London 2012: Olympics blessed by the ‘greatest’ athletics meet
The great Michael Johnson described it as the best athletics championship he had witnessed, and how can any of us argue.
Whether it was a run, jump, throw, hurl, hurdle, steeple, vault or put, this was sport at its absolute finest, played out in front of arguably the most educated and enthralled crowd the Olympics have seen.
I was among the throng that gathered regularly for the athletics in Sydney’s 2000 Games, including the great nights when Cathy, Jumping Jai & Tatiana Grigorieva lit up the Olympic Stadium, but that was largely a parochial crowd, not totally versed in the intricacies of the various disciplines that make up an athletics meet.
In London, you sensed the crowd knew their athletics, roaring on their Great Brits but equally understanding and marveling at the feats of the international stars in their midst.
Little doubt the noise and support from the crowd, whether in the morning qualifying sessions or night finals, packed at both, spurred on the athletes, who reciprocated the goodwill with some outstanding performances.
Whether it was Usain Bolt sprinting into all-time territory and playing up in front of the crowd and cameras (even playing with a camera after the 200m), Tirunesh Dibaba lighting it up in the 10,000m on the opening night, David Rudisha spectacularly breaking the world record in the 800m or Mo Farah flying home to huge roars in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, this was an Olympics where legends were confirmed and created.
There was barely a disappointment or choke to be seen. Only athletes stepping up, responding to the crowd, handling the pressure.
Australia might judge an Olympics by its achievements in the pool, but it’s on the track & in the field where it really matters, where the world gathers.
How fitting then that the track witnessed one of its finest meets in London, the city where the world meets.
While much was written and said about Sydney’s games being the greatest ever, as far as performances go it would be hard to top what London dished up, particularly on the track.
Right from the opening night, from Dibaba, to the closing night, from Farah’s 5000m to the Jamaican world record in the mens 4 x 100m relay, this was a meet of the highest quality, sprinkled with world and Olympic records, maintaining lofty standards throughout.
The golden night, at least for the home crowd, came on what became known as Super Saturday, when Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, Farah the 10,000m and Greg Rutherford leaped to victory in the long jump, proving too strong for Australia’s Mitchell Watt.
Great Britain, with its cyclists also scorching on the velodrome and Brad Wiggins doing his bit on the road, was rocking, and after a fairly subdued opening week at the pool, the Olympics really kicked into gear.
The next night was Bolt’s, confirming his legend after Beijing and casting aside any doubt that the order had shifted to his training mate Yohan Blake, the Beast.
The semi finals and final of the 100m showed-off the current quality in world sprinting, with seven of the finalists qualifying with a time under 10 seconds. Flying.
When Bolt beat Blake again in the 200m a few days later, finishing with a time of 19.32, he joined the greats like Johnson, who had run an identical time to win the 200m at Atlanta. Symmetry.
Johnson will have not only marveled at the feats of Bolt, but would have been delighted by the emergence of a new breed in his pet event, the 400m.
Emerging at the World Championships last year in Daegu, Grenada’s 19 yo Kirani James confirmed his talent with an emphatic win, handling himself with class throughout. Never mind his unconventional running style, the boy has speed and endurance.
James’ win sets up a great new rivalry in the 400m with the second place-getter, 18 year old Dominican Luguelin Santos.
The 400m is certainly one to watch, particular when you factor in that our own youngster, 19 yo Steve Solomon, could be right in the mix in the coming years.
Running three times quicker than his previous PB, including one under 45 seconds in the semi, Solomon evoked memories of Darren Clarke from Seoul in 1988.
Here’s hoping Solomon can run on over the coming years and push Clarke’s national record of 44.38.
Perhaps, in four or eight years time we might be talking about Solomon in the same way we now speak of Sally Pearson, who responded emphatically to a defeat by American Kelli Wells in the Diamond League a few weeks ago.
Pearson was all business here, a study in focus and belief, never allowing herself to get swept up in the circus of attention. The swimmers could learn much from the manner Pearson went about her job.
Breaking the Olympic record in the final, this was a culmination of years of hard work, and Pearson deserves any financial reward that now comes her way.
But Pearson is a true athlete, not satisfied with her achievements so far, and you sense she will keep a level head and keep pushing her PB, perhaps until she hits a world record.
Elsewhere, it was a mixed bag for the Australians, on track and field, but you expect no less when the world meets for such a competitive sport.
Only investment in sport can help bridge this gap, but that’s a story for another day.
For now it’s about us marveling at the achievements of a great meet, including those from the likes of Felix Sanchez & Meseret Defar, who bounced back eight years after winning at Athens.
Or the storming finishing from Ramon Miller of the Bahamas to over-come America’s Angelo Taylor on the final leg of the 4 x 400m.
Another feel-good moment came when the smooth-moving Allyson Felix finally won Olympic 200m gold after claiming silver in Athens & Beijing. To prove how adaptable a sprinter she is, Felix then took out relay gold in both the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m, some collection, some talent.
There were many beautifully moments, including the now-signature fade away finish of Ezekiel Kemboi in the 3000m steeplechase and the celebration from German discuss thrower Robert Harting, but few will top the symbolic moment when James went to South Africa’s prosthetic leg runner Oscar Pistorius after a heat of the 400m and asked to swap bibs.
It summed up the spirit of sportsmanship that pervaded at the London games, and not only on the track.
This spirit of camaraderie was particularly evident on the field, in the qualifying for both the mens pole vault and women’s high jump, when the competitors got together and implored the officials to allow more than the regulation 12 through to the final.
The fact the officials listened and ultimately relented said much about the spirit of London 2012.
This was meet filled with smiles and tears of joy rather than despair.
It was a spirit that came flowing through our boxes thanks to some wonderful images and sterling work from the commentary team, with the indefatigable Peter Donegan putting in a marathon shift, supported by an excellent expert cast including Jane Fleming, David Culbert, Daley Thompson, Steve Ovett and Melinda Gainsford-Taylor.
Their work put most of the other parochial Australian commentators at the Games to shame, apart, of course, from the expert basketball work from Jon Casey and Andrew Gaze.
It was no coincidence that these voices represented sports that can be considered truly international, voice that realise that Australia, in the grand scheme of things, is just another player on a world stage.
Particularly in the early going, with voices like Rebecca Wilson and Alan Jones accusing all and sundry of doping, without an inch of evidence, the games looked like something resembling a small-town swimming meet from the 1950s.
But fortunately the manipulative voices were soon shouted down by common sense, and the games were rescued by its blue ribbon sport, with the athletes and the watching masses in London putting on a show that will live long in the memory.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
- 2012 London Olympics