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Archive for the ‘The Games’ Category

As the rain poured down in Beijing on Thursday it seemed like a good opportunity to stay in and catch up on some blogging – unfortunately Bob’s internet connection disagreed, and would not allow this post. Trying again now, on Friday. It has been difficult to fit in posts, around ticket-hunting, sport-watching, exploring Beijing and accessing WordPress. It has been hard enough just to keep up with the rapid flow of British gold medals that just seem to keep coming! Fair play to the folks at the BBC live text commentary, who keep Bob up to date with what’s going on; it can’t be an easy job being a journo out here. However, a dedicated press centre, access to BBC TV and not having to run around looking for affordable tickets must help a bit.

Bob has been fortuitous enough to see two British golds, a silver and a bronze, and that is without even making it as far as Qingdao for the sailing or Shunyi for the rowing.

On Sunday night Bob and friends were the beneficiaries of four top-grade seats in the National Indoor arena to watch gymnastics. Coincidentally this was the day in which the only male British gymnast to make it to a final was performing. The event was the pommel horse, and the man was Louis Smith. With gymnastics it is hard sometimes for the lay-person to know when someone has done well or not, but along with the American competitor Smith’s routine was identifiable for its individuality. To see the first gymnastics medal for a British male in 80 years was thrilling!

The velodrome has been the source of 7 of Team GB’s golds, and was top of Bob’s ticket wish-list. Saturday afternoon was spent fruitlessly waiting outside, in the far western suburb of Laoshan, and things did not look promising, until finally persistence paid off with tickets for Monday. It was well worth the graft to see Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff and Victoria Pendleton in dominating form, and on top of that to see the Men’s team pursuit win gold in another world record time! Alas, we had to leave before we could hear the anthem as we had an appointment in the Bird’s Nest.

We needn’t have worried, ‘God Save The Queen’ is getting regular airtime in Beijing this month, and sure enough Bob was present in the Bird’s Nest on Tuesday night to join Christine Ohuruogu in belting it out. All of this success really seems to have awoken a sense of nationalism in Bob – not normally one to carry a Union Jack or swell with pride at the strains of the anthem. Bob can’t help but wonder if it has had the same impact back home – is it great to be British at the moment?

Ohuruogu’s gold was all the more exciting because of the way it was won. Starting just below Bob (as the commentators might have described it), American pre-race favourite Sanya Richards flew off into an early lead, leaving Christine down in 6th or 7th. However, 24-year-old Brit showed amazing self-confidence and experience, giving herself a lot to do down the home straight, but with enough in the tank with which to do it. For the final 50 meters the rest of the field appeared to be running backwards while Ohuruogu powered on slaying one after the other with enough time to spare to win by a clear margin. Brilliance, pure brilliance. The volunteers in the stand nearby appeared to be infected by the excitement too and congratulated Bob so many times it was as if they believed he has run the circuit below.

Although overshadowed by the 400m gold, Germain Mason’s high jump silver medal was an even more unexpected addition to the tally, and an equally impressive performance. The man beat his personal best, only to be bettered by Andre Silnov who is quite simply in a league of his own anyway. Roger Black’s comments about racing for silver when competing in the same race as Michael Johnson come to mind, and in this case Mason stepped up to the plate when it mattered.

Bob also followed the trail to the BMX track this morning to watch Shanaze Reade. Supremely powerful Shanaze lived up to her billing in the semi-finals blowing away much of the competition. But her third fall in six races on the spectacular Chinese track came on the final bend in the final race and cost her a medal. Shanaze was sitting in second place, and crashed in an overtaking manoeuvre, risking a guaranteed silver for a possible gold. This is the first time Shanaze has been beaten all year, and she looked not only physically hurt (possible broken hand) but mentally crushed. No hear though, she will certainly be back, and could be great. Really great!

(Pictures will follow, but the connection to WordPress is just too slow at the moment…)

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Liu Xiang has been forced out of the 110m hurdles at the first hurdle (apologies), due to a leg injury. Round 1 of his event began this morning, and, but not before rumours were fluttering around the Bird’s Nest that he was injured. The crowd were on edge, but when Liu valliently came out for his heat it seemed at first that the fears were in fact unfounded. However Liu’s race ended before it had begun, as at a false start he pulled up unable to clear the first barrier. As the other racers returned to their marks Liu had to admit defeat…

Here is the live text coverage as it happened from the BBC (time is BST = Beijing +7):

0451: This is going to end in tears – Liu Xiang walks out to a rapturous applause, only for a packed stadium to see their tyro pull up holding his Achilles after going through a warm-up sprint. He looks utterly gutted, but he’s only gone and pulled off his tracksuit bottoms – he’s going to run this – he’s only going to run this ruddy race!

