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The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will be remembered as probably the best Games ever. Regardless of any political problems, the sport itself was top class. The organisation of it all was brilliant. Here are some of the things that will live long in the memory.
The first highlight was Matthew Emmons in the shooting. In Athens he had a memorable time. His gun was tampered with, and had to borrow a gun for the 50m Rifle competition. However, he won it. Going into his other competition, the Three Positions event, he only needed to hit a score of 4 to win the gold medal. However, he missed the target completely, and didn't even win a medal. There was a silver (if not gold) lining, however. He was consoled by Katerina Kurkova, a Czech shooter who was in the arena at the time. They ended up meeting, and living happily ever after. So, in Beijing, what would happen? Well, Miss Emmons won the first gold medal of the Games, the 10m Rifle. Emmons won silver in the Rifle, and again entered the Three Positions. He was leading with just 1 shot to go, needing a 7. But again, he only hit a 5, and lost the medal again. He said afterwards that after his failure to win gold in Athens it didn't mean anything, "If I knew that I'd meet Katerina by missing that shot in Athens, I'd do it again, every time." Which is nice.
Another emotional success in Beijing was that of Matthias Steiner. The Austrian fell out with his national association in 2005, and lost interest in weightlifting, until he met a German woman, who he married. Persuaded by her to continue weightlifting, he switched citizenship to Germany, and his first competition would be at the 2008 Games for Germany. However, in 2007, his wife died in a car accident. He went to Beijing with that in his mind. He had to lift 258kg on his last lift to win the title, the biggest lift by 8kg in the competition that anybody had achieved. But he lifted it, and immediately collapsed to his knees in tears. On the podium, he was accompanied by a photo of his deceased wife.
Iceland were on the brink of history, too. Having upset Spain 36-30, they made the Final of the Handball. Iceland have never won a gold medal at any Olympic Games, be it summer or winter. Sadly, this remained the case, as France took the Final gold medal of the Games, resigning Iceland to silver.
Jorgen Persson was having a bad season in Table Tennis. At 42, these were his sixth Games, and he was about to retire from competition. The former World Number 1 was now dropping down the rankings like a stone. He advanced to the Third Round, where he met a Hong Kong opponent, the number 9 seed. He won in 5 games. He faced the number 9 seed from Belarus in the Fourth Round, but trailed by three games to one. He won the last three games 11-7, 12-10 and 11-9 to advance to the Quarter Finals. Next he faced a Croatian, but again won in five games to make the Semi Finals. His dream run ended there sadly, losing to world number 1, Wang Hao in five games. He lost in straight games to Wang Liqin in the Bronze Medal Match. But a great run from a 42 year old, who is now set to end his career on a high.
There were some unsavoury incidents at the Games, however. Angel Matos was injured on the mat in his Taekwondo encounter, which he needed to win or a bronze medal. However, he took more than the 1 minute allowed, and the victory was credited to his opponent. Incensed, he appealed, before proving to the referee that he was fit to continue - by kicking him in the face. His punishment is a guaranteed lifetime ban, and a probable hefty fine. Indeed, it is not out of the question that he will be imprisoned for assault.
Similarly, Ara Abrahamian let judges get the better of him. He lost his Semi Final, causing him to miss out on gold. The judges apparently were unfair in their application of a rule. All seemed forgiven when Abrahamian claimed bronze at the medal ceremony, but he promptly dropped it on the floor and walked out of the ceremony, causing him to forfeit the medal. The Court for Arbitration for Sport said that the referees were part to blame by not hearing the official Swedish protest, and insisted the problematic rule should be changed. However, he will still be "thrown out" of the Olympics, and lose his medal, for acting against the spirit of the Games. He says he has retired now, anyway, which at least avoids the sport having to ban him for life. A case of walking before pushed, I fear.
With controversial judging going on, Taekwondo's day got no better when Sarah Stevenson lost 1-0 to a Chinese World Champion in the Quarter Finals. Stevenson had landed a kick to the face, earning two points, and winning the contest. However, the score was not scored for many reasons. Three of the four judges had to see the incident and score it for it to count, however this was not done for whatever reason. Some say the judges were unsighted. Others say that the score happened so close to the end of the contest, by the time they reacted to press the button, time was up, so the electronic scoring system didn't count it. Anyways, rather than assaulting an official, the British team protested. They listened. And after looking at the tape, and the Chinese athlete sportingly admitting her loss, the decision was overturned. The Brit had won. And so Great Britain had a new sporting hero, Chungwon Choue, the President of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF [yes, really]).
Lessons have been learned however, and Taekwondo is planning to introduce an electronic protector system for London 2012, which means that whenever a kick is landed to the scoring area, no human error can come into it.
It was also the end of the road for softball and baseball at the Olympic Games. The IOC grew fed up of top players from countries not being allowed to participate. Personally, I see no reason why MLB can't start the season two weeks earlier in Olympic years, and open the Olympics to MLB players. Rather than have an All-Star break, have an Olympic break, it's more or less mid-summer. They shall not be at the Games in any form in 2012, and although there is a vote next year to see whether they should be included in 2016, the chances of success have been described as "poor". You have to feel sorry for softball, which may get left out of the Games purely because of being the female version of baseball, which is the sport that's causing the problem. In what could be the last ever baseball final, the USA were nowhere in sight. Cuba lost 3-2 to South Korea in a shock result. The bases were loaded in the last inning for Cuba, but their hitter hit a ground ball, and the double play was enough to win the game for the Koreans. As for softball, Japan beat the United States 3-1 to upset the favourites. If it wasn't about to be dropped from the Games, questions would be asked.
The next Winter Games will be in Vancouver 2010, and the next Summer Games in London in 2012. The host nation for the latter had their best Olympics since 1908, when they hosted the Games and had about 85% of the competitors. Great Britain finished fourth in the medals table, winning 19 gold medals, 13 silver medals, and 15 bronze medals. 47 medals is 12 more than the target of 35. China may have topped the medals table with 51 golds, beating the United States for the first time, but they were supposed to. Great Britain came from nowhere. We beat the Australians, something that doesn't happen very often. Most importantly, we beat the Germans for the first time in a long while.
Britain's heroes were the cycling team, who won 8 gold medals across 18 events, but won medals in 14 of them. The veldorome was our happiest hunting ground, with Chris Hoy, who has now won four gold medals in four different events in two Olympic Games (1km Time Trial in Athens, Kierin, Team Sprint and Individual Sprint in Beijing). Bradley Wiggins also won two gold medals in the Team and Individual Pursuit. Britain were also top of the Sailing and Rowing Medal Tables. Britain rules the sitting down events! Athletics must be improved however, Britain should get more than 1 gold medal. I think 20 golds at London 2012 will be a successful Olympic Games.
I can't wait for Vancouver though. :-)