London: For many disciplines that are part of the Olympics, a medal at the Games is the ultimate prize. In some cases, it is the only prize in that discipline that is truly indicative of global domination. Which is why, perhaps, a medal means more to competitors in, say, the 50km walk and gymnastics; more than they do to those competing in the football or tennis events.
Therefore, for some disciplines missing out on a medal not only means that years’ worth of training have come to nought, but also a wait of another four years for another shot at the top prize. Not many Olympians have the luxury of that much time and longevity.
All this makes both willful and inadvertent violations of rules particularly disappointing. This Olympics has already had plenty of both.
On the opening day of track cycling on Thursday, Team Britain lost at least a silver in the women’s team sprint after they were relegated due to a changeover error. Women’s sprint teams have two cyclists each. The second is only allowed to overtake the first within a certain changeover window on the track. Team GB’s Victoria Pendleton overtook Jess Varnish a fraction of a second too soon.
On song: Vijender Singh (right) beat Terrell Gausha of the US by one point in the middleweight (75kg) quarter-finals late on Thursday. He is one win away from being assured of another medal, to add to the bronze he won in Beijing 2008. In other results involving Indians, Joydeep Karmakar finished fourth, with 699.1, just short of bronze medal winner Rajmond Debevec’s 701.0 in the 50m rifle prone event and the hockey team lost 2-5 to Germany. Photo: Murad Sezer/Reuters
This after the pair had broken world and Olympic records moments before. The relegation meant that Team GB finished outside the medals. To make things worse, China’s girls committed the same violation in the gold medal match, by an even smaller margin. Suddenly, Germany had won the gold medal despite being only the third fastest team on the day.
While Pendleton has another event on Friday, the games are over for Varnish. She now has to wait till Rio for another shot at a medal. While the officials in the velodrome imposed rules with unwavering strictness—and cycling decisions are not open to appeal—boxing continued to uphold its reputation for being the dirtiest discipline of any Olympics.
There have been several controversial decisions. India had one appeal for an unfair result denied. But things have evened out. Vijender Singh was not the best boxer in his victorious match on Thursday night.
But the most shameful result was a match between Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidov and Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu. The Azerbaijani won despite being knocked down five times in the final round. Yes, five times. Japan appealed and had the decision overturned. The Turkmenistani referee, who refused to administer a count, was expelled.
With plenty of boxing left in this Olympics, only a fool would bet against further controversy. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to have a hard look at the discipline. If cleaning up boxing means throwing it out of the Games, they should. Right now, the discipline is an insult to the Olympic movement.
The third big story took place in badminton where players were quite clearly trying to lose group games in order to line up easier matches in the knockout stages. This was not illegal as much as it was unsporting. To the organizers’ credit, four doubles teams were disqualified within 24 hours of the fiasco.
While it is good to see lawbreakers getting punished, there is an element of tragedy in this. Will the eventual winners of badminton medals really be the best in the game? How will athletes such as Jess Varnish cope with the crushing four-year wait that awaits them?
Elsewhere, it appears that city managers and Games organizers may have been a little too eager to scare away crowds. With most visitors confining themselves to Games venues, central London has seen a drop in traffic and business. One study showed a 5% drop in footfalls in west London shops.
London, right now, is a splendid place to travel around. Just don’t break any of the rules please.