4 Aug 2012 Saturday
It has been an amazing day 8 of the London Olympics as many athletes strive for glory and gold.
First up, Canada wins its first gold medal of the London Olympics in the Women's Artistic Gymnastics Trampoline event. Rosannagh MacLennan soared to the heavens and left China's favorites Huang Shanshan the silver and defending Beijing Olympics champion He Wenna the bronze. The powerhouse Chinese team stumbled in there routines, but it was a perfect performance from MacLennan; fellow Canadian Karen Cockburn loses the bronze by just less than 0.1 points!
And over in Women's Single Tennis, US' Serena Williams crushes Russia's Maria Sharapova to win gold! It was an amazing performance from Williams, fresh off her Wimbledon win. Williams was unstoppable and Sharapova just wasn't able to put up a good defense from all the great serves that won Williams the round. Belarus' Victoria Azarenka gets bronze.
And the theme of strong women continue as Britain continues its dominance of the cycling events. The British women's pursuit team seized the gold with a new world record of 3 minutes 14.051 seconds. The US is left with silver and Canada narrowly fends off Australia for the bronze.
Meanwhile, American Jamie Lynn Gray outshot her competitiors to win the gold in the Women's 50m three position rifle shooting, setting two Olympic records along the way. Serbia's Ivana Maksimovic settles for silver, and Czech Republic's Adela Sykorova shoots her way to bronze. It's a redeeming moment for Gray, who was poised for bronze in Beijing, but a last shot error cost her a spot on the podium. This time around, after four years of preparation and learning from her mistakes, she takes the top spot.
And over in Women's Trap Shooting, Italian policewoman, Jessica Rossi, sets world and Olympic records on her way to gold. Slovakia's Zuzana Stefecekova takes silver, and Delphine Reau of France blasts her way to bronze in shootout to decide who would take silver and bronze.
At the final swimming events, the fastest woman in the swimming world is Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands, who sprints to gold in Women's 50m Freestyle event! Belarus' Aliaksandra Herasimenia claims the silver, just as she did in the 100m Freestyle event that Kromowidjojo also won. Marleen Veldhuis, another Dutch, takes the bronze.
And it's a final gold (18th overall) for Michael Phelps, who was part of the American team including Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen, and Nathan Adrian in the Men's 4x100m medley relay. Japan's Takuro Fujii, Takeshi Matsuda, Kosuke Kitajima and Ryosuke Irie swim their way to silver. And Australia's Matt Targett, Christian Sprenge, Hayden Stoeckel and Matt Targett catch the bronze.
In Men's 94kg weightlifting event, Kazakhstan's Ilya Ilyin breaks the world record twice and successfully defends his Beijing title to win gold. What's more impressive is that he made it look so easy. No other competitor came close to nailing all 6 lifts perfectly. Alexandr Ivanov of Russia lifts himself to silver, and Anatoli Ciricu of Moldova claims the bronze. The excited and happy Ilya Ilyin told of his future plans to learn English and strengthen his innerself, to match his mental strength with his physical strength. He spoke of how he loved his work; he loved his life; and he loved his training and representing his country. His secret to success? A Kazakh delicacy: horsemeat.
Speaking of horses, what a disappointment for Beezie Madden, USA's hope for a medal in the Individual Show Jumping Equestrian event. Beezie Madden won a bronze in the event at Beijing 2008. Unfortunately for Madden, her hopes of an individual London Olympics medal were dashed when her horse, Via Volo refused to jump! Not once, but twice! Madden thinks her horse, having not competed in a lot of shows recently, became a bit nervous with the whole place. That's understandable. The nervous horse probably needs a vacation to calm those nerves. I hear Kazakhstan is lovely this time of year!
The horse says: Olympics medal denied!
And over in track and field, it's a repeat gold for the fastest woman in the world! In a foto finish to determine the winner, it is Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who once again takes the gold in the Women's 100m race. USA's Carmelita Jeter takes silver, and another Jamaican and Olympics veteran, Veronica Campbell-Brown, takes bronze.
Over at Women's Discus Throw, Croatia's Sandra Perkovic powers her way to gold. Russia's Darya Pishchalnikova lands the silver, and China's Li Yanfeng takes the bronze.
But it's a field of gold for Great Britain today! It began with poster girl, Jessica Ennis winning the heptathlon, delivering the British their first gold of the track and field events for these games! Long been the face of London's best hope for gold in track and field, Ennis delivers a winning performance, capped off by a victory first place finish in the 800m race, the final portion of the heptathlon.
And the gold keeps rolling in for the Brits as Greg Rutherford pulls off a stunning surprise win in the long jump! Greg Rutherford wasn't even considered a medal fave in the event, and at the start, his fellow countryman , Chris Tomlinson led the event. But the redhead leapt his way past a field of champion level competitors and landed on gold! Australia's Mitchell Watt earns silver and USA's Will Claye settles for bronze.
