What a start to the Games and what an Opening Ceremony! I don’t think anyone expected it to be so brilliant, so beautifully British. It was a spectacular show filled to the brim with the best ingredients of our culture, history and national treasures.
Has an opening ceremony ever been so funny or self-deprecating? It achieved a sense of humour that not everyone could pull off. As described in Italy’s best selling-broadsheet Corriere della Sera: “the country hosting the Olympics is not a young emerging power but an old glory, capable of irony”.
From the sombre, moving moments of ‘Abide With Me’ to the comic perfection of Mr. Bean and the bonkers image of the Queen jumping out of a helicopter, it was a symphony of weird and wonderful Britain, and significant for a nation trying to redefine themselves through these Games.
It has been a big two years for us. The Royal Wedding, the Jubilee and the Olympics have brought a wave of exposure to our shores, and there is no doubt that we will see an impact on the UK’s country branding this year (as measured in the FutureBrand Country Brand Index)
The focus has now turned to competition as the world’s top athletes battle it out for glory. After a nervous first couple of days, Team GB has stunned everyone (including themselves I suspect) with their performances. Last I checked we were on 22 gold’s, although at the rate we are going that could have gone up by now! The nation has been gripped by these Games, with 20 million tuning in to see the men’s 100m final, and 17 million glued to the screen by Mo Farah’s 10,000m triumph.
‘Brand Britain’ is gaining traction, and at the same time national pride suddenly finds itself in the spotlight, long may it continue!Read More
She once told us she could swim forever… and Keri-Anne Payne proved that today after competing in the gruelling Olympic open water 10km marathon.
Our Team GB swimmer came fourth, narrowly missing out on a medal – an amazing result in what is arguably one of the hardest events of the Games.
But if the event today was enduring, spare a thought for Keri-Anne during her training. She’s been stung from head to toe by jellyfish, swam in shark-filled waters and saw a floating dead dog at the Beijing Olympics. She had to eat so much bread and pasta to get through today’s swim that she could have put on kilos in days.
Now the race is over, Keri-Anne will be concentrating on another huge event in her life – her wedding next May. What with Victoria Pendleton getting married next year as well, it seems the church bells will be ringing galore after the Games. (Don’t talk to us about post-Olympics. What are we all going to do without it?!)
Laura Trott an boyfriend Jason Kenny
And talking of Olympic love, double Olympic medallist Laura Trott has admitted today that she’s been dating fellow Champion cyclist Jason Kenny. She was caught on camera sharing an intimate moment at last night’s beach volleyball and decided to come clean on Twitter. “So yes it’s out there. Me and @JasonKenny107 are dating. Been a little while now just didn’t want the distraction before the games”, she tweeted.
If there’s ever proof of how important sport is and how it can enhance someone’s life, Team GB’s Sarah Stevenson is an example. After a tough year where she lost both her parents within months of each other to cancer, she channelled her grief into her sport and became world champion in taekwondo. Her fighting has helped her focus herself through an incredibly hard time and now she wants Olympic gold for her parents. Whatever the result, you can guarantee an emotional performance from Sarah. One to watch tomorrow.
Sarah Stevenson is a huge inspiration
And as the Games hit the final lap there has been a marathon of partying. London nightclub Chinawhite seems to be the place to dance the night away. Every inch of the club has athletes draped over each other and, we hear that whenever the club owners spot a medallist they send a champagne sparkler over.
Those looking for a more sedate celebration have been sipping champagne at the incredibly luxurious Omega House in Soho Square. Out and about we’ve spotted gymnast Louis Smith, long jumper Greg Rutherford and the female cyclists. But the gold medal for partying has to go to the swimmers. As for Sunday – everyone’s looking for the coolest wrap party. We’ll bring you ALL the gossip!Read More
It is wrong that great performances at London 2012 have raised doubts just because of the drug cheats of the past
Is it fair to cast aspersions over an athlete’s performance simply because he or she achieves something brilliant? I don’t think so. To my mind anyone who insinuates that an athlete is on drugs is wrongly damaging the sport. Take the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, whose gold medal-winning performance was questioned by the American coach John Leonard. I thought what he said was disgusting. He ruined her moment of glory and forever after she will be tainted by his words.
Similar insinuations were made, albeit more subtly, about the Algerian runner Taoufik Makhloufi, who won 1500m gold at these Games, and Félix Sánchez, who won the 400m hurdles at the age of 34. We seem to have got to the point where an athlete puts in a brilliant performance and the response is scepticism. If people within the sport or in the media are saying these things, then what on earth are the punters in the pub supposed to think? I get sick to death explaining to people on the street that the sport is the cleanest it has ever been.
