Bolt leaves future uncertain for athletics
Usain Bolt must surely be considered the greatest track athlete of all time. On Friday, he won his third gold of the Rio 2016 games, anchoring the Jamaican men’s sprint team in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the Olympic stadium. Jamaica finished in a time of 37.27 seconds, beating Japan into silver place and Canada in the bronze.
Bolt now possesses an unprecedented “triple-triple”. He has also won three golds at both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 games. Jamaicans have won five of the six sprint events in Rio. Only the relative failure of its women’s 100m relay team — which could only manage silver to the USA — prevented a clean sweep from the Caribbean islanders.
Athletics is a sport in thrall to the Bolt’s singular charisma and talent. While the run-up to track and field events in Rio had been overshadowed by revelations of state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes, Bolt has single-handedly lifted the gloom. At least for these games.
What comes next is unclear. At 29 years old, Bolt has likely run his last race at an Olympics and is still pondering whether to continue on to the world championships next year.
Athletics will be desperate for him to stay on as it tackles to deal with a doping crisis that threatens its integrity. The sport remains dogged by suspicion and controversy.
How it can retain its interest to global audiences when the champion hangs up his spikes is yet to be seen.
More firsts, more golds
After a stunning final at the Deodoro stadium, Great Britain won its first Olympic gold in women’s hockey by beating The Netherlands. The Dutch had dominated the match, the highlight being a wonder strike by their forward Kitty van Male. She sprinted around the British goalkeeper then reverse-hit a ferocious stroke into the roof of the goal, beating two British defenders on the line. Yet, by the end of the third quarter, Britain had somehow managed to stay no more than a goal behind. When the British women began to push forward in the final minutes, Nicola White forced home from close range from a penalty corner. Normal time ended with the score 3-3.
That left a shootout. Each player has move towards goal and score within eight seconds. The format suited woman of the match, goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, who shut out The Netherlands. Britain won the shootout 2-0. The match statistics showed Britain scored three goals from seven shots; the Dutch, three from 17. But winning medals is about taking your chances. Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh, who took the opportunity under the UK gay marriage laws to wed three years ago, become the first British spouses to win gold together since sailors Cyril and Dorothy Wright in 1920.
In the equestrian arena, Nick Skelton became the oldest British man to win an Olympic gold since 1912, winning the country’s first ever individual showjumping gold. The 58 -year-old Skelton, who rode on Big Star, cleared all the jumps in his two final rounds. Only Sweden’s Peder Fredricson was similarly flawless, but Skelton’s time of 42.82 seconds was over half a second faster. “To win this now, at my age, is amazing,” said Skelton in disbelief.
Lutalo Muhammad had dominated all opponents in making the final of the Taekwondo men’s welterweight class. But he was left with only silver, defeated by Cheick Sallah Cisse from Côte d’Ivoire, who scored with a decisive head kick in the final second. Muhammed’s arch-rival, Aaron Cook, formerly a British fighter who has since changed allegiance to Moldova, could only reach the round of 16.
A golden final weekend is in prospect. Joe Joyce, the art student turned boxer, guaranteed himself a medal. He defeated Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko in his semi final by unanimous decision in the men’s super heavyweight division.
Britain remain in second position in the overall medal table with 24 golds, two more than China.
One smash from glory
In the badminton men’s doubles finals, Tan Wee Kiong and Goh Shem were on the verge of sporting immortality in their home country of Malaysia. The pair were unseeded in the tournament and previously never made it past the quarter finals of the last three world championships. And yet, they were one good smash away from becoming Olympic champions.
In a tense final with the number four seeded Chinese team of Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan, the Malaysians had two match points. But they netted those chances, only for the Chinese duo to take the match in three sets: 16-21, 21-11, 23-21.
The result will have been a relief in China, its first badminton medal in Rio from a sport their players have dominated in the past. In London four years ago, Chinese athletes won all five available badminton titles. At these games, the likes of Indonesia and Japan had already broken that grip. China could have been guaranteed another gold in the men’s singles, if only two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan had made the final against fellow countryman Chen Long. Instead, Lin lost to Malaysia’s Chong Wei Lee in the semi final.
The end of China’s dominance in the sport was clear in the composition of the women’s singles final between Spain’s Carolina Marin and India’s Pusarla Venkata Sindhu. Marin was the number one seed and had not lost a set in coasting to the final. Sindhu provided a stiffer test. The Indian took the first set, before Marin stormed back to win 19-21, 21-12, 21-15. It was Spain’s sixth gold of an excellent games — far improved of the country’s showing of three golds at London 2012.
It appears India will fail to win a gold for the second games running. The last Indian to gain an Olympic title was Abhinav Bindra in the shooting Men’s 10m air rifle at Beijing 2008. Still, Sindhu’s silver was the best India have achieved in Rio and she was received rapturously by her nation’s fans when she stepped on to the podium.
Lochte faces disciplinary action
US swimmer Ryan Lochte may have apologised for lying about being held up at gunpoint in Rio by fake police but he is not off the hook yet.
The US Olympic Committee is considering disciplinary action against the gold medallist and three colleagues who were also involved in the fracas.
The International Olympic Committee, the governing body of the games, has also opened a disciplinary commission into the swimmers’ actions. The commission has the ability to strip medals from athletes, but it is unclear whether it would do so for events away from the pool.
To make matters worse, his rival Michael Phelps came out with warm words congratulating Brazilians on their hospitality and for a great games — the perfect guest and gentleman by contrast to Lochte.
Paralympics budget cuts
Concerns continue to swirl about the viability of the Paralympics next month. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced its games would take place, despite massive budget cuts by the Rio 2016 organising committee which were “not at the level they originally committed to.”
The Paralympics were in crisis after millions of euros in travel grants to help athletes attend the games had been delayed for about three weeks. On Thursday, Rio 2016 successfully appealed against a court injunction that had blocked emergency government funding to help fill gaps in the organising committee’s budget.
The travel grants will be paid, but as many as 10 countries may still struggle to get to Rio. Other budget cuts will be made to venues, workforce and transport. “Never before in the 56 year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this, “ said Sir Philip Craven, president of the IPC.
Bail rejected for Hickey
The Olympics are not over for Ireland’s Pat Hickey, Europe’s top Olympic official, who had an appeal for bail denied by a Brazilian judge. He was taken to a maximum-security prison in Rio, according to Reuters.
On Wednesday, Mr Hickey, who had been the head of Ireland’s Olympic committee since 1988, was arrested by local police in connection with an alleged ticket-touting scam. He was taken to hospital following the incident but has since been discharged and was brought into custody.
As a result of the accusations of illegal ticket sales, the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) said it would launch an independent investigation. Police also issued arrest warrants for three executives at a Dublin-based sports company linked to the alleged scheme. Mr Hickey, who has stepped down from his Olympic roles, has yet to comment.
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