THE LEGENDS OF OLYMPICS


-: R. Muthu Kumar :-


Some athletes cut out to scale Himalayan heights


Will pandemic-scarred Tokyo throw up new star?



The 32nd Summer Olympics will finally kickstart on July 23 in Tokyo. The event earlier scheduled to be held in 2020 was postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that shattered the world order. With the threat of COVID-19 still looming large, Japan is backing off a forecast of how many gold medals it will win at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics that are set to open next month. In fact, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee seem to be hellbent on beating the COVID-19 blues by insisting on hosting the mega event under a new normal despite a vast majority of Japanese citizens being sceptical about the conduct of the games.

The Japanese Olympic Committee said 30 gold medals was their earlier target which was set much before the pandemic hit. The president of the Japanese Olympic Committee now says that is no longer the goal. Predicting performance in Tokyo could be a problem for many countries, not only Japan. The United States and China are predicted to finish first and second in the gold-medal standings, as they did in Rio and London. China topped the United States in the gold-medal tally at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Japan was aiming very high looking for 30 gold.

In Rio de Janeiro, Japan won 12 gold medals, and its best was 16 in 2004 at Athens and in 1964 when Tokyo was also the venue.

This time Japan is relying on seven core sports swimming, judo, badminton, track and field, gymnastics, table tennis, and wrestling. It will also hope to score in the five sports added for Tokyo: baseball, softball, sports climbing, karate, and skate boarding.

While uncertainty seems to be the only certainty in the present times, there is always hope that better days will prevail as the cliched saying goes “there will be light at the end of the dark tunnel” or “every night will be followed by a day”. Irrespective of what happens in the future, the past has a great history of Olympic records and performances. Over the years, many athletes have scaled Herculean heights to leave behind vestiges of legendary moments to fall back on. Will Olympics 2020 throw up such a legend, only time will tell! Trinity Mirror takes a sneak peek at a few such legends.


Awesome UK oarsman

Steve Redgrave! His famous quote “…diabetes had to live with me, not me live with it…” Redgrave had, at the age of 34, won the rowing gold for the fourth Games in a row and on live TV, he announced his retirement in unequivocal fashion. Yet four years later – after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1997, and suffering with debilitating ulcerative colitis since before the 1992 Barcelona Games – he put his ailing, 38-year-old body through a punishing training regime one last time and achieved another Olympic triumph, as a member of the coxless fours. In doing so Redgrave became the only endurance sport athlete to win five golds in five consecutive Games: 1984 (coxed fours), 1988, 1992, 1996 (coxless pairs) and 2000 (coxless fours). His secret? “I decided that diabetes had to live with me, not me live with it,” he said.

The Oz king of freestyle

Ian Thorpe! Phelps actually idolised Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe. “Thorpedo”, the sobriquet that Thorpe won for his exploits, clinched five gold medals, the most by an Australian, with three in his home Sydney 2000 Games (400m free, 4x200m and 4x100m freestyle relays) and two more in Athens (400m free, 200m free) four years later. At the age of 14, Thorpe became the youngest male ever to represent Australia. He won five Olympic gold medals, the most won by any Australian. With three gold and two silver medals, Thorpe was the most successful athlete at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. In total, Thorpe has won eleven World Championship gold medals; this is the third-highest number of gold medals won by any swimmer. Thorpe announced his retirement from competitive swimming in November 2006, citing waning motivation, but he made a brief comeback in 2011 and 2012.

This lightning struck twice

Usain Bolt! His famous quote is ‘.. I want to be among greats Muhammad Ali and Pelé...’ The fastest man the world has ever seen, the “Lightning Bolt” shot to worldwide fame in Beijing in 2008 to win both the 100m and 200m gold medals. In Beijing this lanky, laid-back Jamaican smashed world records in both sprint finals and he went on to lower the 100m and 200m marks a year later, to 9.58sec and 19.19sec respectively. He also anchored Jamaica’s 4x100m sprint relay team to gold in both Games, also in world record times. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Bolt won the 100 metres gold medal with a time of 9.81 seconds. With this win, Bolt became the first athlete to win the event three times at the Olympic Games. At Rio, he bagged three golds viz 100m (9.811), 200 m (19.781) and 4×100m relay (37.27). Bolt claimed 19 Guinness World Records, and, after Michael Phelps, holds the second highest number of accumulative Guinness World Records for total number of accomplishments and victories in sports.

