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Olympian insomnia

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself

Well. That’s a bit of a turn up. One teeny tiny little set of islands. 5th in the world in term of GDP, admittedly, 21st in terms of population and second in the medal table at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.


Once again, the dedication and perseverance that every one of the athletes has shown over their careers blows me away.

From Katherine Grainger, coming out of retirement and going through a torrid time of it in training before winning her fifth Olympic medal at the age of 40, to Adam Peaty breaking his own World Record in the qualifying heat and then doing it again to win gold and Max Whitlock winning team GB’s first (and then 40 minutes later our second!) individual men’s gymnastics gold medal. And that was only days after being the first TeamGB man to get a medal in the artistic all-around event.

My regular readers will know I’m a big Andy Murray fan. He made his 2016 Wimbledon win look easy, so accomplished was it. His match to defend his Olympic gold against the unfeasibly tall Argentinian powerhouse Del Potro looked anything but easy. The team pursuit cyclists, among them Laura Trott, winning her third cycling gold (with another to come, possibly), while Jason Kenney joins that band of brothers with five and over – Sirs Redgrave, Hoy and Wiggins.

One of my favourite moments has to be Bryony Page’s face at the dawning realisation that, not only did she and teammate Kat Driscoll get to be TeamGB’s first ever in an Olympic trampolining final, but that she absolutely nailed her routine to get the silver medal.

Of course, for ever winner there has to be those disappointed. My heart broke for Louis Smith when he realised that his slip on the pommel horse probably cost the team a bronze medal, Greg Rutherford, ruefully saying that it feels odd to be disappointed with a bronze medal, but that’s how he feels, and Katerina Johnson-Thompson who broke a British record in the heptathlon high jump, but whose javelin arm just couldn’t do what it needed to to retain her third place.

I’m aware that I’m coming across as slightly partisan with this. Let me rectify that. I am so proud of TeamGB and what they have achieved so far – we’re not done yet – but the whole Olympics has, once again, just proved how sporting endeavour, properly rewarded can lift the soul. Simone Biles, the diminutive Texan gymnast is a joy to behold, even if she didn’t get her five golds. The Brazilian gymnasts who won silver and bronze behind Whitlock in front of the home crowd had me in tears. Incidentally, all credit to Whitlock for holding back a bit on his celebration and allowing them their glory in front of their fans. The way Usain Bolt, fastest man on earth, broke off a media interview to go and congratulate South African Wayde van Niekerk on his world-record-breaking run to win the 800m.

There’s a fantastic article in the Guardian (read it here, I urge you) about how Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time ever, met a boy in Singapore when the US swimming team stopped off there to do some training on the way to the Beijing Olympics. That boy who had his picture taken with his hero Phelps was Joe Schooling. Joe Schooling who went on to beat Phelps in the 100m butterfly in Rio just days ago. And Phelps is cool with that, because as much as the winning, he loves inspiring people.

An Aussie once referred to the UK as ‘only any good at the sitting-down sports’. Well, from where I’m sitting (sofa, TV on, beer in hand, laptop, tablet and mobile tuned to BBC Sport), we’re pretty good at the running, the throwing, the jumping, the twisty-tumbling stuff, the diving into water at EXACTLY the same time as another person, and the knocking seven bells out of a small ball kind of sports too.

Can’t believe that a)it’s nearly all over and b)we’ve got to wait four years for the next one. Oh wait – *checks Paralympics TV schedule. Settles back on sofa*

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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