Tokyo 2021 The good the bad the rugby

About 10 Days ago I said to my wife Bec “I’ve good news and bad news for you, what would you like first?”. With a somewhat sceptical look she replied, “I’ll have the bad news first”. Well Honey, the bad news is sadly there are no All Blacks games on for the next two weekends!”

With a smile she said “Darling, that’s not bad news, that’s GREAT news. We can have some quality family time; I can’t wait for the Good news!

The good news, my little petal, is the Tokyo Olympics are on for the next 16 days!

That’s not good news you Idiot!” she growled knowing that was me locked away in the Man Cave for the next fortnight. No, it’s GREAT news!” I smiled, “They have Rugby on at the Olympics!!!

I’ve been cooking my own meals and ironing my own work clothes since!

I was somewhat pessimistic about these Tokyo Olympics, postponed for a year and with no crowds due to Covid, I couldn’t see them rivalling previous Games for atmosphere or excitement. I mean how do athletes get enthused marching into an empty 68,000 seat stadium at the Opening Ceremony, how do the swimming and athletic relay teams get pushed to Olympic Glory without the noise of a packed arena, and more to the point who the hell do the long and triple jumpers get to clap them down the runway???

There is nothing quite like the ‘ups and downs’, ‘highs and lows’, and ‘goods and bads’ of 16 days of international sporting competition to evoke every possible human emotion in a man or woman, whether you are a competitor or a broken down old armchair critic like myself.

I also couldn’t help thinking what the President of the IOC was going to declare these Games as in his final speech at the Closing Ceremony? “I hereby declare the 2021 Tokyo Olympics the ‘Quietest’ ever!

How very wrong I have been as my greatest fears for Tokyo were put to rest from day one of Competition. NOTHING beats an Olympic Games – crowds or no crowds, this is still the pinnacle of any athletes’ career and, along with the Rugby World Cup, my four yearly fix of Sporting Euphoria!

There is nothing quite like the ‘ups and downs’, ‘highs and lows’, and ‘goods and bads’ of 16 days of international sporting competition to evoke every possible human emotion in a man or woman, whether you are a competitor or a broken down old armchair critic like myself. We ride that wave of emotion with our country’s athletes as they succeed, fail and fall. From the ‘highs’ of Gold medal winning achievements to the ‘lows’ of failing to qualify for a final, the ‘ups’ of celebrating unexpected victories and the ‘downs’ of sharing the tears of unexpected early exits, and the very ‘good’ of gracious losers congratulating their victors to the very ‘bad’ of petulant self-entitlement displayed by a minority of athletes (see Novak Djokovic tantrum).

After 10 days of competition here are some of my personal highlights and lowlights:

Dean Boxall goes ballistic!
Aussie swimmer Ariarne Titmus’ coach Dean Boxall became an overnight Global Social Media sensation as he took celebrating a Gold Medal win to another level with a pelvic hip thrusting, head banging, official eluding, fist pumping performance deserving of a Gold Medal itself. The relief and joy of four years of planning and personal sacrifice culminating in Olympic victory was just too much for surfer dude Dean, as every possible emotion took hold of and exploded out of his body. This is what winning is all about!

Who would have believed Kiwis and Aussies could achieve such greatness sitting on their bums going backwards!!!

With three Gold medals and two Silvers New Zealand finished on top of the Tokyo Olympic Rowing medal table. Wins in the Women’s pair and single sculls, and a silver to the Kiwi women’s eight had set the stage for the last event on the schedule, the men’s eight. NZ hadn’t won this event since 1972 and have been desperate ever since to emulate the heroic feats of Munich. And win they did, 1-second ahead of rowing powerhouse Germany, and with only 2.11 seconds separating the top four finishers. The crew included Tom Murray from the Blenheim Rowing Club in my old home town Marlborough.

Actually, I should have said “New Zealand AND Australia Rowing on top of the World” with Australia finishing second on the medal table (two Gold and two Bronze). Between the two Tasman rivals they won nine of the 42 medals on offer (21%), and five of the 14 Golds on offer (36%), a fantastic achievement and just reward for the outstanding talent identification and High-Performance programmes both Countries have developed over recent years.

Who would have believed Kiwis and Aussies could achieve such greatness sitting on their bums going backwards!!!

Some Aussie kid no one has heard of wins Gold in the Pool!
Zac Stubblety-Cook, the 22year old Queenslander no-one had ever heard of won Australia’s first breaststroke Olympic Gold since 1964, and broke the Olympic record in the process! The youngest in a quality field, Stubblety-Cook was only sixth at the first turn and third at the last turn but powered home to stun the swimming world with a beautifully executed race plan.

The affable Aussie said after the race “You can only be an underdog once, and I had that luxury today”. Gotta love it when a young no-name gives it to the Americans!
 
NZ Sevens Heaven!

