olympic end and in the same host city has helped establish the Paralympic Games since they were repartnered back in 1988 and as helped them grow considerably. It’s another thing to help promote and market Paralympic sport and get good ticket seat sales. Even though ticket sales are lower than that of the main Olympic Games, it hasn’t been easy to attract good-sized crowds to Paralympic sport. There have been some cases in past Paralympics where some events would ‘give away’ seats to attract crowds. There have been other times when Paralympic events would attract good-sized crowds. I remember back in 2010 the gold medal match for sledge hockey was sold out weeks before it was contested. Thus my purchase of a ticket for bronze medal match. I also remember the Paralympic Games offering discounts for groups of ten or more and even offers for field trips for schoolchildren. The ceremonies were very well-attended. The skiing events I attended also had good sized crowds. The sledge hockey playoff rounds started selling out as the weeks got closer. And the medal matches for wheelchair curling sold out.

London attempted to take it even further by becoming the biggest-selling Paralympic Games in history. They planned to sell a total of 2.7 million tickets. Part of the promotions included introducing the Paralympic mascot Mandeville, named after the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the same day the main Olympic mascot Wenlock was introduced. Royal Mail released a combined Olympic/Paralympic postage stamp series of 30 stamps each featuring either an Olympic or Paralympic sport. One of which came from Channel 4, the British channel broadcasting the Paralympic Games with 150 hours of live coverage, ran an ad campaign in the weeks leading up called Meet The Superhumans. The Ads were aired over 78 commercial television stations in Britain and was met with huge critical acclaim.

Broadcasting was also very good. Many countries like Britain, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa devoted five or more hours a day on live coverage. Some countries like Canada and New Zealand had broadcast of ceremonies and a daily hour-long highlights show. The one country with the least coverage was the United States. NBC and its NBC Sports Network only provided a total of 5 1/2 hours of coverage. Only four one-hour highlight shows and a recap show on NBC scheduled for September 16th. There was actually a lot of online broadcast of the Paralympic Games that was more active than broadcast on television. Canada had four online channels broadcasting 580 hours of coverage. Many other countries included their own online broadcast. And the IPC’s own Youtube channel broadcast approximately 780 hours of coverage. Broadcasting rights raised a profit of  £10 million, a Paralympic record.

As for tickets, 2.7 million were sold. Even before the main Olympics were over, London’s Paralympic ticket sales had already broken the Paralympic record of 1.8 million for the Beijing Paralympics. By the time the Opening Ceremonies started, a total of 2.4 million were sold. The Opening Ceremonies only had 800 tickets unsold before its start which went to the police and the military along with London Mayor Boris Johnson distributing 1100 to youth athletic clubs. There was even 100,000 contingency tickets sold on September 6 due to popular demand which included multi-event passes and event tickets passed on by sponsors and partners. It’s no wonder this much enthusiasm led Sir Philip Craven to call these ‘the best Paralympic Games ever’ at the closing ceremonies.

LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING AHEAD

Oscar Pistorius’ popularity has done a lot to stimulate interest in Paralympic sport.

There can be many factors determining why these became the biggest and best Paralympic Games ever. One could be increasing support and funding of Paralympic sport from almost all national Olympic Committees. Some could also say it was due to Britain’s enthusiasm of the main Summer Olympics that poured into these Paralympics. Some could also add it was the Olympic appearance of South African double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius that stirred up excitement. Some could say it was Britain’s contribution to Paralympic sport from the genesis of its formation at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital after World War II to Sir Philip Craven serving as the current President of the IPC. Nevertheless the organizers succeeded in making this the best Paralympic Games ever and leaves a tough act for Rio to follow in 2016.

Despite the success of these Paralympic Games, there are some challenges that lay ahead. First is the connection of the Paralympic Games to the Olympic Games. Since 1988 it has relied on being held shortly after the conclusion of the main Olympics to boost its popularity. That move has been very successful and is under contract to continue to be that way at least until 2020. The question is will this ‘partnership’ continue after or will the Paralympics try to hold their own by being held in a different host city? Also The IOC and IPC have close ties and both Presidents Jacques Rogge and Philip Craven meet regularly. Would the ties continue if there was such a change?

Another is the cultivation of star Paralympic athletes and the support of Paralympic sports. We have one current star Paralympian in Oscar Pistorius, commonly known as ‘The Fastest Man On No Legs’. His quest to compete at the main Olympics since 2008 and his appearances at the main London Olympics have sparked his popularity to where he receives $2 million in endorsement money annually. It’s less than the $20 million Usain Bolt will be getting but the most for any Paralympian ever. I’ve even seen him in two Nike commercials. The question is will there be other newer Paralympic stars in the future to help popularize Paralympic sport. Also the funding for Paralympic athletes. As the Paralympics continue to grow, will the funding of Paralympic athletes continue to grow too? Another is people with disabilities having access to sporting activity. I remember going to the Canada Paralympic Association website before Vancouver 2010 and saw an into that said: “34% of able-bodied people have access to sporting activity. 3% of people with disabilities have access.” Will access to sport for people with disabilities grow over time and how will it be promoted to them? I also remember shortly after the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics there were many bus ads promoting Paralympic sport throughout various buses. That’s one good example. Also the possible increase of more Paralympic Sports. Over time there will be more efforts to make more sports for people with disabilities accessible and competitive. Already I know Parasnowboarding will make its debut at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi. Will there be new Paralympic sports in Rio and in future Summer Games? Only time will tell and it will have to involve the national and international sports federations and the athletes to get the green light from the International Paralympic Committee.

