Category Archives: 2012 London Olympics

An Emotional Embrace

I was gutted for Andy Murray when he lost in the 2012 Wimbledon final. During the customary post-match speeches, one could feel the appreciation of the British crowd for Murray, who was always considered as too dour. Being an athlete myself, I found his emotional display heartwarming.

Perhaps no other moment could better signify the newly-minted Olympic Champion’s ascendance into British hearts than Henry Caplan’s memorable hug.

Read: “You’re my hero and you deserve a hug! Schoolboy’s embrace with Olympic champion Andy Murray captures buoyant mood of the nation”

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Sally Pearson’s Heartwarming Gesture

It was heart-wrenching to see Brigitte Foster-Hylton crash out in the qualifying heats of the London Olympics. The evergreen Jamaican has a season’s best of 12.51s and was one of the favorites to land a medal in the Games.

Understandably, Foster-Hylton was almost hysterical when she crossed the line. Lolo Jones tried to console the dejected hurdler, but Foster-Hylton fell on the track in despair the moment Lolo touched her.

The eventual Olympic Champion, Sally Pearson, cut short her post-race interview the moment she saw Foster-Hylton. The Australian put an arm around the Jamaican as they walked off the mixed zone together.

“It was really hard,” said Pearson in an Associated Press report. “She’s trained with me for a long time. Rough sport.”

People admire Sally for the way she hurdles and wins titles. Her display of sportsmanship, camaderie, and the Olympic Spirit has endeared her to millions more.

Sally Pearson. Respect.

“You are my adversary, but you are not my enemy.
For your resistance gives me strength,
Your will gives me courage,
Your spirit ennobles me.
And though I aim to defeat you, should I succeed, I will not humiliate you.
Instead, I will honor you.
For without you, I am a lesser man.”

– Adversary, from the IOC’s Celebrate Humanity Campaign

Brave Liu Xiang 刘翔

Four years ago in Beijing, Liu Xiang 刘翔 left the Bird’s Nest in pain, not even clearing the first hurdle of his qualifying heat. Four years later in London, Liu’s dreams of an Olympic comeback crumbled yet again.

Following his shock exit in 2008, Liu has been beset by recurring injury. He could not seem to find the old form that brought him an historic Olympic gold, a World Championship title, and a then-12.88s world record in the 110m Hurdles. The Chinese hurdler almost won another world title in Daegu last year, if not for an accidental clash with rival Dayron Robles.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The Sprint Hurdles”

In the run-up to the London Games, the 29-year old had drawn level with Robles’ 12.87s world record, albeit with slight wind assistance. Liu had gone beyond 13.00s twice, stamping his class on the world’s best sprint hurdlers. The stage was set for Liu’s great Olympic comeback in the British Isles. But fate, it seemed, had other plans.

Through the choppy images of my live streaming link, I saw the unfortunate events transpire frame by frame. When the starting gun fired, the rest of the field powered on to the finish line. At the left side of the screen, I saw a lone figure lying on the track clutching his right leg.

The commentators’ gasps of disappointment and regret confirmed my worst fears: Liu’s Olympic campaign had come to an abrupt end.

Read/View: “Hurdler Liu Xiang turns fall into heroism”

Liu headed out to an exit near the starting line, but a venue official apparently led him back to the race area. The 2004 Athens Olympic champion hobbled on the straightaway. Limping on his one good leg, Liu veered towards his original lane and gave the final hurdle a kiss. One of his competitors, the Hungarian hurdler Balazs Baji raised Liu’s arm, proclaiming to the entire stadium the latter’s symbolic victory.

In a touching display of camaraderie, hometown boy Andy Turner and the Spaniard Jackson Quinonez helped the ailing Liu to a waiting wheelchair.

The sprint hurdles is an unforgiving event. The event demands a certain degree of flat out speed to sprint nimbly in between the barriers, and a high level of technical proficiency to skim efficiently over the 1.067-meter high hurdles. The margin for error is small; a single mistake in clearing could spell a premature end to the race.

A Xinhua article revealed that Liu was suffering from an injury. “In Germany, Liu felt pain in the foot where his old injury was,” said Sun Haiping, Liu’s long-time coach.

