Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympics day 10: Fortunes rise and fall

6 Aug 2012 Monday

Day 10 of the London Olympics saw fortunes change for many of the athletes. Some saw their fortunes rise; others saw their fortunes fall. And so often in these highly competitive games, it's often the little things that made all the difference between winning a medal and falling off the podium.

19 year old Kirani James wins Grenada's first ever medal. And it's a gold he wins in the Men's 400m race. It is a great win for James, a great sportsman and humble athlete, who grew up poor in the tiny island nation of Grenada. At only 19 years old, he shows incredible potential to become even faster. Another teenager, 19 year old rookie Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic catches the silver. And Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago took the bronze. It is a stunning reversal of fortune for the United States, who has long dominated this event, to have no one even qualify for the race. Fortune has smiled upon the Caribbean nations this Olympics, as these tiny island nations are establishing themselves as titans in the sprinting events.

And Grenada isn't the only nation to win its first ever Olympic medal today. Pavlos Kontides claimed silver in the men's sailing laser class for his island nation of Cyprus. Tom Slingsby of Australia wins gold, and Sweden’s Rasmus Myrgren takes bronze in the Laser class Sailing event.

Over in track cycle, Britain's Jason Kenny wins gold in the track cycle sprint event, beating out world champion Gregory Bauge of France; Bauge had recently defeated Kenny at the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia back in April. It was a fantastic race win for Kenny, who outmaneuvered and out-biked Bauge, leaving Bauge the silver. Australia's Shane Perkins beat Njisane Nicholas Phillip of Trinidad to claim the bronze.

At Women's Pole Vault, American Jennifer Suhr improves on her Beijing silver in a surprise gold win, beating out two time Olympic defending champion and gold medal favorite, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who ends up in bronze. Isinbayeva had won gold in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Cuba's Yarisley Silva vaults her way to silver after rains made conditions difficult for the competitors to get any more height on their efforts.

In perhaps the most shocking reversal of the games, Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti of Brazil dethrones reigning and defending Olympic and World Champion Chen Yibing of China in Men's Rings in Artistic Gymnastics! Yibing, aka "Lord of the Rings", had long dominated the rings event. Before he got on the rings, Yibing raised his index finger to the crowd, indicating his number one standing. And when he finished his difficult routine and landed, he winked at the crowd, kissed the rings apparatus, and raised his index finger again, so sure that he had won the event. The only other gymnast left, was Zanetti, who was second to Yibing in the 2011 World Championships. But Zanetti overcomes Yibing by a very narrow margin, winning the gold and giving Brazil it's first ever gymnastics Olympic medal!

It is a shock to the Chinese, but a good omen for the Brazilians for Rio 2016. But Yibing showed good sportsmanship and congratulated Zanetti. Italy's Matteo Morandi won bronze.

On a side note, it was a farewell performance for Bulgarian gymnast Iordan Iovtchev, who retires at 39, after 6 Olympics appearances, a record for any gymnast. In Rings and Floor events, he's won two bronzes at Sydney 2000 and a silver and bronze at Athens 2004, along with numerous world championships. It is a testament to the strength, skills, and spirit of this great athlete to have earned the right to compete against other gymnasts who are far younger. Truly, a well respected icon in the gymnastics world, he was cheered on by the crowd and athletes who gave him a standing ovation for his last performance, competing on the world stage.

Meanwhile, on the women's side, Great Britain's Beth Tweddle finally wins an Olympic medal in her third and final Olympics. The most decorated British gymnast, she has won numerous world championships in uneven bars and floor. Her bronze win makes her the first British woman to win an Olympics individual event in gymnastics, a wonderful way to wind down a great career. And it's a comeback for Russia's Aliya Mustafina, former 2010 all around world champion, who recovered from a serious 2011 knee injury and fought her way to a spot at the London Olympics. She wins gold in the uneven bars, while Beijing 2008 champion He Kexin of China settles for silver.

But the best gymnastics performance of the night belonged to Hak Seon Yang in the Men's Vault in gymnastics. He delivers two powerful performances to win South Korea's first gold medal in a gymnastics event. He proved why he was the reigning world champion of the event. Though he took two steps in his first landing, that first vault was the most difficult, with a starting value that was way higher than his competitors. And when he executed that second vault, he shot to the stratosphere and made a solid landing that left his competitors and everyone with mouths and eyes wide open! Unbelievable! That second vault made him a god among mere mortals who were left to fight over silver and bronze.

Igor Radivilov of Ukraine gets bronze. But it's the silver medalist, Russian Denis Ablyazin, who has really caught my attention. He's all ready won bronze on the Floor Exercise and was in 5th place in the Rings event; add his silver in the vault event, and he has shown amazing potential to be an all around and events champion. I see this guy getting better and better.

And it's a rise in fortune for American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who win gold in Men's Doubles in Tennis. This completes the career Golden Slam in Mens Doubles for the Bryan Brothers, having won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and now an Olympic Gold Medal. They beat out the French team of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who are left with silver. The other French team of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet take bronze.

In a stunning upshot of fortune, Belarus' Nadzeya Ostapchuk stuns the world by winning Women's shot put. Defending Beijing and 2011 world champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand takes silver. Russia's Evgeniia Kolodko set a personal best to win the bronze.