The Hungarian ring master

Laszlo Papp! First boxer to win three Olympic gold medals. Papp tangled with Hungarian Communist authorities as well as ring opponents as he became the first boxer to win three Olympic gold medals. The fluid, hard-hitting southpaw, known for his devastating left hook, totted up a 301-12 amateur win-loss record, with 55 first-round KOs. In 13 Olympic bouts across London 1948 (middleweight), Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956 (both light-middleweight), Papp lost only one round – in the 2-1 final win against America’s Jose Torres in 1956. That third gold came at a highly emotional time, just weeks after the brutal crushing of a Hungarian uprising against the Soviet-backed regime. The Budapest-born Papp turned professional the following year aged 31. But the first professional boxer from the Soviet bloc was denied a shot at middleweight world champion Joey Giardello in the United States in 1965. The Hungarian Communist authorities revoked his passport, concerned about a boxer fighting for money in the beacon of the capitalist world. Papp retired as an undefeated European middleweight champion and was later awarded an honorary world title by the World Boxing Council, who also named him the best amateur and professional fighter of all time.

7-gold spree all time athlete

Mark Spitz! The brash American boasted he would win six gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics but he ended up with two relay titles and only one individual silver and one bronze, in what he called “the worst meet of my life”. Four years later in Munich, Spitz stunned the world by winning an unprecedented seven gold medals at the same Games, coming home first in every event he entered with a world record each time. Spitz’s haul – 100 meters and 200 meters double in both freestyle and the butterfly, and three relay titles — remained unmatched until Michael Phelps swam to eight golds in Beijing in 2008. Spitz retired immediately after Munich, before attempting an ill-fated comeback, aged 41, when he failed to qualify for the 1992 Barcelona Games. Spitz confessed in 2008 to being relieved to see his record eclipsed by Phelps. “He is the single greatest Olympic athlete of all time now,” said Spitz. “I always wondered what my feelings would be. I feel a tremendous load off my back.”

Pugilist fondly named Cuban Ali

Teofilo Stevenson! The first heavyweight boxer to win three golds, Stevenson turned down a lucrative fight with Muhammad Ali to remain amateur throughout his career, earning the devotion of his adoring compatriots. “What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” He said. Stevenson’s three golds came in 1972, 1976 and 1980, making him one of only three fighters to achieve the feat and the first since Hungary’s Papp 24 years earlier. The third was another Cuban heavyweight, Felix Savon, in 1992, 1996 and 2000. In a 1988 Boxing Illustrated poll, the towering, graceful Stevenson, with a thundering right hand and striking resemblance to Ali, was selected as the greatest Olympic boxer of all time. In 1974 promoters Bob Arum and Don King both tried to lure the 22-year-old to fight Ali, a match that many believe the Cuban would have won. Ali instead regained his heavyweight title by knocking out George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. Stevenson lost one only round at the Olympics, in his final bout against the Soviet Union’s Piotr Zaev in 1980. Stevenson won three amateur world championships but was denied a shot at more Olympic gold when Fidel Castro’s Cuba boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Games. Stevenson, described by his friend Ali as “one of the great boxing champions”, retired aged 36 just after the 1988 boycott was announced and died in 2012 following a heart attack.

Most decorated Olympian

Michael Phelps! His well-known quote ‘… I thought I could, and thought I would, swim a lot quicker – much quicker…’ and ‘ …For myself, losing is not coming second…’ A hyperactive child, Phelps was encouraged into swimming aged seven to give his hyperactive energy an outlet, and became the most decorated Olympian of all time. Fondly called the “Baltimore Bullet” came home empty-handed from his first Games at Sydney 2000 when just 15. But a slew of world records over the next three years led to a dominant display at Athens 2004 as Phelps took six gold and two bronze medals, the second-best performance at an Olympic Games after fellow US swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven golds in 1972. At Beijing four years later, Phelps claimed the all-time record when in the 4x100m medley relay he completed a haul of eight golds in one Games – seven of them with world record times. Australian arch-rival Ian Thorpe had prior to Athens said it would be “impossible” to win eight golds – a statement which Phelps kept on his locker as a motivation. At London four years later he became the most decorated Olympian of all time, taking his total to 18 golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Phelps’s performance in the Rio Olympics was unique in “winning multiple gold medals at 31 years old, well beyond the typical peak for male swimmers”. Phelps is considered one of the greatest Olympians of all time. Phelps was chosen to be the American flag bearer at the opening ceremony,, and he bagged five golds and a silver. Phelps ended his career with 23rd gold medal at the Olympics and his 28th medal overall.

