ONE OF THE very best things about London 2012 was that, by in large, the athletes we wanted to win did just that.
It all began with Jessica Ennis, the beautiful, modest, poster-girl from Sheffield who wowed the athletics world with a 12.54s run in the 100m hurdles first thing on Friday morning. She only lost her lead once during the eight events and, on Saturday evening, began the British gold rush that electrified the Olympic stadium.
Mo Farah was not content with one night of glory, winning a marvellous 10,000m final from his friend and training partner, Galen Rupp. One week later he blew away one of the deepest 5,000m fields in history for a second gold. He lined up against athletes that were fresher, athletes who had the current form to take on the pace and beat him, and athletes with the killer-kick to win on a final lap burn up. Sometimes the medals go to those who want them the most.
The smiling Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price literally ran eyeballs out to warm up the track for the Jamaican team, winning the first of their four golds. For the second Olympics in a row, Usain Bolt brought his natural charisma and insane talent to the track for our entertainment and to cement his own legendary status. Given the build-up to the 100m, it would have been enough for us to see him win, but to improve upon his own Olympic Record was icing on the cake.
The clean sweep for Jamaica in the men’s 200m was equally as exciting and as the story goes, Bolt prepped his young teammate Warren Weir for a one, two, three, just before the race.
The Jamaican 4x100m win brought a new phrase into common usage as Bolt achieved the double-treble with a World-Record ending. Cocky, but not arrogant, Bolt’s post-race celebrations just serve to complement what he does on the track.
David Rudisha. 49.28 at 400m. 1:40.91 at 800m. Gun to tape as fast as he could. A new World Record. Forced the field to follow suit in his honesty. Nothing more can be said about that.
The finish in the women’s 20k walk was astonishing, as Olga Kaniskina lost the lead she had built up from the first 500m to her young teammate Elena Lashmanova. Some of my fellow pundits on RTÉ insisted on describing Kaniskina as the Usain Bolt of race walking and Lashmanova’s World Record was surely salt in the wound for the Russian who had won the last four major championships. Another women’s record fell as the US wiped the East German 4x100m relay mark off the books with a comprehensive victory over Jamaica.
(Gold-medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda celebrates after the men’s marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics – Mike Groll/AP/Press Association Images)
I’ve heard all year from distance runners about the dominance of the Kenyans in the marathon. That dominance did not count for much yesterday when Stephen Kiprotich claimed gold and Uganda’s third ever Olympic medal. Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross both achieved the individual Olympic gold medals that were long overdue. However, some nations had waited a lot longer. In a sport that is ruled by the American and Russian super-powers, some of the best victories were those where an individual hero brought a country from zero to a place on the medal table.
Kirani James of Grenada made sure that his country’s first ever Olympic medal was the best possible colour with a stunning sub 44s performance in the 400m. Botswana’s first Olympic medal came not from Amantle Montsho in the women’s 400m, but from the record-breaking exploits of 18 year old Nijel Amos. His silver behind Rudisha was the announcement of a successor in waiting. Their success will inspire a generation of athletes and none more so than the second place finish of Erick Barrondo in the 20km walk. On winning a first medal for Guatemala he said “I hope that this medal inspires the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead.”
Down with dopers
Of the less popular winners, one has already been dethroned. The winner of the women’s shot, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, has tested positive for the steroid metenolone. It was not the way in which Valerie Adams would have chosen to successfully defend her title and you can bet that she has been more than suspicious of her rival for some time now. Victor Costello may have being trying to warn us subtly of his own suspicions when he compared Ostapchuk on RTÉ to one of his former Leinster Rugby teammates. Still, justice was done and better late than never.
We all hopped merrily from bandwagon to bandwagon during the last two weeks – from sailing to boxing to show jumping. The only real athletics bandwagon available for the Irish to board went up and down the 2km loop of the 50km race walk. Robert Heffernan put in a herculean performance but felt the agony of coming fourth. It was case in point for the positive influence of the Irish support in London and Heffernan fed off the crowd to pick off 11 walkers in front of him, all except the eventual medallists.
Those are the track and field stories of the London Olympic Games. What a magical ten days.