The 2012 Paralympic Games of London ended with a record bang. Enthusiasm for these Games paralleled that of the main Olympics. The future of Paralympic athletes and Paralympic sport looks bright and more promising than ever. It’s up to the various organizing committees and the athletes to help take Paralympic sport into the future not just for the increase of fanfare and revenue but also for the accessibility for the disabled. Nevertheless after these Paralympics, the future couldn’t look any brighter.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Summer Paralympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Paralympic_Games>

WIKIPEDIA: Paralympic Games. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralympic_Games>

WIKIPEDIA: Cheating At The Paralympic Games. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheating_at_the_Paralympic_Games>

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London 2012: A Games To Remember

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.

OLYMPIC LOWLIGHTS

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.

CHEATER CHEATER

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.

WORKS CITED:

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>

London 1948: The Olympic Spirit Burns Again

Okay last week I took you way back to the first time London hosted an Olympic Games back in 1908. The second time London hosted was back in 1948. I don’t know if you have seen film footage of past Olympic Games but I have seen mostly through Bud Greenspan’s The Olympiad series and I have to say the London Games of 1948 were definitely a Games to remember for all the right reasons. It brought athletes from around the world back into an arena, brought athletic achievement back into the spotlight and even gave the world a heroine.

WAR IS OVER

One thing we should remember is that these Olympic Games were the first Olymmpic Games in twelve years and they were staged just three years after World War II ended. When World War I happened, the 1916 Olympics scheduled for Berlin were cancelled. World War II would lead to the cancellations of the Tokyo Games of 1940 and the London Games of 1944. The last Summer Olympics held before these London Games were held back in 1936 in Berlin and they were most memorable for showcasing the Nazi ideology that would eventually lead to the start of World War II.  As the London Games were about to begin, most of the world was still trying to recover from the war. These Games were to be dubbed the ‘Austerity Games’ because of such. Europe was especially devastated during wartime and the UK was still giving out food rations at the time. Even though the Olympics were intended to bring together the countries of the world, wounds from World War II were not fully healed. As a result, Germany and Japan were not invited to these Games. The USSR was invited but declined.

As for staging the events, there was no way to afford new facilities. All events were staged in existing venues. The 25 year-old Wembley Stadium hosted the athletics competitions, equestrian events, hockey and football tournaments and the ceremonies. The well-established Henley Regatta hosted the rowing and canoeing events. Empire Pool, originally built for the 1934 Empire Games, hosted the aquatic events and boxing finals. The 11 year-old Empress Hall Earl’s Court hosted gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing preliminaries. The track cycling events were held at the Herne Hill Velodrome built in 1891. Basketball was held at the Harringay Arena built in 1936. Sailing events were held in Torquay, a town in Southwest England on the English Channel. As for athlete accommodations, there was no Olympic Village constructed and athletes were housed in existing accommodations instead. Male athletes stayed at RAF camps in nearby cities and female athletes were housed in London college dorms. Athletes were also subject to the food rations. Actually athletes were given increased rations: the same amount as dockers and miners. BBC was to broadcast a total of 60 hours of live broadcast of the Games. Broadcasting rights was a mere £1000.

As for the torch relay, the torch was lit in ancient Greece and was carried through Italy, Switzerland and France before arrived in England at Dover one day before the Opening Ceremonies.

The Opening Ceremonies in London bring back the Olympic spirit after a 12-year hiatus.

OPENING CEREMONIES

The 1948 Olympic Games opened at 2pm on a sunny Saturday on July 29th. Army bands began the pageantry and the Royal Family arrived at 2:45pm. The parade of nations started around 3pm and lasted 50 minutes with 59 nations parading starting with Greece by tradition, the other nations marching in alphabetical order, and ending by tradition with the host nation Great Britain. Fourteen countries including Jamaica and Korea marched in the opening ceremonies for the first time. Each nation was obliged to bring their own flag to the ceremonies. Lord Burghley, president of the British Olympic Council who headed the organization of these Games, greeted the athletes to “keen but friendly rivalry” and said London represented a “warm flame of hope for a better understanding in the world which has burned so low.” King George VI formally declared the Games open. 2,500 pigeons were released, symbolizing the doves of peace. The Olympic Flag was raised to a 35 ft. flagpole near the end of the stadium. The torch entered the stadium carried by 23 year-old British runner John Mark and was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Mark lit the Flame located inside the Wembley Stadium. The Olympic Oath was taken by 39 year-old hurdler Donald Findlay, a silver-medalist from 1936 who was able to make the British Olympic team that year. Then the athletes proceeded out of the stadium to the two weeks of competition.

COMPETITION HIGHLIGHTS

The 1948 London Games delivered in terms of competition. 136 events were contested in seventeen sports. The USA–a country that was one of the least effected by World War II– was the top medal winner with 84 medals including 38 golds. Sweden won the second-most with 44 medals including 16 golds. France and Hungary both won ten gold medals each.

The competitions themselves featured a lot of excellent feats from athletes who would be remembered for all time. In athletics, Harrison Dillard was the surprise winner of the men’s 100m dash beating out his favored teammate Barney Ewell. Both would run in the 4*100 relay where the American team was originally disqualified for exchanging the baton outside the exchange zone but a film replay would reinstate their first-place finish. Arthur Wint won Jamaica’s first ever gold medal in the men’s 400m. American Mal Whitfield would win the first of his two consecutive 800m gold medals here. The legendary Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia would begin his legendary Olympic career with a win in the 10000m and a silver in the 5000m. Micheline Ostermeyer of France won the women’s shot put and discus. Sweden dominated the steeplechase and walks. High jumper Alice Coachman would become the first ever African-American woman to win Olympic gold. Bob Mathias won the first of his two consecutive decathlon gold medals here. His win here just a week before his 18th birthday would make him the youngest ever male gold medalist in track and field. However the two biggest moments of the athletics events will be discussed later in this blog.