I know from my own career that what seems from the outside to be a dramatic improvement is often just hours of hard graft behind the scenes. Early on in my career I went from 7,400 points to 8,300 points in one decathlon. On paper that is a leap of 900 points but that progress took place slowly over the course of two years. I am so tired of talking to people who have no clue and think everyone is on drugs; it is just not the case.
In the instance of Makhloufi, yes, his final lap was something special but his overall winning time was not out of this world. What surprised me more was the fact that the two Kenyans finished last and second-last in the race and that the favourites for the title never showed up.
With regards to Makhloufi’s mysterious knee injury clearing up in time for the 1500m final, I think we all know what happened there. Makhloufi had made it known that he did not want to compete in the 800m but, due to an administrative error on the part of his federation, he was not withdrawn from the heats.
When he was then forced to compete he dropped out of the race early on, only to be thrown out of the Games for not trying hard enough. Makhloufi then went to a doctor complaining of a ‘knee injury’ and was given some treatment by a man with let’s call them magic hands and, before you know it, he was fit and raring to go.
I am not saying that is a good way to go about things but he played by the rules as closely as he possibly could. It is not far off what the British cyclist Philip Hindes did in working the system.
Should an athlete be punished for an administrative error? I don’t think so. Look at the case of Valerie Adams, the 2008 Olympic shot put champion from New Zealand whose federation had completed entry forms for the Games incorrectly and were forced to plead with the IOC for her to be allowed to compete. In such instances it should be the federation which is punished, not the athlete.
Question marks were also raised over the performance of Sánchez in winning the 400m hurdles final. But this is a guy with two world titles and an Olympic title who has been on the grand prix circuit for years. To my mind anyone who questions his performance does not deserve to be involved in the sport.
What I will not tolerate are athletes who have been banned for doping and then are allowed back into the sport – twice in the case of Justin Gatlin. When he won the bronze medal in the 100m on Sunday night I felt sick to the stomach. To watch Tyson Gay – one of the greatest sprinters of all time – walking through the mixed zone in floods of tears, knowing that he was deprived of that bronze medal, I just wanted to put my arm around him and say: “Mate, we all feel the same. We think you were robbed by someone who should never have been allowed at these Games.”
Gatlin protests his innocence while the American 400m runner LaShawn Merritt says he took a penis enhancement product. Should have married someone with smaller hands, I say.
We are almost at the end of the Olympic period and so far there have been no major drug scandals. If things stay that way, these could be the cleanest Olympics in history.
That would be a fitting tribute to how strongly Great Britain feels about this issue and how stringent a system we have in place for catching drugs cheats.
Sheffield’s Institute of Sport gym has pictures of British boxing’s medallists on the wall and now I have joined them
It has become a ritual; as much as wrapping my hands before sparring or throwing a combination in a mirror until everything about it – speed, balance, power – almost sings.
In our gym at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, there are pictures of every British boxing medallist on the walls, blown up like matinée idols – starting with Terry Spinks in Melbourne 1956, a flyweight like me, to modern stars like Amir Khan and James DeGale. Every day when I arrive for training I look at each one in turn, then at the silhouette of a fighter that’s beneath them with the words “This could be you … impossible is nothing.”
It’s incredibly inspiring. But in my head there’s one thing I like to change: “This could be you” becomes “This will be you”. That way there’s no wriggle room. And now all the training and hard work has paid off. To think I now have a gold medal dangling around my neck and will be joining all those British amateur greats on the wall in Sheffield … well, I can’t quite believe it. When I grew up Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard were my role models. Hopefully what I’ve done might inspire thousands of girls to take up boxing.
I know there are some people who are sceptical about whether women should box but the crowds at the ExCeL surely provided the best answer of all. They have been amazing. They have been cheering for us as much as the lads.
During the fight all I could hear was people chanting my name. I thought ‘bloody hell’ and it gave me the energy to throw more punches. Ever since I lost to Ren Cancan at the world championships in May we have been working on ways to beat her. We have performance analysts at the English Institute of Sport who have recorded all her major fights and we’ve picked through the tapes to look at what punches she throws, her feints, footwork – everything, basically – as well as practising specific tactics and combinations. And it worked!
I hope you don’t mind if I keep the specifics to myself, as there’s a strong chance we will meet again and I don’t want her swotting up! To be honest, I thought it was going to be a bit closer than it turned out but I was so determined. I’m going to celebrate by going to Nando’s and having a medium chicken in pitta and chips before enjoying life in the Olympic Village. After months of hard training I deserve a few days to let my hair down. But I am looking forward to going back home and seeing my dog Dexter. He’s only nine months old but he’s a 45kg Doberman and is growing all the time. He’ll be weighing more than me soon.
