Thursday 21 August 2008

Day 13: Relaying bad news

It's day 13 of the Olympics, so I'm starting to notice the little signs that things in Beijing are winding down. The commentary team have started to swear more often, Sue Barker has stopped shaving her legs, and the 4 x 100 metre relay heats have started.

The relay is an interesting event inasmuch as a well-drilled team will, more often than not, defeat the outright fastest team. Great Britain's men are the reigning Olympic champions, as to bear this theory out. This year's relay semi-finals, however, proved a step too far for their successors, a baton mishap on the last changeover leading to disqualification. They were not alone, though.

Team USA have had a fairly torrid time down t'mill this Olympics track and field program. As I write this, the medal table shows that the US are in second place with 27 gold medals, with Team GB third with 17. Had Michael Phelps been born in Rutland, however, it would be a very different situation. The United States team hasn't had a particularly stellar Olympics by their lofty standards. Nowhere is this felt more than in the athletics stadium, normally their own personal fiefdom. In Beijing, though, their sprinters have been put to the sword by their Caribbean counterparts, and other athletes have started to look pretty vulnerable from all sides. In terms of numbers, the US leads the medal table with 15, but with only three of these are golds, leaving them trailing Jamaica and Russia. Getting it together in the relay would provide a welcome boost for their athletic team's flagging morale*.

This is not how it turned out. Both men's and women's teams bungled their final changeover, neither team making the finish. All signs pointed to the fact it wasn't going to be their day even before the gun. In a soggy Birds Nest Stadium, the organisers hadn't got any "USA" labels printed for the athletes to pin onto their chests. The team, already up against it rather, could not have been particularly enthused to see their teammates each wearing a bit of A4 paper with USA handwritten on it in magic marker. I had wondered if, in keeping with this school sports day vibe, they would be given an egg and spoon instead of a baton. No such luck, there, either.

It was a mixed blessing, that, as the baton system didn't work out very well for them anyway. Maybe the problem is that a hollow metal tube doesn't quite inspire the sort of reverence and respect which the event demands. After all, it's all in the baton. It's the baton that has to be carried round, the runners are merely couriers. My suggestion is that instead of a baton, each country is made to ferry around a gleaming but fragile bowl of all of their nation's hopes and dreams for the future. Or a big dildo. Something to focus the mind on the changeovers.

If I were coaching a relay team, I'd suggest that the baton be passed between teammates in a stationary fashion, possibly accompanied by a warm handshake and some pleasantries. I reckon that, with the rich seam of slapstick comedy bound to be breaking out all around them, they would still be a good bet for a medal.

* since I started writing this, the USA has just won its 28th gold, and it's 4th on the track, just to prove me to be an idiot.

Today's sport

Today, I've been getting excitable about FIELD EVENTS. The two big British hopes that the BBC have been following today are Goldie Sayers in the women's javelin, the first British Olympian to be named after a Blue Peter dog since the great marathon runner Shep Harris in 1976; and triple-jumper Phillips Idowu, who I think was named after a video recorder. Sayers broke the British record in a bold and largely unexpected tilt at a medal, finishing down in 4th place. The surprise winner, ahead of the German and Russian favourites, was the Czech thrower Barbora Spotakova having the sort of day you normally only read about on the back of cereal packets. Having previously only ever thrown a pencil into a ditch, Spotakova hurled her javelin over 70 metres, the second-longest throw in history, to secure the gold. I think she was as surprised as anyone else. It was a reminder that it's always a highlight of any Olympics, when an unfancied competitor has the day of their life.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, Idowu sits in second place in the triple jump final. The soggy sandpit must be like holding the horizontal jump finals in Filey, which can only help the two British competitors. The fact that Idowu is the favourite, however, is likely to prove nothing but a hindrance on a day in the stadium where history has decided to play its jokers.

Cheating bastards update

In an unusual twist, four horses - all from different countries - have been caught cheating. Their horse blood at a routine horse blood test showed traces of Capsaicin, which as any curry fan can tell you is the thing in chilli peppers that makes them hot. I can only assume unscrupulous competitors from Ireland, Brazil, Norway and Germany have got a Tabasco saucy finger and stuck it right up their horse's arse to make them run faster. I knew that doping was an ongoing problem in sport, but I had no idea it could spread to injecting a horse with Chicken Tonight.


Liudmyla Blonska spotted eating three Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodles before Heptathlon 1500 metres. More as we get it.

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