In swimming all men’s events were won by Americans. Women’s swimming was divided between the Americans, Danes and Dutch. Diving was completely dominated by the Americans with Victoria Draves winning gold in both springboard and platform. The legendary Sammy Lee of the USA would win the first of his platform golds and a bronze in springboard.

Men’s gymnastics was won mostly by Finland. A unique moment occurred when three men–all Finnish–tied for first place in the men’s pommel horse. Thus three gold medals were awarded. There was only one single event for women in gymnastics: a team competition which Czechoslovakia won. The USA won no gold medals in boxing but a Hungarian boxer, Laszlo Papp, would win the first of his three career Olympic golds: the first of only three boxers to do so. Swedish kayaker Gert Frederiksen would win two gold medals here and would go on to an Olympic career of eight total medals, six of them gold. Equestrian events had the strongest showings from the Americans, French and the Mexicans. Hungarian fencer Ilona Elek–a Jewish survivor of World War II thanks to Raoul Wallenberg–became the only gold medalist from 1936 to repeat here in London. Sweden won in soccer. Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrom won the first of his four consecutive gold medals at Torquay. The Americans and Egyptians were the standouts in weightlifting while the Swedes and the Turks were the top winners in wrestling. And while there’s excitement over double-amputee Oscar Pistorius running in London this year, here at these Games Hungarian shooter Karoly Takacs won a gold medal with his left land after losing his right hand in a grenade blast ten years earlier.

For those of you that took an interest in all the discontinued events from the first London Olympics, the discontinued stuff isn’t as interesting as the ones back in 1908. All the sports contested at the London Games of 1948 are still contested at these London Games. There are some discontinued events. In athletics, the 10km road walk would be replaced by the 20km walk. The Star boat is the only one of the five sailing events from 1948 that’s contested in 2012. In rowing there were pairs and fours both with and without a coxwain while the only rowing event in 2012 with a coxwain is the eights event. Cycling had a tandem event and canoeing had three events over a distance of 10,000 metres.

As for the host country Great Britain, athletes won a total of 23 medals: the sixth-most of all countries at these Games. Their medal haul was their biggest since 1924 and most of their medals came in athletics, rowing, cycling and sailing. Their gold medal total of three was one of the lowest gold medal totals Britain has ever had and lower than the four won at the previous Olympics in Berlin. As for Canada, no Canadian athlete won a gold medal. These would be the second of only five Summer Olympics where Canada didn’t win a gold medal. Canada did win three medals: a bronze won by the women’s 4*100m relay team in athletics and both a silver and a bronze won in canoeing.

SIGNS OF A CHANGED WORLD

Even though these Olympics were meant to ease political barriers, it’s not to say these Games were immune to politics. Countries now governed under Communist regimes would compete in London for the first time and they would give the first signs of the changes of post-World War II politics. Back in February of that year, the Soviet allied ‘Czech coup’ led to Czechoslovakia’s inclusion into the Soviet bloc. Just after Czechoslovakia’s women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal, 57 year-old Marie Provaznikova, the Czechoslovakian president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return home because: “there is no freedom of speech, of the press or of assembly.” Provaznikova made history as the first Olympic participant to defect. Defections during the Olympic Games would later be common over the decades of the Cold War.

MARATHON: THE LAST LAP AGAIN

Remember how back at the London Games of 1908 there was a dramatic last lap of the marathon? Well there would be another dramatic last lap again 40 years later. Two and a half hours after the start, the first runner into the stadium was Etienne Gailly of Belgium. Gailly was never a serious threat for a medal and he was quite inexperienced at running the marathon distance. He went out hard into the race under unusually hot and humid conditions. He held the lead for most of the race and was even first into Wembley Stadium but by the time he entered, he was visibly exhausted and stumbled as he ran. Delfo Cabrera of Argentina, running in his first marathon, entered the stadium second and passed Gailly en route to winning the gold medal. Third into the stadium was Britain’s Tom Richards. Gailly fell and Richards passed him to finish second. Gailly picked himself up again but fell along the homestretch. Gailly had made a promise to himself before the run that when he crosses the finish line, he will have a medal. Time was soon running out as South African Johannes Coleman was fourth into the stadium. Fortunately Gailly mustered enough energy to get up and beat Coleman to the bronze medal by 200 meters. A promise kept.

MOTHER COURAGE: Fanny Blankers-Koen’s four golds in London did a lot for women in sport.

THE FLYING DUTCHWOMAN

Of all the performances that dazzled, there was one athlete that could truly be called the star of the Games. Back in 1935 a 17 year-old Francina Koen dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games as a swimmer. A swimming coach told her: “We have many great swimmers in Holland but no woman can run like you.” At his advice she chose track and it turned out to be the right decision. She would be coached by Jan Blankers and represented the Netherlands in track and field at the Berlin Games of 1936, finishing 6th in high jump and was part of the Netherlands’ 5th-place 4*100m relay. However the biggest highlight of those games was meeting four-time gold medalist Jesse Owens and getting his autograph. It would remain her most cherished possession.

After the 1936 Berlin Games, Fanny would soon become the top woman in track and field winning meets and setting world record. However World War II would cause the 1940 and 1944 Olympics to be cancelled. During the time in between she married Jan Blankers and would come to be known as Fanny Blankers-Koen. She continued training for the Olympics during the wartime. Even after she gave birth to two children, they would eventually become involved with her training regimen. Her athletic activity would help her and the Blankers family to thrive despite the harsh conditions of World War II. Despite it all, most people looked down upon Fanny for her training for sport instead of being a full-time housewife. We shouldn’t forget that woman athletes didn’t have a favorable impression at the time.