The NZ Black Ferns Rugby Sevens avenged their 2016 Rio final loss to the Australian Women’s Sevens by winning Gold in a dominant display in Tokyo, the only hiccup being a stunning come-from-behind win over Great Britain after being 0-21 down. Having dealt to Russia in the quarterfinals and struggling against Fiji in the semis, the Black Ferns met France in the final but didn’t have it all their own way until late in the second half ,eventually winning 26-12. Captain Sarah Hirini was inspirational having her best game of the tournament and speedster Michaela Blyde, despite a niggling hamstring always caused problems for the defence, but the beaming smile on Stacey Fluhler’s face when she dotted down did it for me! The Black Ferns Sevens are an outstanding team, and it was obvious to all just how much this Gold meant to them after five long years of soul searching and planning.

Aussie Women’s Sevens disappointment!
The decline in the Aussie Women’s Sevens results is as rapid as the rise in the ‘Fijian’ Women’s Sevens performances. It might be brutal but the Aussie women’s team was nothing short of ordinary at best in Tokyo as they fell to the USA in Pool play (where they beat Japan and China), then 12-14 to Fiji in the quarters, putting them out of medal contention. Australia eventually ended up a disappointing fifth and surely must be ruing leaving Ellia Green out of the squad. Green adds pace and experience and Heaven knows you need that in Sevens! The Aussie Women don’t have a nickname, maybe that’s the problem!
 
Photo: Rueters/Brian Snyder
Patty Mills sets the standard!

If there is one Australian athlete at these games that has really stood out for me it is NBA Star and the Australian Boomers captain Patty Mills. Aside from being Australia’s best player and leading the Boomers to a 3- 0 start to their Olympic campaign with wins over Nigeria, Italy and Germany, it’s the way Mills conducts himself off-court that impresses me most. He is engaging with the media, articulate, passionate and all about the Team. He speaks of the legacy the Boomers want to leave, the value of a Team first/individual second culture, and the responsibility and honour of representing your country.

A proud indigenous man, Mill’s mother was a part of the “Stolen Generation”, and his great uncle is Eddie Mabo the famous indigenous Land Rights Activist who changed Australian History.

The Australian Flag Bearer at the Opening Ceremony, Mills will be hoping to change history too as he leads the Boomers into the final top eight and hopefully Olympic Glory in Tokyo.

Dame Valerie does it again!
Five-time Olympian and Kiwi Legend Dame Valerie Adams won her fourth Olympic medal in the shot put in Tokyo, taking bronze to go with her two Golds and a Silver. The four-time World champion, four-time World Indoor champion, two-time Olympic, and three-time Commonwealth Games champion is an International legend of Track and Field and has to be one of my favourite all time athletes.

Her brother is Steven Adams the NBA Basketball Super Star and is the youngest of Valerie’s 17 siblings.

Emma McKeon – GOAT!
Aussie Swim Star Emma McKeon has now won 11 Olympic medals (five Gold) in total, seven of which were won in Tokyo (four Gold and three Bronze)! This makes McKeon the most successful Australian Olympian in history, her five Golds (incl one from Rio) puts her equal with Ian Thorpe for Olympic Golds, and she becomes the most decorated female athlete of any description from ANY Country at a single Olympic Games. Just ponder that!

 Not much more to say other than we’ll remember Tokyo as the Games that Emma McKeon became the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), and be thankful we witnessed one of the greatest sporting achievements ever.
 
 If she were a Country she would be 12th on the Tokyo medal table as at Sunday night! All hail the GOAT!!!

This makes McKeon the most successful Australian Olympian in history, her five Golds (incl one from Rio) puts her equal with Ian Thorpe for Olympic Golds, and she becomes the most decorated female athlete of any description from ANY Country at a single Olympic Games.

And finally………….

  • French born Aussie Jess Fox at last buries the demons of past Games finally winning Olympic Gold in the C1 Canoe Slalom with her dad calling the race from the broadcasters box and coach mum course-side.

  • The reaction of the Women’s 100m second and third placed Jamaican Sprinters Shelley-Anne Fraser-Pryce and Sherika Jackson to countrywoman Elaine Thompson-Herah’s Gold Medal win was astonishing. There is obviously no love lost between them. Be interesting to see how they come together for the 4 x 100 relay!!!

  • Sam Kerr, the Australian Matildas international soccer superstar. She single handedly took the heart out of the Great Britain side in a 4-3 thriller and catapulted the Matildas into the medal rounds!

  • Little known Rohan Browning, the Aussie sprinter now known as “The Flying Mullet”, won his 100m Heat in a blistering 10.01sec beating Olympic great Yohan Blake and in the process became Australia’s fastest ever Olympian.

Although I’ve been watching the Olympics as I’ve been writing this, it’s now time to retire to the lounge to focus on the evening session of Track and Field and the Men’s 100m finals.

Go the Mullet!

Story & Images by Greg Brimble

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