Athletes

Heathrow’s luggage handlers are bracing themselves for a back-breaking day on Monday, when all of the Olympians who have trickled into London over the past few weeks head home in one fell swoop. Worse yet, the airport expects the average number of bags to rise from two pieces of luggage per athlete to three.

Which raises the question: how many London 2012 T-shirts, double-decker bus keychains and stuffed Paddington Bears does it take to fill a whole other suitcase?

Well, it turns out quite a bit of the space will be taken up by bedding, since it has become Olympic tradition for athletes to take home the duvets provided in their rooms. 

Walking along the South Bank I saw a surprising sight: a man and a woman daring to venture out in broad daylight clad head to toe in Spain’s garish Olympic kit, with not even a blush, writes Carola Long.

For anyone who missed the furore over Spain’s cut price garb here’s why one might have expected them to stuff their red and yellow tracksuits back in their lockers before leaving the Olympic village.

Bosco, the Russian sportswear brand, provided the kits, saving the Spanish government  €1.5m according to Alejandro Blanco, chairman of the Spanish Olympic Committee. Blanco claimed a fiscal victory — given Spain’s ailing economy — but the designs were widely deemed a style defeat. 

Roger Blitz has written an interesting story here about how Usain Bolt’s megastardom obscures underlying weakness in track and field athletics.

Set aside its showpiece global events and what is left is a sport struggling for sponsors and broadcasters, participants and a grassroots structure.

The earning power of its elite performers, even Usain Bolt, is small compared with their equivalents in other sports.

This prompted us to check how Bolt’s earnings compare with other top global sports stars. The answer, based on Forbes magazine’s latest ranking of the world’s highest-paid athletes, helps illustrate how far behind track and field has fallen. The Jamaican sprint champion is the only runner in the top 100 at a lowly 63rd. Even among athletes competing in London he ranks just eighth: 

Flagbearer Kirani James (C) leads his delegation during the opening ceremony on July 27 (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/GettyImages)

It’s been a historic few days at the games for Guatemala, Grenada and Cyprus, with each country winning its first Olympic medal, reports Darren Wee.

Erick Barrondo of Guatemala won silver in the 20km walk on Saturday, teenager Kirani James of Grenada won gold in the 400m dash on Monday and sailor Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus won silver in the laser class on the same day.

The three athletes became national heroes overnight. Thousands of revellers took to the streets for an impromptu carnival in James’ hometown of Gouyave, while Barrondo took the opportunity to call for “the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead”. 

Schwazer celebrating his victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

“I wanted everything, but lost everything”.

Alex Schwazer, the Italian race walk champion expelled from the London Olympics for failing doping tests, confirmed his use of EPO and said he acted alone, at a press conference in northern Italy on Wednesday.

Sobbing, the young athlete confessed his sense of “shame”, along with his anxiety of not living up to expectations after winning a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

“For these Games I wanted to be stronger and wasn’t able to say ‘no’ to doping”, he said.

The runner explained that he wanted to quit the sport more than once but felt the pressure of his family and peers to keep on going. “I was tired and fed up”, Mr Schwazer said.

The 27-year old racer said he bought the doping shots in Turkey, in September last year. For €1500, “the pharmacists gave me what I wanted”, he said. His last injection with the blood booster was the day before the test on July 30.

He said he agreed to the tests by the World Anti-Doping Agency in a “conscious suicide”, in order “to be freed from this burden”. 

Laura Robson (L) and Andy Murray at the end of the mixed doubles tennis (LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

The sight of victorious Olympic athletes collecting a bunch of flowers along with the all important medal on the podium has caused many an observer to chuckle at the incongruity of that part of the ceremony.

Not so the floral industry, which is churning out 4,400 of these so-called victory bouquets during the main and Paralympic games. How it must pain them to see most of them getting tossed into the crowds by unappreciative Olympians.

We can reveal however that it is not just the florists that are benefiting from this ancient tradition, which dates back to the original Greek games when athletes were crowned with wreaths made of olive leaves

Alex Schwazer competing in Barcelona in July 2010 ( JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Alex Schwazer competing in Barcelona in July 2010 ( JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Clean–cut, young and promising. Alex Schwazer was supposed to be a great hope for the Italian Olympics team and fans, yet has become the biggest disappointment of these Games.

The race walk champion was expelled from the London Olympics after testing positive for doping on Monday.

