Well it had to slow down eventually. After gorging on success almost constantly for most of the games, Team GB finally took a break from medal-winning.
Women’s boxing, the Olympics’ newest sport, began to draw significant media and public attention yesterday as British flyweight and two-time world silver medallist, Nicola Adams, went into her semi-final. She faced considerable opposition from a formidable opponent, in the form of five time world champion Mary Kom of India. Having bashed her way to the semi-final, Adams was already guaranteed a bronze medal. As it turned out, however, the 29 year old from Leeds was determined to go further than that. Kom had no answers to the Brit’s speedy footwork and slick punches and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the fight. Adams defeated her in each of the four rounds to go through to the final, pointing to the Team GB logo on her chest with pride as her win was announced.
Appreciative as the crowd was, however, the overwhelming majority weren’t there to see Adams fight for her final place. In fact, the sea of Irish flags, leprechaun hats and inflatable Guinness pints were there to roar on one of their strongest medal hopes: lightweight world champion boxer Katie Taylor. The girl from Country Wicklow has already won four world championship titles in her weight class and has also played football for Ireland – not bad for a 26 year old.
…their previous win and the roar of the Union Jack studded crowd couldn’t stop them…
After beating GB’s Natasha Jonas in the quarterfinals, Taylor was up against Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva in the semi-finals. The 19 year old underdog put up a brave fight, but was outclassed and outplayed by Taylor at every turn, the Irish boxer coming out on top with an impressive final score of 17-9. All that stands in the way of Taylor and the first ever women’s lightweight Olympic gold is Russian Sofya Ochigava – and expected her countrymen to inundate the ExCeL arena with their characteristic raucousness for the occasion.
It was onto the BMX track for the next GB woman to make her mark. Shanaze Reade had suffered heartbreak in the Beijing Games, where she was the favourite for the gold. On the final berm, she clipped a fellow competitor’s wheel and was sent flying off her bike, ruling her out of medal contention. Four years later, she seems determined to make amends. A blazing performance in the opening seeding run saw her clock the fifth fastest time going into the semi-finals, a promising start to her Olympic comeback.
From a return to triumph, to a heart-breaking result for GB’s hockey women. Tipped as strong contenders for a medal, they faced second-in-the-world Argentina in their semi-final match. The British side had a psychological advantage, given that they defeated the Argentines 2-0 in a bruising injury-filled test match back in May. But their previous win and the roar of the Union Jack studded crowd couldn’t stop them from falling behind, the hosts finding themselves 2-0 down at half time. Star forward, Alex Danson, led a GB comeback with her goal six minutes before time, but it just wasn’t enough to keep her side’s dreams of Olympic gold alive.
…accompanied by a tornado of cheers from the admiring stadium…
There were tears on the track too – but not from GB eyes. Turkish runner, Merve Aydin, broke hearts worldwide when she insisted on limping her way to the finish line in her 800m heat. Struck down with injury midway through the race, the Turk refused to walk out of the race and forced herself to finish in streams of tears. There were immediate comparisons with Derek Redmond’s Hollywood-esque finish in 1992. Redmond was hit with an excruciating hamstring injury while running and was carried through the final part of his race by his father, as he grimaced with pain and sobbed uncontrollably. Aydin’s battle to finish was just as poignant if not more so, given that she did it alone.
There was one other remarkable show of female courage on the track when Saudi Arabian runner Sarah Attar put in the first ever female Saudi track appearance in her 800m heat. Attar, who was only the second woman ever to compete for her country in the games, donned a hijab, jacket and full length trousers for her appearance, which has attracted both censure and delight back in her home nation. She finished more than 30 seconds behind the next competitor but was accompanied by a tornado of cheers from the admiring stadium as she completed her race.
This Games continues to break boundaries of all kinds, with record viewing figures for the opening ceremony and a cascade of Olympic and world records. But the inclusion of female athletes from every nation for the first time has to be one of the most important limits to be shattered.