It seems strange to think of a quote by a famous baseball coach when you’re watching the final day of Track and Field, but that’s exactly what it felt like as we watched Mo Farah repeat his previous Saturday’s performance, but this time over half the distance.
Mo’s second Gold was described afterwards by Seb Coe as being of “an extraordinary magnitude.” He told BBC radio: “The real challenge of doing the double is not actually the physicality of going through rounds and races, it’s those three to four days between having won an Olympic title and then deciding it’s still important enough in your life to come back on to the track and do it all over again.”
Team GB had already added to their Gold haul earlier in the day when Ed McKeever took the Kayak Sprint, and another Gold was waiting in the wings for Luke Campbell in the Bantamweight Boxing. But when Mo Farah finally went to the front of the pack with two laps to go in the 5000 metres, everybody knew that something extra special was about to happen. There may have been momentary doubts as hoardes of Kenyan and Ethiopian challengers gathered behind him at the bell, waiting to pounce on any falter in his step, but the crowd in the Olympic Stadium would have none of it. As he ran inexorably away from the other runners in a defiant catch-me-if-you-can last lap, the crowd came to their feet in a slow motion Mexican wave that never sat down again; they simply stood on their feet and roared him on to one of the most extraordinary moments in sport.
To put it in context, only four men in history have completed the Olympic 5000/10000-metre double at the Olympic Games, the last of those, Lasse Viren of Finland, was 36 years ago. Mo’s last lap of 52 seconds would have had him challenging David Rudisha on the second lap of his world-record 800 metre performance earlier in the week; no wonder the runners behind him were stretched-out along the finishing straight as he breasted the tape, eyes wide with wonder at what he had achieved. The track meet was later brought to its inevitable finale as Usain Bolt took the Jamaican Sprint Relay Team to Gold in World Record time, but even that was made almost into a support act as the big man paid tribute to Mo’s achievements by performing the now famous Mo-Bot as he crossed the line.
With just one day to go, a day that will see Team GB’s medal tally increase by at least two as our boxers enter the ring in this afternoon’s finals, it is perhaps slightly premature to do a review of what has happened these last two weeks, so I will reserve that for after the closing ceremony tonight. But whilst listening to a special Olympic edition of ‘Fighting Talk’ on the radio this morning, I was prompted by one of the questions, which was “to whom on the BBC’s commentary teams would you award the Gold Medal, and who do you wish had been knocked-out in the preliminary rounds.” Having devoted enough space on those matters already in these blogs, I pondered a slightly different version – what Sport has made the greatest impression, and which one would have been best left on the tarmac at Singapore Airport seven years ago?
There is no doubt that the accolade must go to the Cycling Team, although the Rowers ran them very close. But those Rowers had not had their event schedule and competitor-rules completely revamped since the last Games four years ago. However much Cycling’s governing body might try to explain that this was not a blatant bureaucratic attempt to reduce the effectiveness of one particular team, it made not a jot of difference – probably the very finest way for any proletariat to show the kommisars who is really in charge. And just to complete the podium, the Bronze goes to a Boxing team that not only embraced the new inclusivity of the Olympic version of the sport by taking the first-ever Women’s Gold Medal, but also returned its best performance in the Men’s section for more than ninety years.
As for the sport best forgotten, well it has to be the Men’s Soccer. Here was a Sport that had one of the most obvious PR-coups dropped-into its lap back in Singapore, as one of Britain’s most iconic players, David Beckham, was made an ambassador not only for the Bid, but also for the Games themselves. The four home Football Associations then had seven years to put together a team of the best of our future players from all four home nations. Instead they embarked on endless political wrangling over what might happen to them afterwards, resulting in two of them not even allowing their players to take part.
Then, with not more than a few months to go, the other two cobbled-together a plan that first excluded Beckham as the Team Manager, an obvious choice that any one of the other countries competing would have made in a heartbeat had he been an ex-captain of their national team with 100 caps to his name, and then a few weeks later allowed him to be excluded as one of the three overage players allowed in the squad. Finally, to add insult to injury, they made an even-older ex-teammate the captain of that squad, someone who, fine player though he is, had no record of success even in qualification for a major tournament.
I have covered Team GB’s dismal exit from the Olympic Soccer earlier, but to illustrate just what they sidelined in something that can only be described as jealous bloody-mindedness, David Beckham appeared in the BBC studio last night alongside Tom Daley, the 18-year-old diver who yesterday won an individual Bronze Medal in the 10 metre competition. Tom revealed how, when faced with all of the disappointments he experienced during the early stages of the Games when he and his partner failed to win a medal in the Synchronised Diving, he had received a phone call from David Beckham. The advice he received had helped him to put those experiences behind him, and prepare for his next chance, which he duly took. If someone can act as such an effective mentor for a young Olympian in a sport he barely understands, just imagine what he could have done for players who look up to him within their own familiar environment.
But that isn’t the only reason why the English FA should hang their heads in shame, because until this morning I had not realised that today, the final day of possibly the greatest Olympic Games we have ever witnessed, they are holding their first competitive match of the new season – the somewhat incongruously-named Community Shield.
What on earth was going through their muddled heads when they decided to make that fixture-clash? It isn’t as if they had no notice of what else was happening today, I think we have all known for a number of years what the calendar was for the Olympics. They had even rented-out their own stadium to the organisers, for goodness sake, causing the game to be relocated to Birmingham, and with the capacity of Villa Park only being half that of Wembley, they are hardly expecting a massive turn-out. Maybe they arrogantly-believed that the Games would be a failure, and that they could ride-in on their white horses at the end and say to the public, “well here you are, after all that disappointment, we’re still here to ‘entertain’ you.”
Well it’s already backfired I’m afraid, because I for one will not be watching football again as regularly, or with anything like the enthusiasm, I have for more than fifty years. It is not a snap-decision, it has been coming for a few years and culminated with a personal boycott of the Euros earlier in the summer. I didn’t watch a single game, and I realised I had lost nothing in my life by not doing so. Maybe it was that which set the scene for being able to watch the amazing carnival of sport we have been privileged to experience this last two weeks, and from speaking to other long-standing soccer-fans, I know that many feel much the same way about what had been considered by many to be our national game.
Maybe the blazers thought that we were simply following the yellow brick road of the Olympics, at the end of which we would find the wizard of soccer waiting to take us back under his wing. Instead, like Dorothy and her three companions, when we have looked behind the wizard’s façade, we have discovered that all that was there was an acronym – F A.