But the best was saved for last, as Somali born Mo Farah wins Britain's first ever gold in the 10000m. His training partner, American Galen Rupp followed with the silver. It's a 1, 2 winning punch for American coach Alberto Salazar, who trains Farah and Rupp in Oregon. The Ethiopians, who've long dominated the sport, settle for bronze, for Tariku Bekele, whose brother, defending champion Kenenisa finished fourth. Mo Farah moved to Great Britain when he was 8 years old. When asked by a reporter if it would have meant more if Farah had been representing his country of birth, Farah passionately responded, "Not at all mate," as he goes on to state that Britain was his country; it's where he grew up; where he went to school; where he started and lived his life; he's a proud Brit!
And there were so many moments to be proud of this London Olympics so far. Let us remember that this is the first Olympics ever, where all the countries have sent both male and female athletes.
As in the case of Saudi Arabia, the country finally caved in to the International Olympic Committee and sent two female athletes to these games. Sarah Attar will run in the 800m competition. And 16 year old Wojdan Shaherkani who lost within 2 minutes in the women's heavyweight judo match against Pueto Rico's Melissa Mojica, who is ranked 24th in the world. It wasn't even a contest.
Shaherkani has only been practicing the sport for two years; she was never expected to stand a chance at all at these games. She is woefully under-qualified. But what she accomplished has made her a true Olympic hero. You see, in her country, women aren't allowed to drive; women can't work, marry, divorce, or even travel outside the country without a male relative's permission. In her own country, the tv station refused to air her match, and the media is aflame with those calling her a prostitute of the Olympics. Her very neighbors whispered that she should be ashamed. She didn't even know she was going to the Olympics until a few days before the opening ceremony! The Saudi government never intended to send a strong woman to compete. In fact, they demanded she wear her hijab during the competition, causing a controversy, due to safety concerns, that almost kept her from competing.
When she finally appeared to compete wearing a modified hijab, the world was stunned by the appearance of a frightened teenage girl. It was obvious this was her first competition ever; she did not know where to stand and didn't want to fight, backing off and making halfhearted swipes at her opponent. With a look of kindness, Melissa Mojica grabbed the frightened teen, threw her over, quickly ending the match and ordeal.
Though she lost in two minutes and was led off the floor in tears, those tears were tears of joy, because she had accomplished an amazing feat. She was the first woman from her country to compete on an international level, and in the process, she has changed the course of centuries of Saudi history. This Olympics also marks the first time Brunei and Qatar have sent female athletes. Though she was beaten, Shaherkani can hold her head high, for being the first, for being the bravest, to take those steps to change the position of women in her country. When reporters asked Melissa Mojica if she felt sorry for the Saudi teen, Mojica said it best when she answered, "I did not feel pity for her. I felt a lot of respect."
And in some ways, respect means a lot more than gold, more than setting records, or winning first place, or any place on that podium. Respect is earned and it inspires hope and courage. That's what Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka discovered, when he finished dead last in his race, men's singles scull. But the crowd gave him a thunderous reception, cheering him as if he had won the race. They know his story: He represents a landlocked country bordering the Sahara, who was given a wild card entry to compete. He is a gardner and a pool attendant, who only started training 3 months ago, using an old fishing boat to learn how to row when he was sent by Niger to train in Egypt and Tunisia. He had no technique, lacked the power and experience of his competitors, and it all showed. But what also showed and the crowd appreciated was his heart. Though he finished last and took the longest to cross the finish line, he gave it his all, and the crowd responded well to that. Sometimes, it's not the medal of the champion we cheer for; sometimes, it's the heart of the champion we celebrate above all.
And we come at last to my favorite champions of these games. And no, chances are he will not will a medal at these games. But by being here and qualifying to compete against the very best, Oscar Pistorious has made Olympics history. He becomes the first amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics.
Known as "Blade Runner" and the "fasted man on no legs", it has been a long and difficult road for Pistorious to make these games. Due to an illness as a baby, his legs were amputated below the knees. But that did not keep the athlete from participating in sports and growing up to be a world class sprinter for South Africa. As he started competing in international level events and making good time, controversy was started as some claimed that he had an unfair advantage due to his prosthetic legs! Even the international governing board for track and field (IAAF) purposely wrote an amendment in their rules to ban athletes like Pistorious from competing, all based on faulty, incomplete, short sighted findings by their scientists! It would take an appeal, backed by advice from US experts, for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to rule in Pistorious' favor, ending the IAAF discrimination and allowing Pistorious to compete.
Oscar Pistorious qualified in the heats of the 400m race, qualifying for the semifinals the next day. And no, chances are, he will not qualify to make the final 400m race. But what he has accomplished today puts his accomplishment in the stratosphere of sports legends. He has managed to overcome incredible odds and climbed to the heights of world class skills that many able bodied athletes aspire to reach. His sporting philosophy is: "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have." Oscar Pistorious will compete to defend his titles in the Paralympics, and I will be cheering him on.