August 29, 2012
With the Paralympics kicking off today the world will once again be swept up in a sporting fervour, but it’s worth taking a moment to take stock of the last few weeks.
We talk to Olympic greats Sergey Bubka, retired and current world record holding pole vaulter for the Soviet Union, repeatedly voted the world’s best athlete, and Michael Johnson, world record holding 400m sprinter, about their thoughts on London 2012.
Both men name David Rudisha’s world record breaking 800m sprint as the best performance of the Games. With seven other runners achieving their personal bests, as well as national records being set, says Johnson, breaking the 800m race with no pace setter is proof of how great his race was.
Bubka also cites the women’s 4x100m relay team as another outstanding performance: “They have beaten the 27 year world record by almost half a second. It was a fantastic run.” With Jamaica and Ukraine going on to beat their own national records in the event, it goes to show what a phenomenal race it was. But what touched the hearts of the world, according to Bubka, was the Ukraine boxing teams national dance ‘hopak’, which they performed in the ring after taking two gold, one silver and two bronze medals, to be placed second in the sport’s medal table after GB.
The biggest surprise of the games, according to Johnson, was how many people didn’t think Usain Bolt would repeat as Olympic 100m champion while Bubka bemoans Brazil’s failure to take gold in men’s football, but, back to athletics, he says “Trinidad’s Keshorn Walcott’s win in javelin throw. It was the only country’s gold in London and the second ever at Olympics, so Walcott has become part of his country’s history.”
It was British cyclist Chris Hoy’s win in keirin that Bubka believes to be the most emotional moment of the games. “It was not an easy job for him at 35. It was his last Olympic race. But Chris knew all the country was looking at him at that moment. He performed absolutely great.”
A poignant moment, as was the triumph of Afghani taekwondo fighter Rohullah Nikpai, bronze medal winner in London and Beijing but the only medal winner in Afghan history. Says Bubka, “the video footage of his arrival in Kabal has become one of the post-Games’ highlights. It is an example of how sport unites nations and brings peace to people.”
Yet for many, Johnson’s suggestion of South Korean fencer Shin A-Lam’s sit down protest after her controversial semi-final loss, that saw her refuse to leave the floor after the clock appeared to stall in the footage of the match is the most moving moment of London 2012.
For both Olympic legends, the regeneration of East London will be the most important legacy of the Games, with Johnson foreseeing the continuation of “the investment in sport that saw Team GB finish third in the overall medal table.” Bubka agrees. “They gave us new heroes, new records and new emotions that will stay in the memory forever.”
In this moment before the start of the Paralympics, it’s good to take stock and think about the legacy so far, but the next fortnight will tell the real legacy for London, with new heroes emerging over the course of the next two weeks.