Fanny was one of the 390 female athletes competing in seven sports here in London: less than 10% of the total number of athletes at these Games. Here in London she was to compete in four events. She knew this would be her best chances for Olympic gold in her career as her peak years occurred during the cancelled Games of 1940 and 1944.

Her first event in London was the 100m dash. She easily won her heat and semi-final. She won the final in Olympic record time. Her second event was the 80m hurdles. At the finish of the final, it appeared that Fanny and British runner Maureen Gardner hit the tape together both in Olympic record time. The playing of God Save The King by the band let to further confusion. It was then revealed that Blankers-Koen won by inches and the playing of God Save The King was because King George VI and family entered the stadium. Then came to 200m. She won her heat but homesickness set in before the semifinal and she cried to her husband. Her husband Jan was sympathetic and reminded her if she continues on, she will equal Jesse Owens’ feat of four golds. She continued on and won the 200m with the widest margin in Olympic history. Then came the 4*100m relay to which Fanny was to run the anchor leg for the Netherlands. At the time Fanny took the baton, the Netherlands was in 3rd place but Fanny made up the distance by driving the Dutch team to victory. Like her idol Jesse Owens, Fanny won four gold medals: the first female athlete in Olympic history to do so in a single Games. She would later be dubbed the ‘Flying Housewife’ and ‘Mother Courage’. She still remains one of the best female athletes of all time, ranking her amongst the greats like Babe Didriksen and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. After the London Games, she returned to Amsterdam to a hero’s welcome even bigger than the celebrations at the end of World War II. Her feats were best summed up by one journalist: “Holland has won four gold medals in athletics and Fanny has been a part of them all.”

The 1948 Olympic Games closed in Wembley Stadium on August 14, 1948. 64 years have passed since these London Games but its importance has never withered over time. These Games took place twelve years after the last Olympic Games and a mere three years after World War II had ended. These Olympics showed that even years after such a brutal global war and even while many of the world’s nations–even Great Britain itself– were still trying to recover from the damage, the human spirit can triumph again in sports competition. They also showed that Baron de Coubertin’s dream of the world gathering together once again and competing harmoniously in friendly competition can be revived successfully.

It is because of this that the London Games of 1948 left its biggest legacy that is still admired today. I don’t know of any other Olympic Games that have been able to make such a significant statement. It is because of this that I consider the London Games of 1948 to be the best Summer Olympics ever. Not necessarily for the sake of the sports achievements or the level of competition, but what it meant for the world and for the Olympic movement. To think Lord Burghley declared at the Opening Ceremonies: “A visionary dream has today become a glorious reality. At the end of the worldwide struggle in 1945, many institutions and associations were found to have withered and only the strongest had survived. How, many wondered, had the great Olympic Movement prospered?” These London Games showed the world how.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 1948 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Fanny Blankers-Koen. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Blankers-Koen>

WIKIPEDIA: Etienne Gailly. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etienne_Gailly>

London 1908: The First Time Around

I made mention back in my post of Olympians to watch that this is the third time that London has hosted the Olympic Games. The first time was back in 1908. This was only the fourth time an Olympic Games was held. Boy have a lot of changes happened since. Also it had its share of memorable moments.

LONDON TO THE RESCUE

One thing few know is that London was not meant to host the Games of the IV Olympiad, Rome was. However Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 devastating much of central Italy, especially Naples. The Italian government then devoted its funds to recovery from the disaster. London was then selected to host. For the record, Rome would have to wait until 1960 to host the Olympic Games.

As for the Games, they were six-months long: beginning April 27th and ending October 31st. Twelve of the 24 sports at these Games were held in the White City Stadium which was constructed in a short time for only £60,000 and built to hold 68,000. The running track was three laps to the mile, contained a 100-metre pool for swimming and diving, a 660-yard cycling track, and platforms for wrestling and gymnastics in the middle. After the Olympics it would host the 1934 Empire Games, greyhound racing, speedway and a World Cup match in 1966. It was eventually demolished in 1985. White City now consists of buildings for the BBC including a media village. The BBC now plans to either demolish some of the buildings or convert it into a University campus. There is one reminder of these London Olympics that still exists there: a marker commemorating the finish line.

Opening Ceremonies of the Games of the IV Olympiad in London’s White City Stadium.

NATIONAL TEAMS

Athletes from many nations have competed in Olympic Games since it started but it would be these Olympic Games that there would be national teams fully recognized at these Games: 22 in total. It would even be signified by the parade of nations at the Opening Ceremonies. Each nation marched behind their national flag. First was Finland marching behind the Russian flag since Finland was under the Russian Empire. Many chose not to march over a flag at all. The Swedish flag was not displayed over the stadium so members of the Swedish team decided not to march in the ceremony. Finally the USA raised eyebrows highest of all when they were only nation not to dip their flag to King Edward VII. Popular belief is because flag bearer Ralph Rose said: “The flag dips to no earthly king.” To this day the American flag is the one flag that has never dipped to a head-of-state’s presence at any opening ceremonies. One interesting fact is that Australia and New Zealand competed together as Australasia. One more note is that Irish athletes competed for Great Britain. That left many Irish unhappy as they wanted to compete for their own team. Even though the Olympics were meant to bring nations together in brotherhood of sport, we shouldn’t forget there were still national tensions at the time and they were not left on the sidelines during the Olympics.

As for Canadian athletes, they have been competing at the Olympic Games since 1900. Here in 1908 they were able to march under their own flag. They sent 87 athletes in eleven sports. Flag bearer was Edward Archibald who would win a bronze in the pole vault.

