Giant on the move
The Beijing Olympic Games closed on Sunday, as China passed on the flame to London.
Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was in the habit of describing each Games as “the best ever”, with the notable exception of Atlanta in 1996.
His successor Jacques Rogge does not go in for such superlatives. He described Athens in 2004 as “unforgettable, dream Games” and on Sunday he pronounced the verdict on Beijing, saying they had provided “an exceptional Games”.
Perhaps that was a fitting phrase for an Olympics that began with an opening ceremony on an unparalleled scale and went on to provide highlights that will live on in the memory of all of us.
Join us for the 16th and last podcast from the Beijing Olympics. We cast an eye back over the best moments of the Games, discuss Beijing’s world ranking and look ahead to quite a contrast with the next Olympics in London.
Julian Linden, Belinda Goldsmith, Nick Mulvenney and Robert F Woodward join me for the festivities. And Laura, that line at the start is really only a joke…
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. I shall never forget sitting in the front row and watching Ben Johnson hurtling towards the finish line in the 100 metres and then raising his hand aloft in an almost contemptuous “I am Number One” gesture.
Twenty years later, sitting — lucky me — in the front row again, my indelible memory of the Beijing Games will always be that magical last 100 metres when Usain Bolt looked left and right, spread his arms wide and thumped his chest for sheer joy.
After watching the United States destroy every opponent in the basketball tournament by an average of more than 30 points before the final on Sunday, there probably weren’t many people expecting Spain to have a chance against a “Redeem Team” determined to win back the gold medal after the debacle of the bronze in 2004.
But then Spain played a superb match and kept the Americans on the ropes all the way to the very end with one dazzling basket after another.
The former England captain has millions of fans in China. He will appear in the Bird’s Nest at the Olympics closing ceremony tonight, kicking a ball into the crowd from a red double-decker bus to symbolise the handover to London.
Kenya’s hope for an Olympic marathon medal were dealt a blow when Robert Cheruiyot pulled out due to injury and three-times London marathon winner Martin Lel’s training was affected by flu. But Sammy Wanjiru saved the day and brought the marathon gold medal, proof that distance running is Africa’s forte.
Simon Denyer blogged this week about the cheesy American rock music that has drowned out so many moments of quiet at these Games. What’s so wrong with the sound of silence, he asked?
Well, there are some sounds at the Games that have been worth hearing, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to get as close to the action as we have.
Continuing our look at the golden moments from the Games, Sophie Hardach tells us what it was like watching the heart-wrenching story of weightlifter Matthias Steiner unfold.
After covering 14 Olympic weightlifting competitions, I sat down for the super-heavyweight contest knowing that it would be the most spectacular of them all. In the previous contests, I had seen hulking strongmen in tears, had watched lifters crash to the floor under the barbell, had heard caveman howls and primal screams.
Matthew Mitcham did two surprising things in Beijing. He scooped a gold medal from the apparently invincible Chinese diving team and told anyone who asked that he is gay.
Mitcham broke down in tears after a nearly perfect last dive edged him above the Chinese favourite into top place. It was the eighth and last medal in a sport that the host nation utterly dominates and was expected to sweep.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he does not see any need to change the format of the Olympic soccer tournament, which is restricted to under-23 teams and allows each to field up to three overage players.
Many people, however, feel that soccer is something of an unwelcome gatecrasher at the Games and that not bringing its top players is rather like turning up at the party with a bottle of cheap plonk.