Britain’s final gold medal of the games came in the ring. Anthony Joshua follows in the footsteps of giants, such is the calibre of previous super heavyweight champions. There was, though, something deeply unsatisfying about the manner of his victory. I’m no expert but I was not alone in thinking that he had not fared so badly as to be three points behind going into the final round. Equally, despite finishing the stronger, it is doubtful he was so superior as to have overcome that deficit in the closing stages. Taken as a whole, I am content that the correct result was reached but not surprised that his Italian opponent launched an objection. In recent Olympics the scoring was more transparent, if not infallible, and appeared on screen so we knew where we stood. This bout was not the only one to be mired in controversy. It needs to be sorted out.
Mo Farah is now a distance running legend. It is impossible to do justice to the majesty of his accomplishment in adding the 5000m title to his earlier clinching of the other half of the coveted double. His reading of the race, and execution of his plan, was again flawless. We would have forgiven him if his previous exertions had blunted his edge but he was not to be cowed. In bookending the track and field programme in charismatic style, Farah lent a rosy hue to the British efforts at London 2012. Do not be fooled. Remove this epic contribution, and that of the marvellous Jessica Ennis, and we have a far less auspicious picture.
A significant proportion of finals passed by without any home involvement. In areas we were once strong our athletes flattered to deceive. Nor can we honestly invest high hopes for the future in too many of our lacklustre entrants. Adam Gemili could become the new Linford Christie, but we must prevent him from being the next Mark Lewis-Francis. There were injuries, disappointments and excuses, and once more the sprint relay team failed to get the baton round. Mo and Jess will need to inspire a generation. Currently, they are merely papering over the cracks.
Triathlon and Canoeing
Some sportspeople are essentially just outward bound hobbyists at heart who realised they had special talent. The Brownlee boys combined a childlike enthusiasm for their astonishingly demanding event with a down to earth detachment from the trappings of their success. Alistair, the elder sibling who swam, pedalled and ran his way to triathlon gold, has such devotion to his activity of choice that he dug a swimming pool with an underwater treadmill in his front garden to assist his recovery from a tendon injury which threatened his Olympic hopes. Meanwhile Jonny pushed himself to a state of collapse in overcoming a fifteen second penalty to claim bronze. As his exhausted brother lay gasping for breath, surrounded by emergency personnel, Alistair gave an interview during which he was asked about the unfolding drama. “He’s alright, he’s just knackered” came the reply.
Ed McKeever was similarly stoical after his triumph amid the whirl of arms and furious swell of the sprint canoeing. Initially encouraged by a schoolfriend to join a watersports club as there was not a lot to do in the village where he grew up, the pastime turned into something more. Implored by his interrogator to wax effusive about his achievement in its immediate aftermath, he played a dead bat and eschewed the emotional outpourings so prevalent elsewhere. He too was no extrovert, just someone who excelled in the thrill of competition. It takes all sorts of course, despite the desperation to drench everything in a sea of hyperbole.
Obviously, wall to wall coverage over a range of over thirty diverse sports, some unfamiliar, some quirky and some hopelessly untelegenic, will encompass some good and bad moments. The BBC always has a difficult line to tread. It has to inform as well as entertain, and to try to remain impartial while reflecting the expectations of the majority of its audience. By and large it straddled this divide well, despite some disappointingly fawning gush from John Inverdale and crumbs of ashamedly populist banter from the likes of the otherwise excellent Jake Humphrey. The decision to hand the evening studio anchor role to Gary Lineker was bizarre, particularly since the usually reliable Hazel Irvine was sidelined in a minor slot. On the late shift, Gabby Logan strengthened her reputation.
In terms of analysis, Michael Johnson was peerless while Ian Thorpe proved a revelation with his dignified assessments and insight. Chris Boardman deserves a mention for his enhancement of the cycling, and Steve Cram has made the transition from track to commentary box with increasing authority. One broadcaster, however, stood head and shoulders above the rest, combining wisdom and deep understanding with enthusiasm and empathy. Those racing fans among us have long appreciated the communicative gifts of Clare Balding. London 2012 saw her rightfully elevated to national treasure.
Once the final competitor in the women’s Modern Pentathlon signalled the end of the meaningful content of this global celebration, we had only the formalities to bring down the curtain. Compared to the breathtaking daring of the opening ceremony, the last word fell a little flat, peppered as it was by has-beens of the music world and rather too much self-congratulatory flannel. Still, the light show was good and by the finish I was too overloaded to care. This has been a wonderful fortnight. Team GB made an unnervingly slow start but the trickle of medals became a torrent and ultimately our greatest ever performance. I have tried to convey some of my off the cuff thoughts and perceptions as the action played out. Reading back, two themes are evident. One, the incredible heterogeneity contained within the Olympic family and, two, the thorny issue of legacy. I will return to the latter as an endpiece to this fantastic journey. For now, a whole new collection of treasured memories have been banked. Rio, you have an awful lot to live up to.