Medals: Gold – Men’s Rowing Four, Women’s Double Sculls. Jessica Ennis – Heptathlon, Mo Farah – 10,000m, Greg Rutherford, Women’s Cycling Team Pursuit. Silver – Men’s Double Sculls.
Fever pitch excitement everywhere yesterday as the Rowing machine crunched out another 2 tearful golds and even more tearful silver, the Cycling machine is halfway through doing exactly the same and Athletics got underway by delivering on expectations. Its hard not to become nationalistic but I can’t remember another Olympic Games where the crowds are so large and so engaged at each event. I do think that we are good at cheering in a “c’mon Tim” way. We don’t have the discipline of the Germans to raise a good consistent chant and we don’t need the cheerleader like the Americans. We do have an inherent problem however. Whereas we can always sing along to Engurrrrlaaaaand! a chant of GeeeeeBeeeeee just sounds ridiculous. I’m sure there’s a solution but we’ve just not had to worry about it before.
The men’s football team crashed out of the football against South Korea in the quarter finals along with the women. I was always undecided about whether we should have a team or not and the performance of the team has finally clinched it – the Scots and the Northern Irish had it right!. If you were someone like Jessica Ennis who has trained daily rain or shine and overcome injuries to succeed, or Mo Farah who runs 120m a week how devalued would your gold seem if you shared the honour with some money-grabbing, philandering footballer who gets shirty if they aren’t on the golf course by 3pm and has to do pre-season training before they are fit enough to even play their sport competitively. It was heartening how the Welsh took to the team including a few of their countrymen though.
And so to the big events. The women’s rowing team well and truly ended their gold drought and yesterday Copeland and Hosking stormed home in the lightweight double. I do think the rowers have the hardest job of getting a good stamp. They are normally flat out in the boat or gasping for air like a landed carp. The men’s four did what was expected of them and then Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter narrowly failed as the Danish men pipped them at the line. Their interview afterwards with John Inverdale was painful to watch as they expressed their complete misery and exhaustion. John had tears in his eyes just listening. There is a marked difference in Olympic ceremonies compared to football. When the winning captain lifts the European Champions league trophy you NEVER see them cry – it’s all about self-congratulation and milking the glory in the way that Usain Bolt celebrates his victory in the 100m. On the podium though, as the national anthems play, the British athletes crumble in a genuine and heartwarming way that is very revealing.
In the afternoon the Cyclists took another gold in the Women’s Team Pursuit – another world record on the way. We seem to have a mixture of venues – the velodrome is a fast surface which has resulted in world records everywhere. The Olympic track apparently is very quick for sprinters and not so good for long distance running. We seem to have slow water in the swimming pool – especially in the British lanes – it seems to be OK in the centre lanes. If we had taken some of the water from the Eton Dorney we could have been in business. After watching, with horror, Cliff Richard punishing the poor trapped souls locked into Wimbledon centre court before they built the roof it was nice to see Paul McCartney conducting and joining in a version of Hey Jude in the Velodrome. The winning girls team must have thought it was a little cherry on the top of their enormous cake. As long as Macca realises it’s the novelty value that makes it special we are all fine.
The evening finale was an odd TV watching experience for me. We began watching Fractured – a tense legal thriller with Anthony Hopkins just as the Heptathlon finale started. There was lots of flicking to and fro and thankfully Channel 4 had synchronised ad breaks for the key moments. The film didn’t start until after Jessica had finished. I saw the last three laps of Mo’s race (possibly my favourite gold so far along with Wiggo), Jessica’s medal ceremony, the football penalty shootout and the culmination of the long jump without missing the plotline. You could tell everyone was on a high – even within the BBC commentary team. They seem genuinely moved by the event which is very different from anything else they will encounter. My end to the evening was truly bizarre. I watched the evening highlights programme with Clare Balding and had my first encounter with the large cardboard cutout Big Ben and the sticker indicating how many gold medals we had won. Clare was sat in the studio with Mary Peters and Denise Lewis and after each piece of film she got them to stand up and move the sticker up. This is not a criticism of Clare – I think she is a fantastic presenter with versatility the BBC must absolutely love – only she could style this out in a Boris Johnson way. In an event which has been dominated by great camera angles and technology this is extraordinary and extremely tedious after the first couple of golds – see how blase I have become?
What I love about the Olympics TV experience is the mixture of blockbusters, sitcoms and soap operas. As well as the triumphant moments there are snippets of disappointment and failure. As well as the golds today there are the medals being set up for later in the week. We already know we have two medals in the tennis but we aren’t sure what colour. The sailors and the boxers keep progressing. The show jumpers and dressage are nicely poised and we have athletes making it through the early rounds. We are halfway through a big baseball game with some homeruns already on the board and the bases are loaded for the next few days.