Of Bolt’s opening salvo, Super Serena and Pakistan’s moment of reckoning


As Pakistan hockey team licked its wounds after the grievous loss against Great Britain, their only defeat in this Olympic Games so far, the Olympic Park sprang to life for the first time since the opening ceremony. Everybody who is anybody in the world of athletics – rated as the central sport of any Olympic Games – was there as the hunt for the largest chunk of medals commenced in real earnest.
And the swell of spectators so enthused to get to the Olympic Park remained relentless, starting early and sustaining through the day, despite their being condemned to a long walk on a blustery rainy day when the sun came out but only intermittently.
At Beijing 2008, the Jamaican Usain ‘Lightening’ Bolt had captured the world’s imagination with a 100 meter sprint that there and then joined the brightest amongst the Olympic folklore. That he went on to win another two gold medals was just beside the point. For his lofty perch – the Olympic gold and the title of Fastest Man on Earth, this time round posting equivalent times there are some serious pretenders: fellow Jamaicans Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, and USA’s Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. But he was the self same relaxed Bolt in his first heat, without a care in the world, cruising to victory without breaking a sweat.
Bolt would get a contest as the event gets into the medal stage. Regardless he seemed to be as close to his best form – the kind that exasperates the competition as much as it enthralls the aficionado. And unless he is disqualified for bursting out of the blocks early – just as he so shockingly was defending his world title in the last World Championships in 2011 at Daegu – there is little doubt that he has the capacity to reduce the best amongst his competitors to mere also-rans. As the athletics contests unfolded, South African Oscar Pistorius – a double amputee who runs with prosthetic legs – not just became the first ever to compete in a track event at both the Paralympic and Olympic Games, he also ended up amongst the top three in the men’s 400m to qualify for the next heat. A remarkable story of human spirit conquering such extreme physical adversity that would have kept a lesser man tied to his wheelchair all his life.
Serena Williams has had a great summer at the Wimbledon, winning a double crown. She is quite likely to replicate that, giving the US at least two Olympic gold medals by herself. On Saturday, she decimated the statuesque Russian Olympic standard-bearer Maria Sharapova with such consummate ease to grab the much coveted singles gold. And she is by no means done yet. Later in the evening, she will have a tilt at winning the doubles partnering with sister Venus.
So remorselessly overpowering was Serena, Sharapova could win her first game in what was the 10th of the match! And that was the only one she was to clinch in a final so heavily one sided that it lasted a mere 63 minutes. A measure of Serena’s super form: she has won 17 singles matches on the go since she was ousted from the French Open, dropping just 17 games on her way to triumph here. “Oh my gosh, I got the gold… I never expected gold in singles. I was so happy with my doubles golds [in Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008].”
Meanwhile, Roger Federer too is all primed up to hog the Olympic glory and to emulate his arch rival Rafael Nadal by completing the rare Golden Slam Sunday. Andy Murray though is the last hurdle. Given the immense patriotic fervour around these parts and the insatiable appetite fed by medals, especially of the bullion variety, Murray’s newly-found courage and the fatigue Federer must be carrying from his marathon semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro, Roger’s realising his dream may not be that easy to accomplish.
One made several attempts to contact Akhtar Rasool, the former Olympian great and the manager/chief coach of the green shirts, to know what was happening around the Pakistan hockey team and how they were strategizing for their next must-win game against South Africa Sunday morning. To no avail, for he would not pick up the phone. And the security being as asphyxiating as it is here, there was no way one could get anywhere near the Olympic Village. Luckily, coach Khawaja Junaid picked up.
It was quite obvious that everyone in the Pakistan camp was rattled by the defeat against GB. Junaid though tried to put up a brave face, saying that his boys would do their damnedest to put their best foot forward against South Africa. “The Aussies we have played several times. So we know what to expect against them. But South Africans we have not played for a while. And they are demonstrating good, energetic hockey here. But I’m positive we would regroup and make a comeback,” said he.
Even if the greenshirts bounced back against South Africa, it would now indeed be rather uphill to get into top four. The points lost, and the quartet of goals conceded, are quite likely to haunt them.
With medals starting to come thick and fast from a slew of disciplines, the rivalry for the sweepstakes summit between USA and China is inexorably intensifying with GB trying to better its Beijing haul of 47 and fourth position. At 05.00 p.m. here (09.00 p.m. PST) it was going neck and neck: USA edging China out 23 to 22. And while the host nation was a distant third at 10 golds, 25 overall, but midway through it is already more than half of Beijing! Good going, Brits.