Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Medals

Who gets my gold silver and bronze?

This is the crucial issue emerging from the 29th Olympiad.

There could be many categories but for the reasons of space and because I don’t want to bore, I’ll only highlight a few.

In the men it’s a close call between Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

But the gold medal for me goes to Bolt who in his two individual races broke the 100 and 200 metres world records;

After easing up towards the end of the 100 metres he was asked why he didn’t go flat out preferring to start hailing the crowd.

The gist was since I had the world record .......breaking that wasn’t as important as winning the race.

And he was as true as his word in the 200 metres. He got the fastest time because it was an event that was dear to his heart.

Two golds, unseen in 24 years at the Olympics, and the first Jamaican man to triumph in those events.

His runs lifted the stadium.and the second week of the games.

He was also good for the post race comments he inspired. The whole thing about what did you do before your run for glory.

Slept till 11am, watched TV, had some nuggets, slept, woke up, had some nuggets, came to the track.

Even his opponents added to the legend. Richard Thompson, who was second in the 100 metres, confirmed the nuggets story to a disbelieving press conference, adding that during the race he was still pumping away while he could see Bolt ahead of him easing up.

Thompson was munificent enough to admit no one could have beaten the Jamaican.

And the American, Shawn Crawford, after the 200 metres just said Bolt was a bad, bad man. And, of course, by this he meant outstanding.

Phelps gets the silver because he’s already got 14 gold medals and I like to be contrary.

He comes behind Bolt for me because he’s not as overtly charismatic. Bolt is a showman, a crowd pleaser. True, there’s more room for it on the track. Phelps is a brilliant racer and as greatest Olympian of all time at 23, he lit up the first week. He’s on a mission to make swimming more popular so his journey is a work in progress.

If there were a category for team player the American swimmer Jason Lezak would win gold. But as there isn’t, he gets my overall bronze for somehow being a better performer in a group than individually.

Lezak has been the bedrock of American freestyle relays since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, helping them to secure silver and bronze in Sydney and Athens.

Here in Beijing when he got into the water for the final leg of the 4x100 freestyle he was behind the Frenchman Alain Bernard, who beats him all the time one on one.

Lezak went past Bernard in the final centimetres to win the gold for the United States, thereby coining the term used among all the swimmers as “the relay”.

Performing for the collective is a concept that would find favour anywhere in the world.

As for the women, gold goes to the British athlete Tasha Danvers who had a horrible season of achilles and hamstring injuries and then was found to have a low white blood cell count which hampered her training.

She came third in the 400 metres hurdles and was so elated to be up there. Moreover she was able to epitomise the attitudes of a fighter. “You never ever, ever give up,” she told me. “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, or the thin lady or size 12lady or whatever sings.”

The Russian pole vaulter Elena Isinbaeva gets silver for responding to taunts from her American rival Jennifer Stuczynski in the best possible way by beating her in the Olympic final.

In the run up to the games, it was reported that the American was going to "kick some Russian butt". And Isinbaeva not only relegated her into second place but stayed around for a solo crowd pleasing performance to set a world record on her third and final attempt - long after all the other pole vault competitors had gone home. That’s top level butt kicking.

Vengeance, as the saying goes, is a dish best served in front of 90,000 people.

And bronze goes to Stephanie Rice, the glamour girl of Australian swimming. She prettied up my bleary eyed mornings at the swimming pool. Moreover she was brilliant and poised in her press conferences and also stuck around to chat afterwards. She certainly has grounds to be a prima donna, she’s good looking and very good in the water.

But she’s a down-to-earth siren and she went home with three gold medals from three events. Almost Phelpsian

I didn’t attempt to get her phone number.

But then I give myself a gold medal for being intelligent enough not to ask