Ever since Liu Xiang emphatically won the 2002 Asian Games gold, I’ve considered him a role model. Throughout my track career, I looked up to the guy. I can still remember that fateful night back in 2004, when the 21-year old Liu stormed to the finish line in first place, matching Colin Jackson’s world record. One of my cherished possessions is an autographed copy of his autobiography, which I brought to every single major race as a talisman.

Read: “Sidekicks”

My initial reaction, of course, was one of disappointment and disbelief. Seeing him claw his way back to the top, only to succumb once again to injury tore my heart out. But when I saw Liu bravely limping to finish the race – and the subsequent reaction of the spectators and his competitors – a poignant realization dawned on me.

He has won every, single major title: the World Indoors, the World Championships, and the Olympics. Perhaps, this Derek Redmond-like display of character was the defining moment of Liu’s career, should he decide to hang up his spikes there and then.

“For some athletes, it’s just a job,” said Liu in a pre-Athens Olympics interview with Time Magazine. “For me, it’s what I love.”

Liu Xiang shall be back. I just know it.

“For that to happen to one of the greatest hurdlers of all time is a tragedy” – Aries Merritt (quote from NYT)

“I just think he made a small little mistake and ran up on the hurdle a little too quickly and wasn’t prepared to take the hurdle at such a velocity.” – Aries Merritt (quote from Stuff.co.nz)

“I regard him as probably the best hurdler in history and have so much respect for him. It was horrible seeing him limp off like that so you have to go and help people.” – Andy Turner (quote from BBC)

“We know Liu Xiang has been suffering with his Achilles. He had to push hard and when you have to reach for the first barrier and you’ve got a stress injury like an Achilles it can cause you hell and he couldn’t even take off.” – Colin Jackson (quote from Stuff.co.nz)

“My heart goes to Liu Xiang.” – Allen Johnson (from Allen’s Twitter account)

The Legend of Felix Sánchez

When I was writing my London 2012 event previews, I had a strong gut feeling that Felix Sanchez would do something monumental. His career has undergone a renaissance the past few months, as he placed fourth in the Daegu World Championships final. Despite having a season’s best of just 48.56s coming into the Games, Sanchez had taken the scalp of 2011 World Champion Dai Greene in Rabat back in April.

In the initial version of my 400m Hurdles preview, Sanchez and Angelo Taylor were my choices for gold and silver! After all, it was anybody’s ballgame considering the fact that the tantalizingly fast times have not really come the past few years. I changed my forecasts at the last minute. Even if I knew deep down that they had an outside chance against the two favorites, Javier Culson and Greene, I had to consider what the statistics say.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Hurdles”

And Sanchez did shock the world.

He breezed through the heats and sent out a strong message in the semifinals, stopping the clock at 47.76s – his fastest time since winning Olympic gold in Athens. All of a sudden, the grand old man of intermediate hurdling has regained the spring in his legs. People started to notice that the two-time World Champion could achieve what months ago would be deemed improbable.

Sanchez still had to contend with the world leader Culson, the hometown boy Greene, and Angelo Taylor – the Olympic champion from Sydney and Beijing.

As the 400m hurdles finalists walked into the stadium, that steely Sanchez determination was noticeable underneath his dark shades and his jacket’s hood. The person who had so valiantly attempted to defend his World title in 2005 despite an injury, who four years ago crashed out of the heats in Beijing, was back in contention.

Coming into the final bend, the Puerto Rican felled a hurdle, losing momentum. Sanchez kept on going strong towards the finish, ahead of everyone else in this quality field. The Dominican stopped the clock at 47.63s, the same time he had registered when he won in Athens eight years ago. The American champion Michael Tinsley (47.91s) ran the final meters like a monster, snatching silver ahead of Culson (48.10s) and the fast-finishing Greene (48.24s). Taylor (48.25s) finished in fifth place.

It was a touching sight, seeing Felix Sanchez take out the photo of his deceased grandmother which he kept inside his race bib. He fell to the track on his knees and kissed the photo of his late grandma, to whom he promised another Olympic gold.

Read: “Tears for the Second Coming of Sanchez”

Culson, the nearly-man, assumed the same position as Sanchez, this time in unpleasant disbelief. He had been undefeated this season after numerous close calls in winning the gold. A major championship title has remained elusive. Dai Greene sat on the track, shell-shocked at the enormity of the moment.