There are a couple of people I’d particularly like to thank, although the list of people who have supported me runs into hundreds. I started this journey when I was 12 years old when my mum accidentally got me into boxing – she wanted to go to an aerobics class and brought me along to the gym, where there happened to be a boxing class. Since then she has done so much for me, particularly in the early days when money was scarce. She would pay for me to go to Crystal Palace on training camps and buy me gloves, wraps and everything else I needed. But more recently too, when I broke a vertebra in my back in 2009 – the year women’s boxing was allowed into the Olympics – and I was bed-ridden for three months and feeling down, she grabbed me and said: “Look Nicky, you’ve tried so hard – I’m not going to let you give up now.”
I’d also like to thank my trainer Alwyn Belcher, who is 77 years old but has the enthusiasm of someone 60 years younger. When I was in my early 20s he told me he’d make me into a world champion. I haven’t done that yet but I’ve gone one better.
People are already asking me what next. As things stand, I’m happy to stay in the amateur game even though there is the option to go pro. It would be nice to see what the opening ceremony is like in Rio 2016! I’ll be only 33 then and the women’s game will be even bigger, with talk of there being six weight divisions rather than the three we had at London 2012. And Nicola Adams, double Olympic champion, has a nice ring to it.
But I am determined this won’t change me. I like being normal Nicky, walking my dog and doing normal day-to-day things. Has it sunk in? Not really. When everything settles down I will be like “Wow, I’ve really done it.” But for now I just hope I’ve made everyone in the country proud.
A roundup of our readers’ experiences of the Games so far
As we head towards the end of the second week of London 2012, the medals continue to pile up for Team GB, and we’ve seen plenty of appreciation for the competitors involved on our comments threads.
Britain’s Nicola Adams became the first female fighter to win Olympic gold with a dramatic and comprehensive victory over China’s No1 seed Ren Cancan.
Absolutely delighted for Nicola Adams.
She’s been on Look North recently, and she’s such a cheerful bugger. Really upbeat. Got a smile that lights up her face like a pinball machine announcing a jackpot, and she uses it a lot.
Can’t believe that she’s recovered from her back injury in 2009 to do this.
Fabulous match, and an inspiring athlete. I’ve been more impressed with her than with any other boxer I’ve seen in these Olympics (granted I’ve not seen them all, nowhere near). Any chance of getting boxing or taekwondo onto the national curriculum, since our PM and his deputy are obviously lifelong fans of the sport, and they no doubt recognise how good they are for learning discipline, as well as keeping fit.
Extraordinary stuff from the boxing – just got back from work in time to see Nicola Adams (brilliant stuff) and looks like Katie Taylor is going to get her win for the Irish as well. I’ve not caught any of the other bouts from the women’s boxing but if they were half as good as that then they’ve not only earned their place, but hopefully they’ll be rewarded with more than three weight divisions next time.
Fantastic. A place in boxing history and a place in the history of womens’ progress. Watching Nichola and Katie Taylor was an inspiration. And what about the crowd and their response?! This Olympic Games has been a multi-cultural dream. Loving every minute.
Great for Nicola, great for team GB and women’s boxing, especially proud as my first boxing coach was in her corner……. what was that rubbish Dianne Abbott was spouting on newsnight the other night about equal opportunities?
The great debate dressage – is it more than horseplay?
Dressage has been one of the more controversial – and, for those not used to the spectacle of horses dancing to Phil Collins, more baffling Olympic disciplines. The legacy hopes of the sport were amusingly mocked in this tweet from @stebax, and our readers were largely unimpressed with the spectacle.
I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on in the freestyle dressage to music. The Dutch score was huge and no-one seemed to know why. The commentator just likes conservative English music Zardok the Priest and I Vow to thee My Country, no other real insight.
Dressage is all about discipline and obedience between horse and rider. It may take a leap of faith to feel it should be included. I feel the same about handball but will defend to the death the sport’s right to exist within the Olympic ambit.
I know some would disagree but horse dressage should never be an Olympic sport – like other things such as rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming (the only available thing this afternoon on the telly here in Spain). I mean, if you have dressage then why not pole dancing? – or would the Poles be at an advantage?
There seems to be some idea that the incredibly ancient sport and skill of horsemanship is somehow on a lesser level than contrived games that involve throwing or kicking balls around or people rowing boats or riding bicycles
dressage is just the skill of horsemanship displayed in an arena, the fact that music is added to the display should not lessen its validity or be a cause of ridicule the level of condescension as regards the ‘horse dancing’ might be amusing to a certain level but i think it shows a disrespect not shown to other sports so maybe it’s time to give it a rest?
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London 2012 has been the most successful Games ever for Iran, and it is lifting the spirits of a troubled nation
Reza, a 26-year-old university student, was among the 60,000 Iranians at Tehran’s Azadi grand stadium watching a local football match when the giant scoreboard suddenly paused and switched to a live broadcast of the wrestling between the country’s Hamid Sourian and Azerbaijan’s Rovshan Bayramov in the final of the 55kg Greco-Roman.