0454: This is just horrible – Liu Xiang winces as he sets himself in the blocks, only to pull up after a false start. And that’s it – the white flag has been waved, the defending champion admits defeat and returns to the changing rooms. I don’t think the capacity crowd at the Bird’s Nest have actually understood what has just gone on.

It’s a bit soon to gage the reaction of the Chinese public to this sad, sad news. Bob’s colleagues are stunned, and fairly unwilling to talk about it. Won’t push it!

It’s worth remembering the huge amount of expectation on Liu; the 1# Chinese Olympic dream was to see Liu retain his gold, and he was even compared to Communist hero Lei Feng.

He clearly wanted to run so badly, he must have known that there was no real way that he could compete with his injury, but couldn’t bring himself to pull out until it was literally impossible to continue.

Just to compound a sad morning for Bob, one of Britain’s triple jump stars, and a former classmate of your truly, Nathan Douglas has not reached the qualifying distance for the final. Gutted.

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2008 Olympic Football Match in Shanghai

2008 Olympic Football Match in Shanghai

Bob’s Olympic experience kicked off on Wednesday at the football qualifiers in Shanghai. The game could hardly be described as thrilling – New Zealand lost 1-0 to Belgium in a match so one-sided that the Belgians appeared to miss opportunities out of embarrassment for their opponents more than inability. The highlight for the smattering of Kiwi fans being the team’s farewell haka – this being their final match having failed to qualify for the knock-out stages.

The team will by now already have left China, as athlete’s permission to stay in the country expires within 24 hours of elimination from the tournament.

Unlike events in Beijing, the Shanghai football matches appear to have a tickets still available from the Stadium, so it is a safer bet for a bit of the Olympic experience than coming up to Beijing.

The Shanghai Stadium also looked excellent – considerably smarter than three years ago when Bob visited. Three-quarters full with fans, and absolutely flooded with volunteers and security staff. The drinks stalls resembled the infamous Chinese department stores with more employees than customers, and five people doing one job. Simply to buy an orange juice Bob had to order from one person, who then requested the bottle from two others directly behind him; meanwhile another girl had provided a cup and a fifth volunteer was giving change for a 10yuan note.

Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

To be fair to the volunteers the apparent monotony of having so little to do – matched by the monotony of the match, one might suggest – did not dampen their enthusiasm; there were smiles galore.

Unlike the New Zealand football team, this was only the beginning of Bob’s Olympic adventure. Now in Beijing (under sunny skies, no less) Bob is looking forward to some athletics, and is hoping to catch some of the Olympic spirit in the Beijing bars this weekend. Onwards…

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With the Olympic Rowing finals around the corner, Bob has interviewed British junior coach David Blackham to find out his thoughts on the emergence of a strong Chinese team, the weather conditions and the chance of the British rowers. Here is what he had to say, before heading out to see the Games for himself:

David Blackham – British Junior Rowing Coach

BOB: Rowing is a sport the Chinese have targeted in their campaign to top the medal table in Beijing. Have they been successful?

They have definitely made big inroads, how successful and how far they have come at the very top level is yet to be seen. What is evident is that they have become one of the major players.

They haven’t got everything right yet and some areas are getting better than others; they’re not competing on the heavyweight men’s scene as much as they’d like, but other areas (e.g. lightweight women) seem to be going very well.

They are definitely finding success but there have been some ethical issues raised about their programmes.

BOB: Can you put this success into context?

Although it wasn’t my generation, their rise has been compared to that of the East Germans. Although it is important to remember that team China still has to prove itself on the Olympic stage.

BOB: How have they done this?

From what I have seen the Chinese seem very focused and determined, which is essential for a sport like rowing. The main factors have been: investment in their programme to support their athletes and the drive of the athletes to compete in an Olympics on their home turf.