Sanchez cried tears of joy as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem played in the medal ceremony. It was a genuine display of emotion from someone who had been written off as over-the-hill.

When I was starting out in the sport back in 2003, I looked up to Liu Xiang and Felix Sanchez as my hurdling heroes. Liu had just won a groundbreaking bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, while Sanchez had added a second World title to the one he won in Edmonton. My respect grew a hundred-fold when Felix valiantly attempted to defend his World title in Helsinki, despite a painful injury.

Culson and Greene are still young compared to the 35-year old Sanchez. They will have their time under the sun.

For now, the moment belongs to Felix Sanchez.

Additional Links:

Results – 400m Hurdles Final

Results – 400m Hurdles Semis/Heats

Felix Sanchez’ IAAF Profile

IAAF article on Felix’s victory

London 2012 Opening Ceremonies: My Top Six Moments

My first memory of the Olympics was Barcelona, and Antonio Rebello’s memorable lighting of the Olympic cauldron. I was somewhat indifferent to Atlanta and Sydney because of youth and my then lack of interest in sports. I found it difficult to appreciate the choreographed presentations in Athens and Beijing, as I looked forward to seeing the Philippines march in the parade of athletes and, of course, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

Although I came to appreciate certain poignant moments of the opening ceremonies of past Olympic Games, call me inattentive, but most of it came as blurry pomp.

London, Danny Boyle and the thousands of Olympic volunteers caught me off-guard. The mix of British humor, pop references, and nostalgia were just about right. The London opening ceremonies epitomized the word “cool” and “grand.”

The following are my favorite moments:

6.) The 500-strong workers who welcomed Sir Steve Redgrave at the stadium.

The workers lined up along the corridor leading to the track, wearing their ever-present hard-hats. This is a heartwarming salute to the blue collar worker.

5.) The British contingent marching to David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

The song “Heroes” could not have been more apt. I got goosebumps watching Team GB walk proudly, as Bowie sang the immortal line: “We can be heroes, just for one day.” The London Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the British athletes. They have worked so hard to earn their places in Team GB, now is their time to shine in front of their family, friends, and countrymen.

4.) Mr. Bean playing “Chariots of Fire.”

Like many track & field athletes, the Oscar-winning movie about Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams have had a profound personal impact. But when I saw Rowan Atkinson hitting that definitive note of Chariots of Fire fame, I literally laughed out loud!

3.) James Bond escorts Queen Elizabeth II.

Need I say more?

2.) David Beckham drives the speedboat bearing the Olympic flame.

I’ve always admired David Beckham’s dedication to his international duties as a footballer. His significant role in London’s Olympic bid and his being evergreen on the pitch were more than enough to earn him a Team GB slot. His role as the speedboat driver to the Olympic torch bearer paid homage to his efforts to bring the Olympics to Britain.

1.) The lighting of the Olympic Cauldron.

Instead of picking one particular sporting great to light the cauldron, the organizers chose seven talented teenage athletes nominated by the biggest British sporting icons. It was a figurative and literal passing of the torch. It speaks volumes of a country that honors its past and nurtures is present and future athletes. I must admit that this unique way of lighting the cauldron caught me off-guard, but in a pleasantly emotional manner.

An Iraqi Olympian: Dana Hussein Abdul Razzaq دانة حسين عبد الرزاق (Abdulrazaq Danah)

My blogs have been getting quite a lot of hits thanks to Iraqi sprinter Dana Hussein Abdul-Razzaq دانة حسين عبد الرزاق (Abdulrazaq Danah). Dana had the honor of carrying the Iraqi flag at the London Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

Read: “Track Beauty of the Week – Dana Abdul Razzaq”

Dana definitely has the talent to excel in the world stage, having personal bests of 11.76s and 24.49s in the 100m and 200m. Remarkably, Dana trains in Iraq despite the security situation. The 200m dash is her best event, in my opinion. She is just a little over two-hundredths of second off the Olympic “B” standard.

Click here to read the full article…

EC2012 Triple Jump: Olha Saladukha (Olha Saladuha Ольга Саладуха) takes gold

I love watching the triple jump because of its highly technical nature. The way the athletes hop, skip, and step to amazing distances is a graceful exercise that evokes wonder for this athletics aficionado.