One-lap master from US

Michael Johnson! His best quote: ‘… the only one who can beat me is me…’ and ‘… your problems pale in comparison with those of the millions of people in the world who do not have enough to eat…’ Johnson’s stiff upright running position and very short steps defied the conventional wisdom that a high knee lift was necessary for maximum speed. The American dominated the 200m and 400m sprints in the final decade of the 20th century, winning four gold medals in the Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) Games. Johnson is the only male athlete in history to win both the 200 metres and 400 metres events at the same Olympics, a feat he accomplished at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Johnson is also the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400 m, having done so at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. His tally could have been five as he was part of the 4x400m US relay team that crossed the line first in Sydney but was stripped of the title eight years later, after a team member Antonio Pettigrew admitted doping. Johnson, always a vehement voice against doping, returned his medal as he felt he had not won it legitimately.

The Nymph of perfect 10

Nadia Comaneci! Her best quote: ‘…appreciate the goodness around you, and surround yourself with positive people…’ and ‘Hard work has made it easy. That is my secret. That is why I win.’ Nadia Comaneci is one of the world’s best-known gymnasts and is credited with popularising the sport around the globe. Comăneci was known for her clean technique, innovative and difficult original skills, and her stoic demeanour in competition. Nadia’s mother Ștefania said that she enrolled her in gymnastics classes because she was a child so full of energy and hyperactive that she was difficult to manage. She is a five-time Olympic gold medallist, all in individual events. In 1976 at the age of 14, Comăneci was the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0 at the Olympic Games. The Romanian Government did allow Comăneci to participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as part of the Romanian delegation. Although a number of Communist nations boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in a tit-for-tat against the US-led boycott of the Olympics in Moscow four years before, but Romania chose to participate. Comăneci later wrote in her memoir that many believed Romania went to the Olympics because an agreement had been made with the United States not to accept defectors. But Comăneci did not participate in the Games as a member of the Romanian team; she served as an observer (not a judge). She was able to see Károlyi’s new protégé, American gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who dominated the Olympics. The Romanian delegation did not allow her to talk with Károlyi and closely watched her the entire time. On the night of November 27, 1989, a few weeks before the Romanian Revolution, Comăneci defected with a group of other Romanians, crossing the Hungary–Romania border around Cenad. They were guided by Constantin Panait, a Romanian who later became an American citizen after defecting. Their journey was mostly on foot and at night. They travelled through Communist Hungary and Austria and finally were able to take a flight to the United States. Comăneci moved to Oklahoma in 1991 to help her friend Bart Conner, another Olympic gold medallist, with his gymnastics school. She lived with the family of Paul Ziert and eventually hired him as her manager. Comăneci and Conner initially were just friends. They were together for four years before they became engaged and they came to Romania for their 1996 wedding, which was held in Bucharest. Comăneci became a naturalised US citizen in 2001, while retaining her Romanian citizenship. Comăneci and her husband Bart Conner provided television commentary for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Comăneci is highly involved in fundraising for a number of charities. She personally funded the construction and operation of the Nadia Comăneci Children’s Clinic in Bucharest that provides low-cost and free medical and social support to Romanian children.

The rebel with a gold clutch

Dawn Fraser! The Australian became the first woman to defend an Olympic swimming title and the first swimmer of either sex to win the same event three times with Olympic 100 meters freestyle golds in Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964. Fraser also won gold in the 1956 4×100 meters freestyle relay, and earned four other silvers in a career marked by clashes with Australia’s swimming authorities. After Rome, she was handed a two-year ban for offenses including not wearing the official team tracksuit to a medal ceremony. At Tokyo, Fraser again defied team orders, wore an unofficial swimsuit and was caught stealing souvenir flags near the Imperial Palace, earning her a 10-year ban and prompting her retirement. Fraser, the product of a working-class suburb of Sydney, remains one of Australia’s most outspoken sports personalities. In 2015, she apologised for telling misbehaving tennis stars Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic “to go back to where their parents came from”.

Graceful Soviet medal machine

Larisa Latynina! The Soviet medal machine despite being four months pregnant! Ukrainian-born Latynina competed in the 1958 world gymnastics championships while four months pregnant – and took home five gold medals. It showed the sort of determination that was to bring her 18 Olympic medals, a record which stood for nearly half-a-century until broken at London 2012 by American swimmer Michael Phelps. Latynina finished her Olympic career with nine gold, five silver and four bronze medals. “She was our first legend,” said Bela Karolyi, the coach of Comaneci. When she stepped out on the floor, all eyes were on her. She demanded attention and respect.” At her first Games in 1956, Latynina won the vault, floor, all-round and team golds. She successfully defended all but the vault in 1960 and in 1964, aged 29, won her third straight floor and team titles.


See also:

Indian golfer Aditi qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Sports @ Trinity Mirror


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