If past Olympic Games have taught us anything, it would be to assume nothing. London 2012, it would seem, is no exception, as some of its greatest icons continue to underperform, while surprise stars emerge to steal their thunder. First, to the USA’s mighty medal machine, Michael Phelps; the swimmer had already seen his Olympic record of invincibility brought to a stark end at the weekend after failing to medal in the 4 x 100m individual medley, but yesterday’s races proved that the gold rush of Beijing is firmly in the past as he was forced to settle for second in one of his best events.
Not that it was a disappointing night for the American. Although he only managed silver in his signature 200m butterfly race, it was enough to put him on a level with Russian gymnast, Larisa Latynina, as the only Olympians to win eighteen Olympic medals. A gold medal in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay an hour later pushed him beyond that point and into legend, as he became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. It may not have gone quite to plan, but it still signifies a remarkable milestone in the history of swimming at the Games.
But as the mightiest prepare to bring their careers to a close, some of the most remarkable talents have come to the fore over the last two days; and they’re not even old enough to drink. Ruta Meilutyte, a fifteen year-old school girl from Plymouth College in Devon, although on paper she hardly sounds like an Olympic champion, the teenager stormed to victory yesterday, securing gold in the 100m breaststroke final. The downside is, unfortunately, that she was competing for her native Lithuania, rather than Great Britain. She’s not the only teenager to be grabbing the headlines with her Olympic success. China’s Ye Shiwen has now secured gold in the 200m and 400m individual medals with phenomenally fast times. One length in her 400m race even saw her better Ryan Lochte’s time in the men’s race on the same day.
All eyes were on the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips…
Ye Shiwen’s phenomenal success has been tainted with accusations of doping, as experts struggled to explain the youngster’s explosive performances. The debate reached such a fever pitch that the BOA chairman, Lord Colin Moynihan, felt it necessary to intervene. “Ye Shiwen has been through the World Anti-Doping Agency programme and she’s clean” , he said, “that’s the end of the story. She deserves recognition for her talent.”
There was also another twist in the story of the Twitter abuse suffered by British diver, Tom Daley, after police announced that they had arrested a teenager in connection with the incident. The seventeen year old, who had previously used Twitter to accuse the Team GB star of letting down his late father in yesterday’s final, found himself issued with a harassment warning for his behaviour. As far as Team GB was concerned, it was another up-and-down day for the nation’s fledgling medal campaign. There was delight at Greenwich Park, where British riders produced some fine individual performances to land themselves the silver medal in Team Eventing, beaten only by Germany. All eyes were on the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, but it was six-time Olympian, Mary King, who really shone, with a flawless performance in the show-jumping to secure GB’s second silver medal.
…Watch your kit at the Foxhills spa… there is a tea leaf about…
Another day of success for Britain’s female footballers as they managed to beat the fiery Brazilian side 1-0, a feat made all the more significant by the record attendance of the crowd at Wembley. A highly impressive 70,584 fans flocked to the match, inadvertently setting a new record for attendance at a women’s football match in this country. It was left-back Steph Houghton who put the winning goal away, her third goal in the Games putting GB into the quarter-finals against Canada. On the other end of the spectrum, there was heartbreak for two of GB’s most anticipated athletes in individual events. David Florence was widely expected to medal in the men’s slalom C-1 event, after winning silver in Beijing back in 2008. But the canoeist saw his medal hopes dashed as he failed to qualify for the semi-finals and crashed out of the competition.
Equal devastation for judoka, Euan Burton, considered to be Britain’s best hope for a judo medal. It took a mere two minutes for the Scot to find himself booted out in the second round, defeated by Canada’s Antoine Valois-Fortier.
Amidst the glory and the disappointment there was, as ever, a moment of quirky humour to keep the headline writers happy. Tour de France champion, Bradley Wiggins, was left reeling in confusion after finding himself deprived of his Olympic training kit by an opportunistic thief in his Surrey hotel. “Watch your kit at the Foxhills spa… there is a tea leaf about”, he lamented on Twitter. So regardless of Wiggins’s own success in the Games, someone out there certainly deserves a gold medal for their audacity.