Saturday, August 4, 2012

The ‘Minor’ Sports

Weightlifting (68kg) Medallers

The Olympics power relentlessly on, and it is, if nothing else, character-building to be enjoying the Games in a country which is not one’s own, when one’s own is - pun intended - dropping the ball. In the arenas and the Olympic Park, a sea of Union Jacks and understandably excited British fans surrounds you. Admittedly there is the occasional Mexican, Venezuelan and - memorably - Mongolian far from home to cheer on their athletes. And of course a large contingent of Team USA supporters. But Britishers naturally abound. I have yet to come across any substantial number of Australians, but that could be because they are hiding their heads in despair, as medals which should have been Australian Gold (on standings and records) are transmuted to silver, bronze and so very often to nowhere in the rankings.

Just a few Union Jacks about...

Go Mongolia!

Excel Stadium - the venue for Fencing and six other sports

Still, there’s lots of excitement to be had at the Olympic Games, and if you can focus your attention beyond the home team’s media scrum, and look past the Union Jacks, there is drama aplenty.

The thrills of the Archery aside, there was surprisingly good sport to be had at the Weightlifting and Fencing. Our Swimming tickets were probably the most average so far, since they were D-reserve (up in the gods, seven rows from the back in very steep temporary seating), the races we saw were “only” morning heats, and the Australians performed very averagely. Still, for our forty quid ticket we did see American Michael Phelps swim, and that night he became the most medalled (love the new verbs?) Olympic athlete in history. And the new 16-year-old Chinese girl sensation, Ms. Ye. She didn’t give us one of her controversy-provoking speed swims, though. Perhaps Breaststroke isn’t her speciality. 

Swimming heats.

Quite high up...a lovely venue, made ugly for now by the temporary seating

At the weightlifting we watched the 68kg men’s class - those guys weigh less than me,  and are all roughly 35 years younger than me. The lightest weight they lifted was 140 kg. We watched a slew of “minor” countries do very well - Romania and Indonesia taking out Silver and Bronze. But the Gold medalist, from China, was streets ahead of the competition, and thoroughly deserved his win. In fact, he was assured of the Gold before making his final lift, and as a crowd-pleaser he added an astonishing 11 kg to his weight in an attempt to break the world record. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, but not for lack of crowd appreciation willing him on.

Yes! Yes!

Not this time.

The Weightlifting and the Fencing were both held at the Excel Centre, reached via a short detour on the DLR. A helpful discovery was a large sports-minded pub just outside the station, with Olympic events playing on numerous screens. Thus was the afternoon between Swimming and Fencing whiled away watching Bradley Wiggins - he of Tour de France success -  win Gold for Britain in the Men’s Road Race. The Australian came a creditable 6th...or was it 5th? Anyway, another also-ran.

En garde...and the guy on the left would be from...?

Happy competitor, happy coach.

That was mine! That was mine! Competitive ladies.

In the Fencing, we were pleased to see (a) no Brits competing (a momentary respite); (b) a number of interesting small countries competing; and (c) the Americans eliminated. Call me mean, but that country has quite enough medals to be going on with. Now Venezuela, on the other hand, had not earned a Gold Medal since 1968, so try to imagine the apoplectic excitement of their balletic épée fencer when he did just that for them -- defeating first a large, stolid and entirely defensive American, and then a lanky Norwegian. The Venezuelan did a victory lap of the arena draped in his flag, to the strains of “We are the Champions”, a older Venezuelan fan in the crowd near us shook the hand of everyone within reach, and I can report that the Venezuelan National Anthem is a cheery number. In the women’s event, we watched the Ukraine, Russia, the USA and Korea battle it out in the sabre event. I must say that the US girl (the defending medal holder) was very feisty and aggressive, but in the end, the Korean came back from behind to win. From the precision and concentration of the competition to all-out heart-attack territory excitement -- the fencers are the most pleased-to-win athletes we’ve seen so far.

For the Venezuelan National Anthem.

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