So the great spectacle that was the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games is over. China enthralled and delighted us during two and a half weeks of incredible action shown to billions across the world.
I have always loved the Olympics. I have vague memories of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett battling it out in 1980, but I guess my main memories stem from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles onwards. I’ve seen men on jet packs, Carl Lewis dominate the sprints, Decker and Budd collide, Daley’s back flip, Flo-Jo’s nails, Greg Louganis head the board, Ben Johnson’s disgrace, Linford and Sally’s golden runs, Redmond’s bravery, the great Ali lighting the torch, Michael Johnson smashing records and all before him, Redgrave’s perfect five, Dame Kelly’s double, Paula’s heartache, boycotts, bombs and fireworks galore. Beijing gave me even more.
Like most people, I will remember the Games mainly for the astonishing achievements of two people: Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
Phelps was simply untouchable. I watched at least half of his races live and just admired his domination. Four years ago, he went for the eight and missed out. This time, he stated the same intentions and nailed them all. The two races that stand out are the 4x100m freestyle where his dreams were literally dead in the water until Lezak’s stunning comeback over the French allowed the USA team to take gold, and the 100m butterfly where Phelps had no right to win with just inches to go. Of these two, the image of Phelps letting out all his emotion in the realisation that the eight was still on after the relay was my image of Beijing. Want to see exactly how miniscule the difference between winning losing can be? Check out the replay of his 100m butterfly win here. I’ll never forget the moment when the caption came up saying he’d won, totally in conflict with what my eyes had told me.
So to the fastest man on Earth. Ever. Of all the 100m races I’ve seen, that one blew them all away, no contest. I still can’t believe a man can run that quick!! I sat there after watching simply stunned into disbelief. He ran. He conquered. He still had 20m left to celebrate. He beat the world record. Awesome is a word greatly overused today, but it’s the right word for that. I think that was the most amazing race I’ve ever seen. What about the 200m I hear you say?! Well, that’s up there too, but didn’t quite trump the 100m for me. Maybe because we expected it after the 100, maybe because I didn’t see it live (damn you, work), maybe because I’d witnessed Johnson smash (and I mean smash – .3 not .02) the record in 1996 in the first place. I can’t deny the respect I have after he powered down the home straight – this time on full power all the way – with his rivals needing binoculars just to see him. The boy can run!!! You also have to laugh at the relay where he jogged after Powell after handing over the last leg to him…Bolt crossing the line before the Canadians had finished!
Being a Brit, Beijing brought more than golds for us – it brought back national pride, self belief and a feel-good factor. Let’s face it: Britain as a nation is not exactly on a high at the moment. House prices falling, inflation high, Prime Minister floundering, weather awful, footy teams useless – we don’t have much to cheer about right now. (my conscience has just reminded me that compared to many regions on Earth we’re extremely lucky and in fact have it very good, but for the sake of this argument I’m just comparing us to previous better days!) So when the men, women and children (Tom Daley – 14) do so well for us and bring home the bacon, well that is something special.
I watched with admiration as teenager Rebecca Adlington smashed the 800m freestyle world record. I listened to Chris Hoy pick up his third in the saddle. Morning reports of sailing golds made me smile over my cornflakes. DeGale’s battle in the boxing made me nervous until the final bell. I loved Christine Ohuruogu’s comeback in the 400m. The coxless fours had me dancing round the room in near tears. All golds. All memories. I salute you all.
So that was the good. The not-so-good was Idowu failing to live up to his favourite tag in the triple jump, despite a great effort. Our runners, on the whole, performed poorly. We can say we was robbed of Taekwondo glory.
The ugly was the Cuba’s Taekwondo fighter total breakdown.
I saw tears of joy, tears of sadness, confidence and nerves; shattered dreams and devastation; records smashed and uncontrollable joy; brave hearts and wobbly legs; ambitions achieved and careers ended; pain, determination and pride; nations in rapture and billions disappointed; Things that look physically impossible.
A wonderful Games. Thank you, China.
So for me it’s come full circle as the now Sir Sebastian Coe takes control and oversees the development of the next Games in 2012. London – it’s over to you.