FIRST AND ONLY

The London Olympic Games would feature a lot of sports and events that would be held at these games only. One is jeu de paume: a form of tennis that the Brits refer to as ‘real tennis’. In fact the Olympic Report of those games refer to this as “tennis (jeu de paume)” while the more familiar tennis was referred to as ‘lawn tennis’. There were eleven competitors: nine British and two American. American Jay Gould II won. It was contested at the Queens Club, as was Rackets. Rackets would also make a one-time only appearance at these Games with all entries being British. Also contested as an Olympic sport for the first and only time were Water Motorsports. They were a demonstration sport in 1900 but a full-medal sport here. They were dropped as Baron Pierre de Coubertin, president of the International Olympic Committee,  insisted that the Olympics not consist of motorized sports.

NO LONGER HERE

The unique thing is that there were not only sports and events at these London Games that were there for these Games only but also sports and events that would eventually be eliminated from the Olympic Program and are no longer part of the Program to this day. Sports at London that are no longer contested at the Olympics are lacrosse, polo and tug-of-war. That’s right! Tug-of-war was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. Here in London all teams that won were British. The Americans withdrew after their protest against the footwear worn by the team of the footwear of the Liverpool Police was dismissed. Lacrosse was conducted as a medal sport for the first time in 1904 and for the last time here. Canada won both times. Here in London it was a single game between Canada and Great Britain which Canada won 14-10. Polo would be contested for the second Olympics of five Olympic Games it would be contested in. All competing teams were British.

As for events no longer contested, there were separate indoor and outdoor tennis competitions. Shooting events had events at distances of 300m and 1000 yards and there were even individual and team events for many events. Yachting events were classified by boat length instead of style. Cycling had events in 20 km and 100 km and even a tandem event. Archery events had two different styles of archery. Figure skating, which I will touch on later, had both as singles and s special figures event for men. Track and field has the most discontinued events: 5 miles, race walking events of 3500m and 10 miles, a medley relay of various distances, a three-mile team event, standing long jump and high jump, a Greek-style discus throw and a freestyle javelin throw where one could hold anywhere.

Interesting that there is one sport contested at the London Games which will make a return at the Rio Games of 2016. Rugby Union debuted at the Paris Games in 1900 and London would be the second Games of four to contest Rugby. It consisted of a single match between Britain and Australasia with Australasia winning 32-3. Ironically it would be the Paris Games of 1924 where Rugby would make its finale. The professionalism, popularity and globalization of Rugby in recent decades has allowed for its reacceptance into the Olympic Program in time for the next Olympics.

FIGURE SKATING AT A SUMMER GAMES?

Sounds weird but it’s true. Figure skating made its debut at these games and was contested at the Prince’s Skating Club on October 28th and 29th. There were two men’s categories: singles and special figures. There was also a woman’s singles and pairs. The two singles winners were two names that would be legends in their sport: Ulrich Salchow of Sweden and Madge Syers of Britain. Contesting figure skating at a Summer Olympics seems odd but it would not be the last time. The Antwerp Games of 1920 would bring figure skating back and would also have ice hockey. It’s because of those two times those winter sports were contested at a Summer Olympics that would lead to a push for a Winter Olympic games that would first be contested in 1924. As odd as it was here in London, it would have its significance later on.

SPORTING SURPRISES

One thing we should remember is that sports weren’t as organized as they are now. Because of it, there were many surprises, shockers and controversies in the various sports competitions. First off was the overwhelming number of British entries in many events including the team events. Not surprisingly Britain won 146 medals including 56 golds in the 100 events. No surprise was that the famed Henley Regatta was used for rowing. A wrestling final between Finns Verner Weckman and Yrjo Saarela took 11 hours to decide. The water motorsports all resulted in a single boat making it to the finish line in each race contested. Gymnastic teams were unlimited in the number of athletes they could field. Platform and springboard diving events included 5m and 10m platforms as well as 1m and 3m springboards. The sprint event in cycling was declared void as the time limit was exceeded in the final. The athletics events were guided under the Amateur Athletics Association of England. The limit of competitors per nation was twelve. Race walking made its debut. Athletics events consisted of a medley relay of 200-200-400-800m.

I’ve already mentioned some of the controversies. I’ll bring up the two biggest later. One thing about the lack of organization of the sports was that it became apparent that international sporting federations had to be formed to have set rules guidelining the sports in the years to come. FINA–the federation in charge of aquatic sports–would be formed immediately after the Olympic aquatic sports competitions here in London. The IAAF for track and field, FILA for wrestling, and the FIE for Fencing would follow years later.

Off topic, Canada would win sixteen medals including three gold.  Its gold medals came in lacrosse, Walter Ewing in trap shooting and Bobby Kerr in the men’s 200m. The most medals came in track and field. Medals also came in cycling, rowing and wresting.

Also of interest, there were only twenty-two women competing in London in tennis, archery, figure skating and yachting. Yachting was the only mixed sport at the time.

A RACE TO REMEMBER FOR THE WRONG REASONS

Off all the controversies of these London Olympics, the biggest would be in the men’s 400m. There were sixteen heats with only the winner qualifying for the semifinals. There would be four semifinals the following day where only the winner would move on to the finals. The final was held the following day. the finalists were Americans John Carpenter, William Robbins and John Taylor with Brit Wyndham Halswelle completing the field. The final ended with Carpenter first, Halswelle second, Robbins third and Taylor fourth. One of the British umpires of the event, Roscoe Badger, noticed Carpenter maneuvering as to prevent Halswelle from passing which was forbidden under British rules but legal under  American rules. Badger signaled to the judges to declare the race void. This led to a 30-minute argument between British and American officials. There was an official inquiry the following day where the judges disqualified Carpenter and ordered the final to be rerun the next day without Carpenter. The following day only Halswelle showed up. The two other Americans Robbins and Taylor refused to participate in protest of Carpenter’s disqualification. Halswelle simply jogged his way to the gold. This still remains the one and only walkover win in Olympic track and field. This would also be the biggest argument for an international athletics federation. The IAAF would be formed in 1912.

