London 2012 Olympics: Home turf key to helping British stars fulfil hopes
BY the time the athletics programme gets under way at this summer’s Olympics, the world will have witnessed a spectacular opening ceremony and six days of action in a wide variety of sports.
But with all due respect to the likes of archery, beach volleyball and weightlifting, Friday, 3 August will be when the real action gets going in the Olympic Stadium.
The first medals up for grabs will admittedly be in the women’s 10,000 metres and men’s shot, but athletics fans will not have to wait long for the likes of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis to battle it out for glory.
Indeed, by the second evening, Britain could have secured two of the eight medals targeted by UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee, with Farah looking to go one better than the silver he won over 10,000m in last year’s World Championships, and Ennis seeking gold in the heptathlon.
Both athletes have recovered from their own disappointments earlier this year to justify their position as favourites; Farah lost several races in a row in the indoor season amid concerns about fatigue and too much training, but then overcame a world-class field in Oregon – his adopted home state in the US – to lay down an impressive marker.
“I think Mo is arguably the best distance athlete in the world right now,” said the 29-year-old’s coach, Alberto Salazar, who also shouldered the blame for Farah failing to win a medal at the world indoors in March.
Ennis did win a medal in Istanbul, but her silver meant she had seen both of her world titles taken from her in seven months.
A worrying tendency to be let down by one of her seven events had emerged, but the Sheffield athlete responded with a new British record in Austria in May to become only the eighth woman in history to score more than 6,900 points.
World champion Tatyana Chernova was 132 points behind in second, with Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska a distant ninth almost 600 points adrift, but Ennis is taking nothing for granted.
“They won’t want to go into London with a bad score, they will come back stronger, but so will I and I will have a big crowd with me,” Ennis said.
“There is definitely more to come, not hundreds and hundreds of points, little improvements, but I am 26 now and I have always said this is a good age.”
Former British decathlete Daley Thompson believes the pressure on Great Britain’s well-known competitors like Ennis at the London Olympics can be harnessed as a positive by the athletes.
Ennis and multiple-distance Farah have been in the public eye for the last couple of years with extensive media coverage and advertising campaigns. But Thompson, who won gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, reckons the extra exposure can help the respective athletes succeed.
“Everybody has got their favourites and the people they know and the people they have seen on TV in the last few years, and I’m sure they will do really well,” he said.
“Over the years you come to accept that extra pressure and use it as a positive thing. Like everything, it can have its downsides and there will be some people it negatively affects.
“You never know who that is going to be and you hope that you have got the right kind of infrastructure and team around you to ease that kind of stress.”
Despite his success in Moscow and Los Angeles, Thompson admitted he would have loved to participate in a home Olympics and the extra benefits they offer to native athletes. “I’m hoping it is going to make a huge difference because in the last eight to 10 Olympics the home nation has always done 30 or 40 per cent better, so I’m hoping the same is going to apply to us and we are going to win a whole heap of medals.
“Everybody wants to go to an Olympic Games but the best Olympics to go to will be a home one. I never had the opportunity and I think every athlete would love to do that.”
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