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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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Today the British Olympic Team to compete in Beijing this summer was announced by the British Olympic Association. This news has been overshadowed somewhat by uncertaintly surrounding Dwain Chambers and Paula Radcliffe, but at this stage let’s just extend congratulations and lots of luck to the team. View the full team here.

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Dayron Robles World Record Breaker

Cuba’s Dayron Robles has toppled Liu Xiang’s 110m hurdles world record. The 21-year-old clocked 12.87 seconds, beating Liu’s time by just 0.01 seconds and smashing his own personal best. Liu was not racing.

Check out Robles’ reaction here:

Olympic favourite in more ways than one, Liu Xiang is not only expected to successfully defend his Olympic title, but is one of the most popular athletes in the host country. If the pressure from 1.3 billion people’s expectations was not great enough, Liu now has to contend with a new world record holder. Many Chinese hearts will be beating a little faster when they hear the news this Friday morning…

Liu Xiang Dayron Robles

Much has been said about the pressure Liu will face this year; seeing him win gold in the Bird’s Nest was number one in a poll of the Chinese public’s Olympic dreams. Comparisons have been drawn between Liu and more traditional Chinese heroes.

Despite having started his season well, Liu missed two races this week through disqualification and a slight injury. Meanwhile Robles could not have timed this form better, and will join Usain Bolt as a new favourite come August.

The main events in Beijing certainly look to be hotting up! Let’s hope the athletics can outshine the drugs rumours and protests after all!

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Dwain Chambers Olympic AppealIn the BBC Olympic blog Adrian Warner revealed on Friday that key figures in Athens “think Dwain Chambers has a good chance of winning his drugs appeal against the British Olympic Association and making it to the Beijing Games”.

Drugs is an issue that has come to overshadow track and field athletics (amongst other sports of course), and shows little sign of disappearing. On either side of the Atlantic there are high profile stories in the news at the moment; while in the US Antonio Pettigrew (gold medalist in men’s 4x400m in Sydney) has just admitted to using performance-enahncing drugs (let’s call them PEDs), in the UK Dwain Chambers’ quest to compete in Beijing is controversial news.

The situations, for those who don’t know:

  • Having completed at the highest level for many years, and won World Championship medals, in 2003 Chambers tested positive for the anabolic steroid THG
  • As punishment Chambers was banned for 2 years by UK Athletics, banned from representing Great Britain at the Olympics, and stripped of all medals won since 2002 (whilst using PEDs)
  • Having served the two year ban (and in the mean time tried his hand at American Football and Rugby League) Chambers is now competing again, and hopes to contest his life-time Olympic ban

Last week Chambers ran 100m in 10.26 at a competition in Greece, and thus qualified to compete at the British Olympic trials in Birmingham on 11 July. Should he run the qualifying time of 10.25 (distinctly likely judging by his speed in Greece) the only thing standing between Chambers and Beijing is the UK Athletics ban, which he plans to challenge in London’s High Court.

Dwain Chambers Rugby League

If Adrian Warner is to be believed there is a good chance that Chambers will be successful.

Dwain Chambers and Seb CoeThis situation has polarised opinion, with pretty much every British athlete (past or present) asked, backing the ban and emphasising the importance of a zero-tolerance approach to PEDs. On the other hand (according to Warner) even”the former head of the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) Dick Pound has often said that it’s hard to legally justify punishing an athlete for the same offence twice.”

Bob does have sympathy for Chambers, who has clearly been punished greatly for his mistake, and now believes that he could win an Olympic medal (though he might struggle to keep up with Usain Bolt). For any athlete, the frustration of not being able to prove themselves on the Olympic stage must be enormous – just look at what Oscar Pistorius has been going through. And his efforts to warn people away from making his mistakes should be applauded.

However, as the Olympics approach it looks only too likely that there may be more stories of athletes on PEDs beating athletes who have resisted the temptation to cheat. Will the presence of athletes like Chambers muddy these waters further…?

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Usain Bolt 100m World Record Holder

21 year old sprinter Usain Bolt has just broken the 100m world record, clocking 9.72 seconds at the New York Grand Prix meeting. What’s really impressive is that this was only the 5th time Bolt has competed in the 100m, because he is better over 200m!

Until footage of this race reaches youtube see Bolt here running the second fastest time in history (9.76) on 3rd May.

At 6ft 5in (1.96m) tall Bolt is a giant on the track – you can see him towering over the other sprinters in the video. As a result the rangy figure finds the start the hardest part of the race, and was apparently running 100m as a means of improving his start for his favoured distance, the 200m. Until now Bolt wasn’t even sure whether he would run the 100m in Beijing this summer. It seems as if he has not only taken the Athletics World by surprise with his times over 100m, but he has also surprised himself!

Interestingly Bolt regards the Olympics as a bigger prize than the world record (via BBC):

“You’ve got to be Olympic champion or world champion to really count.

“Tomorrow if someone comes and runs faster than me I’m no longer the fastest man in the world. If you’re the Olympic champion then they have to wait four more years to get you again.

“I think the Olympics is the biggest thing, so I’m looking for that, definitely.”

As an example of the extremely fine details that can make the difference at this elite level, Bolt recognised that a false start the first time they went to the blocks in New York helped him, as he had not got away very well. For one so tall this is a crucial element, and something Bolt has been working on a lot.

In Beijing Bolt’s biggest competition will probably come from Tyson Gay, the current World Champion and Asafa Powell, Bolt’s fellow Jamaican and the previous world record holder. In New York Gay also ran a personal best of 9.85, but still finished a relatively distant second to Bolt.

UPDATED

Here is the video of Usain Bolt’s world record breaking 100m

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