MARATHON: A FINISH TO REMEMBER

The most memorable image of the 1908 London Games. Dorando assisted to the marathon finish.

The marathon run of these Olympics were remembered for two main reasons. The first is the distance. Although the marathon run was originally 25 miles, it was changed to 26 miles for the sake of having the start at Windsor Castle. It would be changed again at the request of Princess Mary so that the start would be beneath the windows of the Royal Nursery. New distance was 26 miles, 385 yards. That would return as the marathon distance at the 1924 Paris Olympics and would be the standard distance for the marathon run from then on.

The second was the final lap which will go down as arguably the most memorable moment of the London Games of 1908. The first runner in the stadium was Dorando Pietri of Italy. He appeared exhausted and he ran into the stadium in the wrong direction. Officials directed him in the right direction. then he collapsed and picked himself up. He would collapse and get back up many times. Then an American runner Johnny Hayes came into the stadium heading to the finish line. Dorando had just collapsed yards from the finish line as Hayes was nearing the finish. Two officials then assisted Dorando to his feet and led him to the finish line. Hayes crossed the line 32 seconds later and launched a protest. This led to Dorando being disqualified and Hayes winning the gold medal. Dorando was however rewarded the next day by a sympathetic Queen Alexandra a gold or silver-gilt cup in recognition of his courage.

So there you have it. A trip back in time with the first London Games. Interesting that 104 years have passed and they’re still memorable for both the bad and the good. One thing we should remember is that the Olympic Games were still young and these were the first successful Olympic Games since the very first Games back in Athens in 1896. That was an accomplishment in itself.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 1908 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1908_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: White City Stadium. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_City_Stadium>

WIKIPEDIA: Athletics at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Men’s 400 metres. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_1908_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_400_metres>

WIKIPEDIA: Athletics at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Men’s marathon. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_1908_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_marathon>

London 2012: Just Ten More

Okay I know I already wrote articles about athletes at the London Olympics from around the world and Canada that are worth watching. The thing is when it gets closer and closer to the Olympic Games, there become more and more that are worth keeping an eye on. Here in this article are another ten that I feel are worth keeping an eye on. So without further ado:

-Ryan Lochte/USA – Swimming: A lot of attention is focused on Michael Phelps ending his legendary Olympic career with a bang. However Ryan Lochte is one swimmer that could steal the show from Phelps. Like Phelps, he also qualified for four individual events. Unlink Phelps, he’s the one this time around with his face on more magazine covers than any Olympic athlete. Here in London, he will attempt to defend his 200m backstroke title and rival Phelps in both individual medley events. Actually Lochte has an advantage over Phelps as he holds the world record in the 200 and finished ahead of Phelps in the 400 at the Olympic Trials. Looks as though London may not only be the last hurrah for Phelps but also a possible changing of the guard with Lochte. It will all be decided in the London Aquatics Centre.

-Kosuke Kitajima/Japan – Swimming: There’s a lot of talk of Michael Phelps threepeating in four events. The thing is he may not become the first male swimmer to do so. That could be Japan’s breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima. Kitajima has already won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events in both 2004 and 2008, making him one of only six swimmers to achieve a ‘double-double’ in swimming. 2011 was a difficult year for Kitajima as he only won a single bronze medal at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless this year has seen him return to his winning form as he has the world’s fastest time in both the 100 and 200. But don’t think another double here is going to be easy for him. The 200 will be his toughest challenge as he will face the rivalry of Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta and his teammate Ryo Tateishi who’s best time of the year is just .17 seconds behind Kitajima’s. Nevertheless Kitajima trying to be the first to achieve a ‘triple-double’ in swimming should prove to be exciting.

-Kenenisa Bekele/Ethiopia – Track and Field: This Olympics seems like to be one where a lot of events have a chance of a threepeat happening. Track and field also has the potential of some threepeats: Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell in the women’s 200m, Isinbaeva in women’s pole vault, Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen in men’s javelin and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele in the men’s 10000m. Bekele has had a stellar running career ever since he burst on the scene back in 2003. He holds the world records in both the 5000m and 10000m, has won a total of five World Championships and has won three Olympic gold and one silver. Beijing was especially stellar as he performed the 5000-10000 double. However 2011 was not a kind year for Bekele as he sat the year out with injuries. He has since regained his old form and has posted the third-fastest 10000 time in the world this year only less than a second behind the fastest. Will a threepeat happen here? Mark your calendars August 4th and tune in.

-Allyson Felix/USA – Track and Field: Allyson Felix is one of the best 200m runners ever but she’s still missing that Olympic gold in that event. She first burst onto the scene back at the 2004 when she won a silver medal in the 200 at the age of 18. She also set a world junior record upon winning that medal. The following year she won the 200m at the World Championships becoming the youngest sprinter ever to do so. She repeated as World Champion in the 200 in 2007. However she again won Olympic silver in 2008 finishing second again to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. She did however win a gold as part of the USA’s 4*400m relay. Nevertheless she’s still chasing down that elusive 200m gold here in London. Last year was a bit of a shock for her as it was the first World Championships since 2003 where she didn’t win the 200m, finishing 3rd. However she’s run the world’s fastest 200m time this year–4/10 of a second faster than the second-fastest–and she’s the heavy favorite to win that event. She also will compete in the 100m here in London where she actually finished in a tie for third at the Olympic trials with Jeneba Tarmoh. Although Felix was the one who got the birth, both will compete in the 4*100 relay. Nevertheless it’s the 200m that will be the big focus for her. Will her time finally have come? Her fate will be decided August 8th.

-Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor/USA – Beach Volleyball: It’s not just individual events where threepeats could happen here in London. There are some team events too. The beach volleyball duo of Walsh and May-Treanor could do just that. Both women started as indoor volleyball players. May-Treanor switched to beach volleyball in 1999 she teamed up with Holly McPeak and finished 5th at the 2000 Olympics. At those same games Walsh was part of the USA’s indoor volleyball team where the US finished 4th. Soon after Walsh switched to beach volleyball, was paired to May-Treanor, and the rest is history. Actually it started slow with a 9th place finish at the 2001 World Championships. Since then it was a legendary pair in the making with three world Championships and Olympic victories in 2004 and 2008. Since Beijing they’ve had their difficulties. They lost their competitive edge in 2009 losing early in tournaments and May-Treanor badly injured her Achilles tendon not by playing or training but as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. 2011 saw the two return to competition where they finished second at the World Championships to Brazilian pair Larissa and Julianna. They’re confident they can win in London. Will they do it or will it be a changing of the guard? It will all be decided at the Horse Guards Palace.

TWO MORE CANADIANS:

-Karen Cockburn – Trampolining: The trampolining event for both men and women have only been contested at the past three Olympics and Karen Cockburn has won a medal in all three: bonze in 2000, silver in 2004 and silver again in 2008. In 2011 she had to deal with both injury and illness which left her out of major competitions. She would finish fourth at the Worlds that year. Nevertheless she looks strong for London and is a medal favorite once again. Also keep an eye on another Canadian, Rosie MacLennan, as she won a silver at last year’s Worlds. London could be another triumph for Karen or a passing of the torch to Rosie. August 4th’s the date to decide it.

-Clara Hughes – Cycling: There are two Canadians that will have two of the most illustrious sports careers of the whole team. One is equestrian rider Ian Millar competing in his record-setting tenth Olympics. The other is Clara Hughes, competing in her sixth Olympic Games. She has won a Canadian record total of six medals in both cycling and speed skating. Her Olympic success in cycling came at the 1996 Atlanta games winning two bronzes. Her last Olympic appearance in cycling was in 2000 as she retired years later to focus on speed skating where she has won four Olympic medals including a gold in the 5000m in 2006. She was also selected to be Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics where she won her last speed skating medal, a bronze in the 5000m. Shortly after retiring from speed skating she made a return to cycling in November 2010. She will compete in the road race and the time trial. She is not favored in either event but both are events where even a non-favorite can be a winner. Whatever the results, it will make for another exciting moment for the 39 year-old’s exciting career.

TWO MORE FROM THE HOST COUNTRY:

-Paula Radcliffe – Marathon: Paula is one of the most respected British women in track and field competing here in London. However she is still searching for her first Olympic medal. Her first Olympic appearance was at the Atlanta Games in 1996 where she finished 5th in the 5000. She won her first World Championships medal in 1999 with a silver in the 10000. She would finish 4th in that event at the Sydney Games in 2000. After the 2000 Olympics she would have an incredible career in Marathon running winning both the London Marathon and the New York Marathon three times, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2002 and the World Championships Marathon in 2005. She also holds the world record in the marathon with her winning time at the 2003 London Marathon of 2:15:25. Olympic marathons have been bad luck for her as she competed in 2004 as the heavy favorite but dropped out because of injury. The injury also caused her to drop out of the 10000m. She competed in Beijing finishing 23rd in the marathon. Now 38, she has qualified for the Olympic marathon with a qualifying time at last year’s Berlin Marathon where she finished 3rd. This may be her last Olympics in an illustrious career. She has made mention that she’s trying to heal a foot injury. Win or lose, the whole nation will be behind her.

-Bradley Wiggins – Cycling: British cyclists have some of the biggest Olympic feats ever. Chris Hoy, who will be the flagbearer for Britain at the Opening Ceremonies, is one of two cyclists to win four golds. The other being Dutchwoman Leontien van Moorsel. Bradley Wiggins is the only other cyclist besides van Moorsel to win six Olympic medals. He’s also the second British athlete besides rower Steven Redgrave to win six Olympic medals. All of Wiggins’ previous medals have been in track cycling. Here in London he will compete in the two road events: the road race and the time trial. He has a lot of potential to set new medal-winning records there especially after he just won the Tour de France last week. A lot of excitement awaits. Oh, as for Hoy, he will be competing in one event: the team sprint.

AND ONE MORE TEAM:

-Great Britain Men’s Soccer Team: Interesting to know that FIFA recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as their own nations and can field their own ‘national’ team for events like the World Cup. The International Olympic Committee thinks otherwise and will only recognize Great Britain as a nation. Great Britain has qualified a soccer team in eight previous Olympic Games, winning gold in 1908 and 1912. The last time the British soccer team appeared at the Olympics was in 1960. With Great Britain hosting the 2012 Olympics, there was to be a British team in the soccer tournament as host nation. Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested in 2008 that a Great Britain team was ‘vital’. However the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations first refused feeling it might affect their status with FIFA. FIFA gave a May 2009 deadline to settle the row. The three dissenting associations said they would not participate in a unified UK team but would not prevent England form fielding a team under that banner. Jim Boyce, vice-president of FIFA and Englishman, steeped in and said non-English players have the legal right to be considered for Team GB. Anyways after years of association politicking, public opinion polls and words from politicians from all four countries, there is a Team GB in Olympic football. All but five of the players are English–the five that aren’t are Welsh– and they come from some of the UK’s best clubs like two from Manchester United, two from Tottenham Hotspur, two from Chelsea, one each from Arsenal and Liverpool, and three from Swansea City. Sports Illustrated predict them to win bronze. After all that politics, it’s time for them to play.

