Kelly Holmes celebrates winning the women's 1500m Final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Athens, Greece

Dunaway's Athenian Column - Day Nine

Jim Dunaway who has attended every Olympic Games since Melbourne in 1956 brings his own weathered eye on what’s been happening in and around the Athletics events at the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad.


What a night!

For once, with finals only (no qualifying rounds, only two field events and eight races, you could really watch everything, see and chart every women's high jump and men's javelin throw, watch and make notes on every race, and take splits on a team in both the men's and women's 4x400 finals.

There were surprises: 22-year-olds Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway and Vadims Vasilevskis of Latvia weren't in the top 10 this year, but they were the only javelin throwers to set personal bests, and they went 1-2. Two other young throwers, 22-year-old Russian Alexandr Ivanov and 21-year-old Finn Tero Pitkämäki, finished fifth and eighth. On the other end of the age scale I was a bit sad to see veterans Jan Zelezny, 38, and Steve Backley, 35, with seven Olympic medals between them, finish out of the prizes this time.

Talk about surprises: who'd have ever guessed that Britain's Kelly Holmes, at 34, would win the 1500 metres with the same sprint finish that won her the 800 meters gold medal five days (and three races) ago. When I saw her jogging along at the back of her 1500 heat the day after the 800 final, I kind of had a hunch she might go all the way, but only if the pace in the final was slow. I never imagined she could win in a final where the winning time was 3:57.90 -- her PB, by the way.

The women's high jump was a classic, with three jumpers over 2.02, and Yelena Slesarenko (also 22!) with a clean sheet through 2.06. I've never seen that before.

Hicham El Guerrouj, having conquered his Olympic jinx with a desperate sprint finish in the 1500, came back with another great sprint finish to pull off the 1500/5000 double since the great Paavo Nurmi did it in 1924. He is carving his name deeper and deeper into the tree of athletics history, and he is still only 29.

In the men's 800, always my favourite race, Yuriy Borzakovskiy showed he has learned to pace himself perfectly. There was never any doubt in his face as he moved confidently through the home straight from fifth to first. It will be interesting to see if somebody like Bungei tries to beat him in Helsinki by running the first 400 metres in 49 seconds. It's a high-risk manouver, but desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures. At 23, all he has to do is stay healthy and he has the tools to dominate the 800 the way Wilson Kipketer did for nearly a decade.

By the way, did you notice how many of the middle distance races here were won with homestretch finishing kicks. I don't know if it means anything especially, but it certainly makes for thrilling races.
As I stood watching the final four victory ceremonies of the athletics programme in an almost-empty Olympic Stadium, I took a good look around at what may well be my last Olympic Games.

Don't get me wrong; if anyone wants to hire me to cover the 2008  Games in Beijing, I'm ready to go. But if not, I'll probably stay home in Texas and watch on television.

By the way, I've thought of some additional ways in which my first Olympics in 1956 and today's Games are different.

In 1956, all the sports contested were long-established as Olympic sports; the 'newest' was basketball, which was first played in the 1956 Games in Berlin.

There were no 'invented' sports, invented, it seems to me for their television appeal, like synchronized swimming ('sink or swim', I call it), synchronized diving (which reminds me of the dolphins at Sea World), rhythmic gymnastics (what can one say?).

By the way, today people think of gymnastics as a major Olympic sport, but it wasn't that way until television began to feature it in the 1968 Mexico City Games, and when Olga Korbut caught the world's attention with her wistful gamine appeal.

Lastly, in 1956, nobody took victory laps in Melbourne – NOBODY. Here, I've seen several bronze medallists take off for a lap with their national flags wrapped around them.

I'm not saying that it's a bad idea. But it is different.

Time marches on, I guess.