Adlington makes swim history by her fingertips

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Monday:
Olympic gold medals for members of the British team are becoming somewhat like London buses. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington this morning matched cyclist Nicole Cooke‘s golden feat as she won the 400 metres freestyle final by the length of her finger nail, while her team mate, Jo Jackson, placed third.

It was a real thriller of a race, Adlington only swimming past the American favourite, Katie Hoff, in the final 10 metres, while leaving the world record-holder from Italy and France’s world champion way behind in her wake.

British women in Olympic swimming finals have been as rare as hen’s teeth in the last 20 years (the last British woman to medal at the Olympics was Sarah Hardcastle with silver and bronze in 1984), so to have two on the medal podium represents something of a breakthrough.

“We just tried to ignore the times and race the final,” Adlington, pictured right, said. “I don’t think either of us are natural sprinters, we don’t do the 100m free so we are naturally suited to the back half of the race.

“We didn’t panic when we were a little bit behind. I didn’t see anyone past Katie, I didn’t know what was going on.

“I couldn’t see what there was on the other side of the pool, I saw Katie and just tried to catch her.”

â–¡ It is premature to be talking about London 2012 already, but at 19 years old, Adlington has a great future ahead of her, not least in what is her better event, the 800 metres freestyle at which she is world ranked No1 and which comes later this week in Beijing. Bronze medallist Jo Jackson, too, has her preferred distance, the 200m free, to come, and both will be important parts of the fancied 4x200m freestyle relay team.

Which all somewhat explains Adlington’s confident comment: “There are more medals to come from this team.”

â–¡ Adlington’s gold medal is significant for two stalwarts of the swimming press box and of the SJA: it means that after 48 years, Anita Lonsbrough, of the Daily Telegraph and BBC Radio, is no longer the last British woman to have won an Olympic swimming gold; and it means that, after 19 years as the respected swimming correspondent of The Times, Craig Lord has now finally witnessed a Briton win an Olympic gold medal in the pool.

“I’m absolutely delighted. It’s been too long coming,” Lonsbrough, who shed a tear or two during the medal ceremony, said.

â–¡ As reported by this website yesterday, Adlington’s parents had to watch their daughter’s gold medal swim on TV in their Mansfield home, after losing more than £1,000 in a ticket scam. Their flight to Beijing for the 800m freestyle will now be full of anticipation.

â–¡ There’s growing concerns about the absence of spectators at many events and the wasteland that is Olympic Green.

The swathes of empty seats at venues over the first weekend has been attributed to sponsors, who have been given many thousands of free tickets, not taking up places for preliminary events.

Even allowing for Monday’s heavy rainfall, the Olympic Green – right at the heart of the venues in Beijing – seems more of a problem. The Green is beside hockey, archery, tennis and gymnastics venues, plus the Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube. But this area is only open to those with special tickets unless you have accreditation or tickets to Olympic events.

Some local Beijing citizens have been spotted peering into the Green through the fence at the venues, trade stalls and sponsor tents, curious but unable to enter.

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Blue skies 1, Smog 8. And after Sunday’s torrential rain, it is humid and clammy again.

â–¡ Just in case anyone is in any doubt, this is what Lauren Jackson of the impressive Australian women’s basketball team had to say about her sport: “In terms of physicality we’re used to playing against teams that are going to beat the crap out of us because we are so good.

“People are going to stop us somehow and that’s the way they are going to stop us, especially people like us, Penny Taylor, Belinda Snell and myself who you just can’t let go to the basket because we’ll kill people.

“So they are just going to stop us anyway that they can and generally that’s when broken bones and black eyes occur. It’s always a battle out there, you expect black eyes, cut lips. The great thing about the American team is that most of them are good friends of ours so when we get out on court we know it isn’t personal but it is a dogfight and people get hurt.”

The Americans beat the Australians 71-67 in a pre-Games warm up and US centre Lisa Leslie said : “We are definitely ready to play a physical game.You do whatever it takes to win gold. We play hard, we don’t try to play dirty.”

So now you know.

â–¡ Clearly, I am not the only one being nostalgic about Olympics things past. The Times chief sportswriter Simon Barnes is another Beijing blogger who has been getting all dewy eyed for the era of copytakers, Tandys and acoustic couplers:

“It’s staggering how much things have changed in the newspaper business, and how fast. At the Games in Los Angeles in 1984, the journos were still scribbling stuff down on bits of paper and dictating them down a landline, generally to a lady of almost infinite tolerance half a world away.

“Sydney was the first Games where I had a mobile phone. All these things that we consider – that are – essentials to our trade have arrived with devastating swiftness a frighteningly short time ago. The trade has changed completely as a result: except that it hasn’t. It’s no good mastering the technology if you haven’t got the words. But by the same token, it’s no good being a master of words if you can’t do the technology.

“You may have written Marcel Proust into a cocked hat – but what’s the good of that if nobody can read it?”

â–¡ Alan Hubbard began his career covering the Olympics in the Far East, in Tokyo 44 years ago. Earlier this year, he got to carry the Olympic torch in China, even appearing on the front page of a Chinese newspaper.

In his latest Independent on Sunday column, he writes:

“Last week we suggested that billeting a number of British journalists in the Hotel Tibet was a mischievous move by the Chinese. Seems it might have been rather more sinister. Apparently the hotel is owned by the puppet regime in Tibet, who receive the profits.

“Copies of the propaganda-packed house magazine China’s Tibet, which condemns the “politically disrupting influence of demonstrations” during the Torch Run ascent of Mount Everest and terms the Dalai Lama “a hypocrite whose principle of peace is bogus” are in every room. What was that about not politicising the Games?”

â–¡ And following our mention yesterday of Marc Aspland‘s sports photography blog at Times Online, good to spot that David Ashdown‘s picture of the day is being featured on one of The Independent‘s online Olympic pages.

â–¡ Adrian Warner, BBC London’s Olympic correspondent and SJA member is another blogging from Beijing.

His latest missive suggests that at the London House, aimed at schmoozing international champions of industry into doing business with the capital ahead of London 2012 with copious hospitality, organisers have failed to organise, well, a piss-up at a PR junket. Despite the project’s £2 million budget, Warner reports there’s not a pint of traditional British bitter from London brewers Fuller’s or Young’s to be had.

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