The highs and lows

Love over gold… China’s double gold medallist Ye Shiwen celebrates after winning the women’s 200m individual medley. Her performance marked a major break-through for China in swimming.-AP

Like every other Olympic Games, London 2012 had its upside and downside. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

American swimmer Michael Phelps topped the individual medals table for the third Olympics on the trot, claiming four gold and two silver, but it was Jamaican Usain Bolt who topped the popularity chart with three gold medals on the track and a world record to boot.

Phelps, aged 27, topped the all-time medals list with 18 gold, two silver and two bronze in his fourth Olympics. The 26-time World champion competed in seven events in the London Olympics and failed to win a medal only in one. It was only the second time that he missed a medal since his debut in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he had finished fifth in the 200m butterfly.

It will take some time before anyone can even dream of beating Phelps’ massive haul.

Meanwhile Bolt has said that he might not be ready to compete against the younger lot such as Yohan Blake in the next Olympics in Rio and add to his six gold medals and four world records set in the Games.

Phelps and Bolt were the high points of the London Olympics, as much as the United States roaring back to the top of the table with 104 medals including 46 gold. By dominating in swimming and athletics, the US collected 25 gold medals. The 17-year-old American swimmer, Missy Franklin (four gold medals), matched Phelps for the substantial gold haul and provided a hint of her bright future.

Allyson Felix came out of the shadows of the stars to win three gold medals, including the 200m gold and the sprint relay with a world record.

The US also won gold medals in tennis (3), shooting (3), artistic gymnastics (3) and wrestling (2) before winding up the show by winning both the men’s and women’s titles in basketball. The US men’s team was served well by some of the biggest names in the sport such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durrant.

The Chinese, understandably, were not as sharp as they were when they hosted the Beijing Olympics. Then there was so much of national pride at stake.

China, which had won 51 gold medals in Beijing in 2008, could claim only 38 gold medals this time. Most if its gold came from diving (6), badminton (5), swimming (5), weightlifting (5), artistic gymnastics (4) and table tennis (4).

China’s breakthrough in swimming, particularly the double gold by Ye Shiwen, aged 16, could be an indicator of the future.

Athletics, however, continued to be the Achilles heel of China. And quite symbolically, the former Olympic champion, Liu Xiang, hurt his Achilles tendon in the first heats and retired after crashing into the first hurdle.

The evergreen diver Wu Minxia won two gold medals to add to the two she had won in Athens and Beijing.

Britain rose to the third place, ahead of Russia, to finish the Games with 29 gold medals. In Beijing, it had won only 19.

Mo Farah was brilliant, winning the gold in the 5000m and 10,000m as Britain claimed four gold medals in athletics.

The 36-year-old cycling legend, Chris Hoy, won two more gold medals to take his tally to six in the Olympics as Britain dominated the sport, winning nine gold medals. Britain’s other gold medals came mostly from rowing (4), equestrian (3) and boxing (3). Of course, Andy Murray winning the tennis gold after outplaying Roger Federer in the final at Wimbledon was one of the high points for Britain in the Olympics.

The Jamaican domination in athletics continued, as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce successfully defended her women’s 100m gold. In the 200m, she won the silver.

World champion Blake won the silver behind Bolt in the 100m and 200m apart from playing a key role in the sprint relay world record of 36.84.

Kenya slipped quite a bit but David Rudisha won the 800m with a world record 1:40.91 while Ezekiel Kemboi accounted for the other gold in the 3000m steeplechase. Australia suffered a big setback with only seven gold medals, but Sally Pearson stole the hearts with her dominant run in the 100m hurdles.

Stephen Kiprotich, a pace setter once, thrived on the pace of the Kenyans to shock them in the marathon and won Uganda’s second athletics gold in the Olympics, 40 years after John Aki-Bua had won the 400m hurdles in Munich. Similarly, Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago sprang a big surprise in the men’s javelin.

Just as he did in Athens in 2004, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic clocked 47.63s in the 400m hurdles to win his second Olympic gold.

China did dominate badminton, but in a shocking incident four women’s doubles teams, including the top-seeded Chinese, were scratched from the competition for not playing to their best in their final league matches. The teams did so as defeats would ensure them a better match-up in the knockout phase.

It was a tribute to the knowledgeable spectators at the Wembley Arena as they booed the teams and forced the officials to take disciplinary action.

The spectators also booed when one of the track officials forced Bolt to part with the baton after Jamaica set the world record in the sprint relay. The official even threatened to disqualify the team! Bolt, however, got the baton back as a souvenir, but the incident had left a bad taste as the officials ‘stuck to the rules’.

The officials quoted rules on another occasion too when they asked Bolt to come with the line while entering the stadium for the 100m final!

The lowest point of the Games was Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus being stripped of the women’s shot put gold medal following a dope violation. Defending champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand was elevated to the gold.

The footage of the Queen jumping off the helicopter along with James Bond (enacted by stuntmen) was a novelty during the Opening Ceremony. However, a bunch of junior athletes lighting up the Olympic cauldron diluted the moment.

In successfully conducting the Olympics for the third time after 1908 and 1948, Britain showed that it had original ideas and high standards, even as it kept one eye firmly on the economics of conducting the extravaganza.