And there you have it. One last set of Olympians to watch in London. I wish I could tell you more how like Zara Phillips is following in the footsteps of her mother, Princess Anne, by competing in equestrian or Canadian canoer Mark Oldershaw who’s the fifth Oldershaw in three generations to paddle at the Olympics. However I better call it quits before I get the urge to write about any more Olympians to watch. In the meantime, let the seventeen days of drama, excitement and glory begin!

London 2012: Seven Canadians To Watch

 
Yesterday I gave a look at some Olympians to watch from around the world. Today I focus on Canadians. Canada ranks seventeenth on the all-time list of total Summer Olympic Medals with a total of 260 including 58 gold. Our most medaled Summer Olympics, both in golds and total, is the 1984 Los Angeles Games which was boosted by the boycott of Soviet-allied nations and allowed the team to take home 44 medals including 10 gold. In terms of fully-contested Olympics, our most medaled are the 1996 Atlanta Games with 22 and our most golden are the 1992 Barcelona Games with 7. Here in London, Canada has sent a team of 277 athletes in 24 sports. Canada has strong expectations for the team in London and the athletes have their own personal expectations. Sports Illustrated even predicted for Canada to win seventeen medals including two golds. Here are six Canadian athletes and one team to keep an eye on in London:
 
 -Adam van Koeverden – Canoeing: Kayakers are not necessarily Canada’s most celebrated athletes. Adam van Koeverden is one of the few. Interestingly enough he trains at a retreat with no plumbing or electricity. It must be doing something right. Back at the 2004 Olympics nothing was expected of him but he came away with a gold and a bronze. His medal wins were an upper for the Canadian team as they experienced a lot of disappointment in Athens. By 2008 he was the reigning 500m World Championships and was heavily favored to win both solo kayaking events for men. He was even Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. The pressure must have got to him because he finished 8th in the 1000m and won silver in the 500m. 2011 saw him return to the title of World Champion, in the 1000m. Will he be all there at Dorney Lake? It will all be decided August 8th.
-Alexandre Despatie – Diving: Seems like just yesterday he was the 13 year-old prodigy that won the tower event at the 1998 Commonwealth Games or the 15 year-old from Sydney 2000 who finished fourth. Twelve years later he’s now a three-time World Champion, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and nearing the twilight of his career. However things took a turn for the scarier in June as he hit his head on the springboard while practicing an inward 3 1/2. He has since healed up and even reattempted that dive in practice two weeks ago with success. Already Sports Illustrated has him as diving’s underdog story. Does he have one last hurrah for us in London? Stay tuned.
-Jennifer Abel – Diving: As one Canadian diver’s legacy appears to be coming to an end, another appears to be starting. Jennifer Abel actually made her Olympic debut in Beijing just before her 17th birthday but her diving career has taken off greatly. She won two golds and a silver in the springboard events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. She also won silver in 3m synchro teamed up with Canadian vet Emilie Heymans and bronze in 3m solo at the 2011 World Championships. Come London she will face challenges from China’s diver He Zi and Wu Minxia who both finished ahead of her in both events. But no matter where she finishes in London, it will all be to her advantage as the best of her is still yet to come.
-Mary Spencer – Boxing: Women’s boxing has gone from the sleazy novelty of ‘foxy boxing’ to a serious sport in the last decade. Here in London will be the first time women boxers will compete for Olympic medals. Canada’s best hopes rest on former World Champion Mary Spencer. The 27 year-old southpaw who’s of Ojibway heritage won her first World Middleweight Championship in 2005 at the age of 20. She has since won the World Champion title twice again in 2008 and 2010. However she lost in the Round of 32 at this year’s Worlds. London is the best place for her to regain her supremacy. Will she do it? Only time will tell.
-Catharine Pendrel – Mountain Biking: It seems like ever since Mountain Biking has been added to the Olympic program back in 1996, there’s always been one Canadian woman after another amongst the best in the world. It all started with Allison Sydor winning silver in 1996, then Marie-Helene Premont winning silver in 2004. Now the torch has been passed to Catharine Pendrel and she has quite a resume. She finished 4th back in Beijing but her career has taken off ever since with winning the 2010 World Cup series and last year’s World Championships. She recently won the Olympic test event at Essex’s Hadleigh Farm. Sports Illustrated even predicted her as the one to win the Olympic Mountain Biking event. Will she do it? August 11th is the day for her to deliver.
-Carol Huynh – Wrestling: Carol was the first Canadian to win gold at the Beijing Olympics and she could do it again here. She has won World Championship medals since 2000 and she has won gold at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. However she missed out on the medals at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless she has been preparing well and is confident her knee injury has healed. Sports Illustrated preditcted three Canadian women to win medals in wrestling and she’s one of them. Mark your calendar August 8th.
-Canada’s Track and Field team: Canada is not known as a track and field country. In fact it was even pointed in a recent news article that there are many third world countries that have bigger fanfare and a bigger investment in the sport than Canada and even better overall showings at World Championships. Nevertheless Canada has consistently produced Olympic medalists, Olympic champions and even greats like sprinters Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey. Who does Canada have for this year? Canada’s best chances for the men come from shot putter Dylan Armstrong who won the silver at last year’s Worlds. However his best put this season has been surpassed by seven other putters. He will have to throw a seasonal best if he wants to win a medal. Canada’s best chances for the women come from heptathlete Jessica Zelinka. She has also qualified for the 100m hurdles event but it’s the heptathlon that she specializes in. She finished 5thback in Beijing and at this year’s Olympic trials she delivered a personal best total that’s currently the 4th best in the World. If she’s on the ball in London, she could win a medal. And don’t count out any of the lesser-favored Canadians. Anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition.
 
And there you have it. Six athletes and one team from Canada to look out for in London. When the Games begin the night of Friday July 27th, there will be seventeen days of thrilling moments, national pride and history in the making. An event like this that only comes around every four years is definitely worth being a part of.