by Liz Walter
And they’re off! From athletics to equestrianism, sailing to cycling, boxing to swimming, the drama unfolds as records are smashed, medals are awarded, and over 10,000 of the world’s greatest athletes push themselves to feats unimaginable to ordinary mortals.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of all was the men’s 100m race – who would be the fastest man in the world? The crowded stadium fell silent to watch the thrilling race. Relatively slow out of the blocks, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt powered through the field and demolished his rivals to set a new Olympic record and confirm his place as the greatest sprinter in history.
Many events begin with heats, where only a certain number of competitors make it through to the finals. Racers must be careful not to set off too quickly – since 2009, a false start has meant instant disqualification. There are also many other ways to be disqualified – Canadian showjumper Tiffany Foster, for example, was heartbroken when her horse failed a ‘sensitivity test’. This procedure is designed to catch riders who deliberately sensitize their horses’ legs, often by rubbing a chilli-based substance into them, in order to encourage them to avoid hitting fences.
Controversy engulfed the badminton courts, as several players were thrown out for deliberately trying to lose their matches in order to avoid playing against strong opponents in the knock-out stages. Meanwhile, the prize for the worst excuse for disqualification must go to the US judoka (judo competitor), who, after testing positive for a banned substance, said his downfall was due to ‘… my inadvertent consumption of food that I did not realise had been baked with marijuana.’
For the British, 2012 has been the year of cycling, as Bradley Wiggins followed his historic Tour de France victory with Olympic gold in the time trials and Sir Chris Hoy picked up a record-breaking sixth gold in the velodrome. Receiving his medal on the winners’ podium, he struggled to hold back tears of joy. Along the way, those of us who weren’t previously fans of the sport have begun to learn a whole new vocabulary: Sir Chris’ final medal, for example, was won in the keirin, a strange event where the cyclists follow a motorcycle pacesetter for the first part of the race before sprinting to the finish. Meanwhile, fellow Brit Laura Trott won the women’s omnium, in which athletes compete in six different disciplines.
For the US, rivalry between two of their top swimmers, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, has generated much excitement. In the 400m individual medley, a race consisting of four different swimming styles, Lochte triumphed, and Phelps was pushed into fourth place. This was the first time he had failed to medal in an Olympic event since 2000. However, roles were reversed in the 200m medley, when Phelps won an incredible third consecutive gold, contributing to his position as the most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 22 medals, 18 of them gold.
As the closing ceremony approaches, Britain as the host nation is congratulating itself on a successful Games. Worries about security, transport and a host of other issues have so far proved unfounded, and the image of the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond will surely be an enduring memory for many. Now we can think about the legacy of the Games, and hope that many young people will be inspired to follow their dreams of future Olympic glory.