The young wrestler, a five-times world champion from south of Tehran, did not let the crowd down, winning Iran’s first gold medal at the London 2012 Games. “Suddenly the stadium burst into an extraordinary jubilation,” Reza recalled.
So far, London 2012 has been the most successful Games ever for Iran. Sourian’s success has been repeated by a record number of his fellow Iranian athletes; on Tuesday night alone, Iran won four medals: Behdad Salimi, 22, was crowned as the strongest man at the London Games after winning gold in the 105kg weightlifting category, his countryman; Sajjad Anoushiravani, won silver. Iran has won three gold medals in Greco-Roman in three days.
“We have never been so successful and the Iranian team’s victories are bringing some joy to our society,” said Reza. Iran is currently ranked in 12th place ahead of all the other countries in the Middle East put together.
The country’s success at the Olympics comes at a time of financial stringency and threats of war. But it is lifting the spirits of a nation gripped by sorrow and anxiety. “Despite all the pressure, there’s at least something positive out there to talk about and that’s the Olympics,” Reza said.
His comments are echoed my many of his countrymen. “It’s so nice to see people discuss our success on public transport and share some joy,” said Ameneh, a 22-year-old Iranian student. “It’s also nice to see Iran’s name mentioned in some positive context. In the middle of all these financial difficulties, we have almost forgotten how to be happy,” she said.
Western economic sanctions and the Israeli threats of launching a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities have cast a shadow over the lives of Iranians who are currently celebrating the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
For the 45 men and eight women of the Iranian team, London is a city that evokes nostalgia and brings good luck. In 1948, when London hosted the summer Games, Iranian athletes participated at the Olympics for the first time, returning home with the country’s first medal thanks to the weightlifter Jafar Salmasi winning a bronze in the featherweight division.
This year Iran’s medal drought at the first week came to and end on Friday when Kianoush Rostami won a bronze medal in the men’s weightlifting 85kg. Since then, Iran has won even more medals. The wrestler Ghasem Rezaei won the final of the Greco-Roman 96kg class. Elsewhere, Ehsan Haddadi won a discus silver, Iran’s first medal ever in athletics, a milestone for a country that was previously only dominant in wrestling, weightlifting and taekwondo.
Back in Iran, the mood is upbeat. Like Reza and Ameneh, millions of Iranians closely follow the Games through the special coverage of the Iranian state-run TV, which has sent a group of its reporters to London. Some, however, switch to the illegal satellite channels which do not censor the extravaganza. Iranian athletes, meanwhile, are not free to talk to the foreign media.
Intriguingly, Iran’s national TV had secured rights to broadcast the Olympic ceremony but only showed a few moments because of the restrictions on un-Islamic scenes, such as those showing dance. “Many people watched it on satellite channels,” said Ahmad, an Iranian teacher. “I was fascinated by it. I liked that it reflected Britain’s history and culture and that it was so different from previous ceremonies held in other countries,” he said. According to Ahmad, the episode showing Mr Bean, a favourite among Iranians, was particularly popular.
For Iran, it is almost impossible to avoid politics even when it comes to sports. First it was the news about the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, being declared persona non grata for the ceremony. He said he would like to come to London but Britain had “a problem” with him. Another controversy reared its head before the Games over whether the Iranian team would compete against athletes from Israel, Tehran’s sworn enemy. With no surprise, it turned out that they would not.
For Iranian athletes, the long-standing policy of not competing against Israelis is a principle they must follow. The judo champion Javad Mahjoub was said by the Iranian authorities to be too sick to attend the Games, reportedly suffering from a “critical digestive system infection”, but many speculated that his illness could have been an excuse to withdraw him from competing against an Israeli.
Others have also been stopped from reaching London 2012. In June, the women’s football team had to withdraw from a qualifying match for the Olympic Games because of their hijab.
Fifa rules deemed their dress code, which covered their neck and ears, as unacceptable. Hijab complications, however, have not stopped many other Iranian women from competing at the Games. The 25-year-old Neda Shahsavari, for example, was the first Iranian woman to compete in table tennis at the Olympics.
London has not only been about success. There were disappointments last week when the heavyweight boxer Ali Mazaheri was disqualified in his bout with Cuba’s Jose Larduet. Within minutes of the bout, Iranians took to social networking websites, spreading accusations of match-fixing and blaming the referee for poor judgment. To their delight, boxing’s governing body, AIBA, suspended the German referee Frank Scharmach for five days.
But Iran’s success at the London Games has become a source of national pride for millions of Iranians across the world. Hasan, who lives in Tehran, said: “It’s good to see people putting their political differences aside and waving the Iranian flag to the victory of their team in joy at least for once.”