“I was wrong. My career is finished,” said Mr Schwazer, gold medal winner in Beijing in 2008. “I wanted to be stronger for these Olympics,” added the 27-year-old athlete, who is due to give a press conference on Wednesday.

The Italian national Olympic committee removed him from the team and Gianni Petrucci, chairman, spoke of a “bitter day” for Italian sports. “This day has been now ruined by this terrible news that has shocked us. We cannot compromise: one medal down, yet greater cleanliness,” said Mr Petrucci.

Mr Schwazer was not in London, where he was due to defend his title in the 50km race on Sunday. He failed the test for EPO, a blood booster, conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“I acted alone and take responsibility”, said Mr Schwazer. 

Australian Tom Slingsby, a sailor first inspired by Britain’s Ben Ainslie, struck gold on Weymouth’s Nothe course on Monday in a race that saw the island of Cyprus win its first ever Olympic medal, a silver in the same Laser class.

Slingsby, 27, from New South Wales, who has said he is retiring after these games, could have been a professional tennis player but took up Laser single-handed dinghy sailing aged 15 after being inspired by Ainslie’s duelling with Brazilian Robert Scheidt.

And it was these aggressive match-racing skills that saw him through to a gold medal today in strong winds gusting to more than 22 knots. The pair separated from the fleet after a pre-race battle of nerves that became a one-on-one tussle at the back of the fleet, on the opposite side of the course, with Slingsby eventually stretching a gap from his opponent.

Slingsby had gone into Monday’s medal race as the gold favourite after consolidating his place at the top of the leaderboard by winning both races on Saturday.

The four-time world champion was able to put to rest his disappointing result at the 2008 Beijing games. 

Esther Bintliff

Following a spate of expulsions from London 2012 in recent days, we thought it might be helpful to give you a little cut-out-and-keep guide to staying IN the Olympics. Stick to these rules†, and when you finally achieve your lifelong ambition to compete in the world’s biggest sports competition, we think you’ll stand a good chance of at least making it through your event.

  • Avoid hash brownies. This seems relatively simple: don’t eat foodstuffs laced with illegal drugs. Unfortunately, it appears you can never be *quite* sure with homebaked goods, as Nick Delpopolo, the US judoko expelled on Monday, found out to his cost. “My positive test was caused by my inadvertent consumption of food that I did not realize had been baked with marijuana”, he said. If you feel you are also at risk of inadvertently consuming food baked with marijuana, our advice would be two-pronged: firstly, consider avoiding brownies altogether for the year before the games. They are, after all, one of the cake-foods most beloved of hash fiends. Don’t despair: there are lots of other tasty, harder-to-make cake products that are less likely to be spiked, such as the bakewell tart, or the classic battenberg. Our second piece of advice is to avoid altogether any baked goods whose provenance you are unclear about, particularly if they have been made by a member of your peer group with a history of drug use, and are being handed out at, say, a party. If you’re really worried, stick to store-bought treats with the wrapping intact.
  •  Don’t be racist. It’s just plain wrong. Jokes with racist overtones – such as that made by the Greek athlete Paraskevi Papachristou - are a surefire way of getting yourself thrown out of the games. Ditto for offensive remarks directed at another country; Swiss footballer Michel Morganella was rightly expelled when he posted insulting comments about South Koreans.

 

How far should we go to develop top athletes? Is it worth so much that a special “Olympic class” of people should be cultivated from a young age?

It seems that this has already happened in many competing nations. It reminds us of the strategy employed by District 2 in the The Hunger Games.

For those not familiar with this particular work of fiction, it tells the story of an entirely more violent set of games that involve a fight to the death by a bunch of teenagers (some even younger).

From each of 12 districts in the nation of Panem two kids are selected to do battle in a sci-fi version of a gladiatorial ring until only one remains and is proclaimed the winner by virtue of still being alive.

The “tributes”, as the teens are so-called, are mostly selected randomly. However, we are told that District 2 has “career tributes” who are entered into special academies at a young age. They then get to the ripe old age of 18 — at which point they are expected to volunteer themselves for the Hunger Games. Districts 1 and 4 have also been known to engage in this strategy, and all three districts that do this are wealthier than the other 9 districts.

This strategy, of having a specialist warrior class, makes tributes from these districts particularly successful at the games. (It also means that the rest of the kids in those districts don’t have to risk being selected by random draw.)

Our own distinctly real Olympic Games is gracefully free of such gratuitous violence. Instead, our Games represent to us sporting achievement in the context of universal ideals. Nations are brought together by them in celebration of values we share.