However, the event has not been given the same attention as the more popular disciplines like the men’s 100m dash. I got thoroughly pissed off while watching the Adidas Grand Prix, a Diamond League meeting, last month. The directors of the telecast opted to air round-after-round of a pedestrian long jump competition over the women’s triple jump competition!

Click this link to read the full article…

Track Beauty of the Week: Olga Rypakova Ольга Рыпакова

The Kazakh triple jumper is one of the best in her event. Rypakova has jumped 15.25m outdoors and 15.14m indoors, both Asian records. She also has a world-class personal best in the long jump at 6.85m. Olga is the 7th best triple jumper all-time.

Click here to read the full article…

Bleasdale vs. Isinbayeva

Pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva (Елена Исинбаева) always makes her first jump when everyone else had made theirs. The Russian usually isolates herself from the other competitors, opting to cover her face with a towel and nap. British Olympic hopeful Holly Bleasdale was not amused. She called Isinbayeva “disrespectful” and likened her to a “tramp.”

Click here to read the full article…

Portrait Silke Spiegelburg

Check out this documentary on German Olympic hopeful Silke Spiegelburg.

Silke has a personal best 4.82m, set in Monaco this year. She has won two European Indoor silver medals the past few years. Spiegelburg finished second at the Barcelona European Championships two years ago. Spiegelburg has been a finalist in two World Championships, this year’s World Indoors and the Beijing Olympics.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The Pole Vault”

Go Silke! You deserve a medal!

Sources:

Silke’s IAAF profile

Wikipedia

Christine Sonali Merrill’s Balancing Act and Olympic Hopes

Christine Sonali Merrill deserves a shoutout.

Christine Merrill. (Photo from Djh57/Wikimedia Commons

The American-born Sri Lankan hurdler will compete in the London Olympics as a wild card, having missed the Olympic “B” standard by almost two-hundredths of a second. She has a personal best of 56.83s, set during the preliminary rounds of the Asian Athletics Championships last year in Kobe. Merrill eventually wound up in 3rd place, thanks to a strong finish.

A mechanical engineering graduate of University of California (San Diego), Merrill juggles a demanding day job with serious athletics training. In this day and age of sporting professionals, this is a rarity.

Read: “10-for-10 – Marzia Caravelli’s Balancing Act”

I am familiar with such a routine. It is not a walk in the park.

Even if the Merrill’s Olympic medal hopes in London seem distant, she gives hope to those athletes who strive to balance a day job with their sporting pursuits. And according to her coach, Merrill could make an impact at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic Games.

Additional Link:

Christine’s Facebook Page

Sources:

IAAF

UCSD Tritons article on Merrill

Still an Usain Bolt Show

The Jamaican Olympic Trials were a revelation.

Usain Bolt’s 100m defeat to his young training partner, Yohan Blake, came as a surprise. Blake’s commanding victory in the 200m was even more astounding. Bolt has shown chinks in armor in the century dash, owing to his inconsistent start. But in the half-lap sprint, the great Jamaican sprinter has been peerless.

Bolt en route to the 200m dash gold in Beijing. (Photo from Richard Giles)

The aforesaid losses to Blake and rumors of lingering injury, have pushed some athletics pundits to tag Blake as the prime candidate for Olympic sprinting glory.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 100m Dash”

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 200m Dash”

Those views are not entirely baseless. On paper, the 2012 Bolt is a far cry from his 2009 self. The Jamaican champion’s 100m and 200m season’s bests are at 9.76s and 19.83s, respectively -light years away from his world records of 9.58s and 19.19s. Coming into the London Olympics, Blake is the world leader in both of the aforesaid events (9.75s and 19.80s).

True enough, Blake has what it takes to beat his compatriot. The 2011 100m World Champion (in the absence of a disqualified Bolt), is the third fastest in the 100m all-time list, behind Bolt and Asafa Powell. Blake has a personal best of 19.26s in the 200m a mark only bettered by Usain’s world record of 19.19s and is the only man who can challenge Bolt in the half lap sprint.

Powell, the former 100m world record, has the necessary tools edge out Bolt in the century dash. But the 30-year old has been a perennial underachiever in the major championships. Tyson Gay, the 100m and 200m World Champion from 2007, also enjoys the tag as a potential Bolt-beater. The oft-injured Gay is one of only two men to beat a post-Beijing Olympics Usain Bolt in the 100m (the other is, of course, Blake). Gay, recently recovered from a hip operation, owns the second fastest time in the 100m at 9.69s, behind Bolt’s 9.58s world record.