It is also a numbers game – with maybe 20,000 rowing in the UK, maybe 100,000 in Germany, there are only going to be a few who have the ability to row at Olympic level. China has a population of 1.3 billion.

It is fair to say that rowing is still an elitist sport to the global stage, and this has helped team GB in the past. The GB set up – some great athletes and some good athletes who the team can get the best out of – is much like the private school set up.

China has the athletes and is developing the set up. In many ways it is quite comparable to what’s happening in the UK at the moment in junior rowing, between club and school. Rowing has always been dominated by schools but this is now being challenged by the clubs. The sport is opening up which is only good for it: more competition = faster times.

BOB: People have speculated about drugs – what are your feelings?

It is a relatively clean sport, but drug cheats do occasionally occur. My gut feeling is that the Chinese rowing team is clean, but I also think that if one or two of them aren’t clean then it will be endemic, and the whole team will need to be scrutinised as it would more than likely come from their coaches.

I hope that they are clean, as it would drag the whole sport down otherwise. It is very easy to speculate about drug issues if an athlete/team do well, as a way of justifying why they are better than you, rather than looking at your own set up. Team GB though are also better than Team China at this stage so you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself.

BOB: Does the rowing world have a ‘world order’, and if so will China’s rise impact this?

Rowing, like any other sport, does have a world order but it seems to vary. GB, Australia, NZ, USA, Canada, Germany and Italy – in no order.

China is breaking into that group.

New competition is always good. Just like the economy, the Chinese rowing team has the potential to be #1!

BOB: What are the conditions like in Beijing for rowing?

Well… I gather things went well when the 2007 junior world champs where held there.

Smog, pollution and heat aren’t going to help rowers but it is the same for all the athletes and the governing bodies have known it’s going to be in Beijing for 7 years. Let’s hope a sand storm doesn’t blow off the Gobi Desert!

BOB: Are there any British stars we should keep an eye out for?

The form book says the women’s quad. It would be great for women’s rowing and GB rowing in general if they could do it. Individual stars – Zac Purchase in lightweight doubles has a great chance. Triggs-Hodget in the coxless four will have to ‘do a Pinsent’ if they are to win gold; he is a world class athlete though.

BOB: Is there a race that you are particularly looking forward to?

Everyone looks forward to the men’s eight. It would be great to see GB in the medals; lightweight doubles, heavyweight coxless fours for example for GB interests. For the pure enthusiasts the men’s single sculls will be a great battle and hopefully Campbell can muscle in on the act.

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The familiar site of a huge sporting event with empty seats has struck again in Beijing it seems. Many of the lower profile events – despite being completely sold out! – have failed to draw a full crowd.

Empty Seats In Beijing Cause Concern For Organisers And Dismay For Fans

Empty Seats In Beijing Cause Concern For Organisers And Dismay For Fans

This is really upsetting for fans, particularly those who have not been able to purchase tickets legitimately, but would love to be in these empty seats. Bob is speaking from experience.

The Beijing organisers have said that they will be hiring “cheerleaders” who cheer for both teams to bolster the atmosphere. What a shame. Good job if you can get it though!

Of course this is not the first (or certainly the last) time that this has happened. Bob was is Japan in 2002 for the Football World Cup, where FIFA made a right royal mess out of the ticketing situation, leaving thousands of travelling fans outside half-empty stadia. (What made it worse in Japan was that not all of the matches were even televised locally, as the competition was so low-key!) And Bob has distinct memories of Raphael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walking onto court at Roland Garros to wage war in a semi-final in front of a fashionably later French crowd.

However BOCOG are not FIFA (thank Buddah!) and the enthusiastic Chinese crowds are far from the moody Parisians. One would be forgiven for expecting a full house for every single event, with the level of excitement that the organisers have whipped up in China.

Some people are blaming corporate ticket allocations – fair enough, it is usually these seats that are empty in Football matches, or at Wimbledon. But speaking as someone who knows a number of people in some of the top Olympic sponsors (sorry, can’t name names) this doesn’t appear to be the case. Even they are finding it hard to get hold of the tickets.

So, it is a mystery. But until it is solved, Bob is off to volunteer as a cheerleader… now where to go, the Bird’s Nest, the velodrome…?

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Yao Ming has returned from injury to compete for the first time in 5 months just weeks ahead of the Olympic Games in his home country. However in the same week the groups for the Olympic basketball competition have been announced and Yao’s China team will face an extremely strong line up to qualify for the quarter finals.