Over at the equestrian events, it is a great day for Britain, who wins its first gold in the Equestrian Show Jumping event since 1952 in Helsinki, Finland 60 years! And the last time Britain won any medal of any color in the event was in 1984, a silver 28 years ago. It was an incredible reversal of fortune, because two of the British riders, Nick Skelton, 54, and Peter Charles, 52, survived dangerous, life altering falls that would have ended the careers (and lives) of many people. In the preparations for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Skelton fell off his horse and broke his neck in two places. He was forced to retire and spent five months with his upper spine immobilized, told by doctors another fall would most likely be fatal. But a consultation with a German specialist allowed Skelton to heal and return to competition in 2002. Peter Charles, who competed for Ireland in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, broke his back and three ribs in a horrible fall during a show in 2006. Charles would spend several months in recovery, before returning to the sport and going on to represent Britain. It is an amazing come back story for this British team to ride to Olympic gold glory, having to go head to head with Netherlands in the closely contested event, seizing the moment and narrowly wins the lead.

It was a glorious and spectacular showing from the British riders. Hats off to their horses for doing a magnificent job. Netherlands gets silver, and Saudi Arabia, the bronze.

But the most thrilling and stunning reversal of fortunes belong to the highly contested, emotionally charged, and hard hitting semifinal game between the US and Canada in Women's Soccer. It was an unexpectedly close, exciting, and heart wrenching game! And it all started the day before with the Canadian team's English coach talking smack about the US team using "illegal tactics". How ironic that the coach would try to bring attention to the physicality and hard style of the US team, when Canada itself is one of the roughest and most physical teams in the games. And that Canadian roughness showed, leading to several mistakes that allowed the US to win.

But it wasn't an easy game. From the very beginning, Canada was aggressive; they didn't just come here to play; they came to win! And they took the early lead in scoring, when Canada's Christine Sinclair, one of the most underrated talented players in the world, successfully lands a goal past American goalie, Hope Solo. Three times, Canada took the lead. Three times, Canada would've won the game, were it not for the amazing ability of the US team to capitalize on the mistakes the Canadian defenders made. And it was those tiny mistakes that made all the difference, allowing the US to score multiple times, taking advantage of free shots and penalties to tie the game and run it into extra time! Back and forth, the two teams traded the ball, coming so tantalizingly close to scoring and ending the game. And soon, it became a war of attrition, as the two teams, having played their hearts out, were pushed to the very limits by sheer will power and the impending sense of do or die.

Time was running out, and it looked like the winner would have to be decided by penalty kicks. But at the very last few minutes of the game, it was a surprise header by US' Alex Morgan that dramatically snatched victory for the US team! Oh, the joy! Oh, the pain! My heart breaks for the stunned Canadian team. Oh, what a glorious game, perhaps the most highly contested and thrilling game in Women's Soccer history! Hats off to the Canadians for putting up such an amazing and unexpected, outstanding performance. And for the gold medal event, it will be a rematch of the US vs Japan just as in the World Cup, where Japan won due to penalty kicks. The US Team has truly earned their spot to avenge their loss and go for gold, and I can't wait to watch the battle go down!

And as exciting and dramatic the Canada vs US soccer game was, the most moving and heartfelt reversal of fortune belonged to Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic; he comes back to recapture Olympic gold in the 400m hurdles, 8 years after winning the event back in Athens 2004. At 34 years old, he is the oldest athlete to win title. Michael Tinsley of the US is left with silver; and Javier Culson wins bronze, giving Puerto Rico its first track and field medal ever, and the first medal of the games.

During the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Felix Sanchez was told on the morning of his first day of racing that his grandmother, the woman who raised him, had died. He fell apart at the news and failed to qualify in the race. He was very emotional that day, crying and mourning the loss of his grandmother. And when he was done mourning, he promised himself that he would win a medal for her. For four years, he dedicated himself to training hard, even as many told him that he ought to retire, he was too old for the game. But Felix Sanchez persevered and earned his spot to compete at the London Olympics.

Under his race number bib was a picture of him and his grandmother. On his shoes was written "Abuela", Spanish for grandmother. By winning his race, he silenced the naysayers and the critics; he delivered on his promise to win a medal for his grandmother. And though he tried to keep it together on the medal podium, he became overwhelmed with emotion and began sobbing, tears fell from his eyes as he thought of his grandmother and what it meant to win this race for her. The crowd cheered in support of Felix Sanchez, and it began to rain on him. He had worked so hard to get here, to do his best to honor his grandmother. When asked later how he felt, Felix Sanchez answered that he felt that his grandmother was there; the rain were her tears of joy, and she was proud of him.

Sometimes in life, our fortunes change. Sometimes for the better; sometimes for worse. It's easy when things are good; it's more challenging when things are not. It's important to remember that when life knocks us down, it's crucial that we get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. You're never going to get to the places you want to be if you stand in the same place.


  1. The Canada/US matchup was the most exciting soccer game I have seen.

    The Canadians certainly came in with a physical game plan with lots of close contact. About 3/4 way through regulation time, the Canadians began to look winded at the game's pace. In OT, the US seemed to shift into a side-to-side running game and that weakened the Canadians rapidly.

    I hope Canada wins the bronze.

  2. lx, That was a great game! Probably the best I've ever seen in recent memory. There was much screaming and yelling and clenched fists here at my place.

    I certainly will root hard for the Canadians to win that bronze.