Liu Xiang surprised the 110m hurdles field, and expert pundits alike, by running away with the gold medal in a world record equalling time of 12.91 seconds.
Australian riders, male and female, were almost unbeatable on two wheels in Athens, contributing hugely to their country’s high standing in the final medal table. One thorn in the Australians’ side proved to be Bradley Wiggins, who became the first British Olympian for 40 years to take gold, silver and bronze. Mary Rand was the last athlete to achieve the feat in Tokyo in 1964.
British track gold
In the wake of Paula Radcliffe’s breakdown, Kelly Holmes restored the British track and field team’s confidence with a perfectly-timed run in the 800m. to take gold on the line. The 34-year-old former army sergeant made the decision to run in what she considers to be her weaker event only hours before the qualifying heats. Only days later, she cruised into the final of the 1,500m, her original target. In the race proper for an historic second gold, Holmes cruised off the final bend and took victory with something to spare to become the first Briton to win double gold in track and field events since 1920.
Paula Radcliffe did eventually decide to try to put her marathon breakdown behind her by running in the 10,000m. Leading briefly, she quickly dropped back thereafter and pulled out of the race with four laps remaining. In contrast, the men’s 4x100m sprint relay team went supersonic in this event, winning gold for the first time since 1912. Campbell, Devenish, Lewis-Francis and Gardner pipped the almighty Americans by 0.01 seconds.
Boxing: hitting new heights
Following last Tuesday’s sensational quarter-final victory over Korean Jong Sub Baik, Bolton teenager Amir Khan was being compared to the great Sugar Ray Leonard. Khan took just 97 seconds of Round One to despatch his opponent with a flurry of stinging blows. With a bronze medal assured, making him the youngest British boxer ever to win an Olympic medal, Khan stepped into the ring against Kazakstan’s Serik Yeleuov, attempting to reach the final and emulate Floyd Patterson, who also took gold in 1952 aged 17.
Khan found it difficult to deal with Yeleuov’s awkward and uncompromising style, walking into his opponent’s poised left time and time again. Half-way through the fourth-round bout, he was four points behind and causing his legion of supporters to feel apprehensive. In round three, however, Khan pounced on his tiring enemy surging ahead on the points card, finishing the job convincingly by 40-26 in the fourth.
Waiting for him was perhaps the best boxer in this weight division over the last decade, Cuban double Olympic champion Mario Kindelan, who had no problems overwhelming his Russian semi-final challenger. Khan and Kindelan met during last May’s Acropolis Cup, with the Cuban coming out on top by a fairly wide margin, but such is the 17-year old’s rapid progress, that Sunday’s gold medal fight was by no means a foregone conclusion. A cautious start saw Khan ahead 4-3 after round one, but then the Cuban’s experience told. Accurate counter-punching meant a 14-9 lead at the half-way stage, extended to 22-14 at the bell following round three and a 30-22 victory for the retiring champ at the end of the bout. A silver medal and the future, however, belong to Amir Khan.
Multiple World Champion, Hicham El Guerrouj, from Morocco finally added an Olympic gold medal to his extensive 1,500m title collection. A sustained run down the home straight kept him just ahead of Kenya’s Bernard Lagat, with Portugal’s Rui Silva finishing a very credible third. The exceptional runner added the 5,000m gold a few days later.
The men’s 200m final took place without British participation after both hopefuls failed to come through their semi-final heats. Instead, the race offered surprise 100m hero Justin Gatlin the chance to become the first man since the great Carl Lewis to win both events at the same Olympics. He faced stiff opposition, however, from Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu, second in the 100m, and the two big disappointments of that race, Shawn Crawford and Asafa Powell.
After two false starts, it was Crawford who streaked away quickest, never in danger of being caught. He took gold in 19.79 secs – the fastest time of the year – ahead of team-mates Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin, who assured the first US clean sweep in the race since 1984. Francis Obikwelu finished an honourable fifth.
The US men also cleaned up in the 400m with Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew taking gold, silver and bronze. The Kenyans boasted a similar feat, with Ezequiel Kemboi leading his team-mates home in the 3,000m steeplechase, as did Russia, whose women long jumpers occupied all three podium places at the end of an exciting competition.