Yao made his come back at a tournament in Hangzhou where China narrowly lost to one of their rivals in Group B, Angola. The other teams to make up Group B will be the USA, Germany, Greece and Spain – four of the six will make it through to the next round.

The Olympic basketball event will be kicked off by the huge clash between China and USA on 10th August. Bob would hate to speculate on how much those tickets could fetch…

Teaching in a middle school in China there was one sport that clearly dominated above all others, and it was not ping pong! The baggy shorts, the rows of hoops in the playground, the English names like Kobe and LeBron; basketball may as well be China’s national sport. And Yao is their greatest star – huge in physique, fame and respect Yao’s popularity is rivalled only by that of Liu Xiang within China and his return will have doubled the price of the China v USA game alone.

The update on Yao’s injury from China’s head coach Jonas Kazlausk is:

“Yao still cannot play a full game because of his foot injury. I exchange information about his injury with his doctor as much as I can. I hope he’ll take the full recovery at the Olympics.”

Of the Olympic Group B challenge Yao also talks a good game (via China Daily):

“I am very sure we can beat Angola. We lost to them in Hangzhou, but we were not in our best shape last week,” he said. “Their players are not very competitive, and I don’t think they are able to pose us any real threat at the Games.

“We are not afraid of Germany either. Yi Jianlian has improved tremendously after playing one season in the NBA and he can limit Nowitzki. And I can take care of Chris Kaman.”

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This post is being written from SW19 where today Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer made history, beautifully.

Nadal and Federer - True Olympians

Nadal and Federer - True Olympians

It is four years until Wimbledon will be an Olympic venue, but today the most famous tennis club in the world played host to a such exhibition of sporting excellence that the Greek Gods themselves would have struggled to keep up. Rarely do two sporting greats meet in the ultimate arena, and both perform to their potential – but today they did. This summer in Beijing most anticipation will be on the clashes between Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles or the three-way of Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. If any of these confrontations prove to be half as dramatic as the men’s Wimbledon final of 2008, they will go down in Olympic history for it!

This year’s Wimbledon tournament means that there will be added interest in the tennis competition in Beijing. Added local interest will come thanks to the giant-slaying heroics of Zheng Jie, the women’s semi-finalist who defeated three seeds including new world number one Ana Ivanovic before coming up against Williams junior.

But the men’s tournament is likely to attract more international coverage than it might have previously thanks to events in south-west London today. In defeating reigning five-time champion on his favourite surface Rafael Nadal has leap-frogged Roger Federer in many people’s eyes (if not the official rankings, yet) to the position of world number 1. This remarkable feat was sealed in an even more remarkable match, which Nadal won 9-7 in the final set.

This signifies a tectonic shift in men’s tennis – not since 1981 has anyone won the French Open and Wimbledon back to back – and opens up speculation about who will go on to dominate the coming years of the sport. With only one Grand Slam left this year (US Open), and the end of season masters competition (also based in China, in Shanghai) the Beijing Olympics becomes one of the three most high profile events left of 2008. With the place at the top of the men’s tennis tree in more open contention than it has been for five years the Beijing Olympic tennis competition holds more significance than many people would have expected. Let’s just hope that we can expect the kind of final that these athletes produced today.

Olympic Gold - One of the Few Honours Federer is Yet to Win

Olympic Gold - One of the Few Honours Federer is Yet to Win

Both Federer and Nadal are very aware of sporting history, and so will both be among the top players to participate in Beijing. According to the BBC coverage 17 of the top 20 men and 18 of the top 20 women will play at the Olympics. Bob is aware than Andy Roddick will not participate, although this is not a boycott by any means, but a purely sporting decision. And of course the retirement of Justine Henin earlier this year means she will not be present.

Federer Lead the Swiss Olympic Team in 2004

Federer Lead the Swiss Olympic Team in 2004

In 2004 Federer was the flag bearer for the Swiss Olympic team, and he is hoping to fulfil this role again this year (via China Daily).

“It’s my birthday on the day of the opening ceremony, maybe I will carry the flag again for Switzerland. I’d be very honoured.”

On the subject of the Olympics Rafael Nadal to China Daily “The Olympics will be important”, and how right he was!

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