    

Blake (L), Gay (C), and Powell (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen, Eckhard Pecher, and Jonas Witt)

Judging by the stat sheets and the results of the Jamaican Olympic Trials, a monumental collapse by Usain Bolt is in the offing.

I beg to disagree because of four important factors.

First, Bolt has the most experience amongst the four contenders. The Jamaican has won sprinting titles in Youth, Junior and Senior World Championship events. He has been competing at the highest level of sport since he was 15-years old. No other athlete, save for Russian Pole Vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and New Zealand’s Shot Putter Valerie Adams, have shown such consistency amongst the different age groups.

And of course, Bolt is the defending Olympic Champion. Blake, Gay, and Powell have yet to win individual Olympic golds.

Second, Bolt is a freak of nature. Speed is a function of stride length and stride frequency. Bolt, with his 1.95m/ 6’5 frame, excels in both departments. No Olympic or World sprinting champion was as tall and quick as Usain Bolt.

Third, Bolt has been in similar circumstances before. As a talented youngster, Bolt owns the World Youth best and the World Junior record in the 200m. His transition to the senior ranks, however, was marked by injury and a seeming lack of focus. Despite being popular in Jamaica, he was an unknown outside immediate athletics circles. There was a lull in his career from 2003 to 2008, until the Beijing Olympics where he romped to three Olympic Gold medals.

Lastly, Bolt has the ability to dig deep. In the glitz and glamour of the short sprints, people tend to overlook the fact that Usain once excelled in the 400m dash in his younger days. As a 16-year old, the Jamaican ran 45.35s, the sixth fastest ever by a Youth athlete. Although Gay has a faster personal best than Bolt in the quarter-mile, the latter has the necessary championship pedigree in the event. In my opinion, his background in the 400m is what sets him apart from his competitors. It puts him in a vastly different mindset.

Because of his long legs, we don’t usually see Bolt get the fastest start in the short dashes. But once his pistons start firing in full throttle, the race is over – more often than not. Indeed, it takes guts and determination to snatch victory from behind.

Despite the snags of Bolt’s 2012 season, the London 2012 Olympics shall still be Usain Bolt’s one big sprinting party.

Saudi Arabia’s First Female Olympians

This is historic. Saudi Arabia will be sending two female athletes to the London Olympics. The oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom was the last to heed the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) moves to end sexual discrimination in sport, following Qatar and Brunei. Judoka Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and middle distance runner Sarah Attar will the first Saudi female Olympians.

Click here to read the full article…

Kathrine Switzer the Pioneer

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became famous as the first female runner to complete the Boston Marathon. A furious race organizer tried to stop Switzer from completing the race, shouting “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.” Her boyfriend came to the rescue and shoved the official aside.

Click here to read the full article…

South Sudanese to compete in the Olympics

Guor Marial is an Olympian, but he won’t be representing his country – on paper, at least. Marial is South Sudanese, the world’s youngest nation. Since South Sudan has yet to establish a national Olympic committee, its citizens can compete in the Olympic Games only as Independent Olympic Athletes.

Since he fled from his homeland back in 1993, Marial has been to a multitude of countries. He has been based in the United States since being granted asylum in 2001. The 28-year South Sudanese graduated from the Iowa State University in 2011, earning All-American honors.

According to the CNN interview, Marial refused offers from the Sudanese athletics federation to compete under the Sudanese flag: “Never. For me to even consider that is a betrayal. My family lost 28 members in the war with Sudan. Millions of my people were killed by Sudan forces. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people.”

Interestingly, Marial is listed as a Sudanese national in his IAAF biography.

Marial is an elite athlete and not just a token bet. He has a personal best of 2:14:32 from 2011, set on a flat course. Marial had run 2:12:55 this year, albeit on a downhill course in San Diego. His times are still far off from Kenyan Ayele Abshero’s world leading 2:04:23, so a podium finish is not really realistic.

Should Marial be able to fix his U.K. and U.S. travel documents, his presence in the London Games would nevertheless be an achievement in itself – for both Marial and his young country.

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