21 June, 2020

The Birthday of the Olympic Games falls on June 23. It is a celebration of the Olympic Movement and the joy of sport by millions of people around the world.

The National Olympic Committees organize befitting events to mark the day recognized as the ‘Olympic Day’. It is an initiative stemming from the International Olympic Committee and was created in 1948 to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games on June 23, 1894 at Sorbonne in Paris.

Since 1896, every four years, humanity is celebrated, embraced and honoured in sport at the Olympic Games. To rejuvenate the spirit of Olympism, my focus is to take you through the highlights of Track and Field at London 2012.

The world’s foremost international sporting extravaganza – the Olympic Games, returned to London in the summer of 2012. The city of London became the first to host the modern Games three times, having previously been the site of the 1908 and 1948 Olympics. Formally, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, the London 2012 Olympic Games’ Motto was ‘Inspire a Generation’. The slogan reflects one of London’s key Olympic legacy pledges, to inspire a generation of young people to take part in local volunteering, cultural and physical activity. The official mascot for the London 2012 edition was ‘Wenlock’. 

Spectacular Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games took place on July 27, 2012, which proved to be a magnificent celebration of Great Britain’s history, heritage and humour. Its distinctive blend of wit, spectacle and magic created a memorable, occasionally madcap warm-up act for the Olympic Games. Inside the stadium 80,000 spectators, including the Royal family and many heads of State, watched the compelling display unfold. It began with the tolling of the London 2012 Olympic Bell – the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world.

The great British Saturday night in and out was celebrated with a medley of pop hits from six decades. Clips of popular TV shows, films, soap operas and adverts were projected. The evening was full of unexpected gems. Queen Elizabeth delighted spectators by greeting James Bond actor at Buckingham Palace. Mr. Bean gave a perfectly timed comic accompaniment. Many who watched found the Ceremony a very emotional experience. Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee took to the podium to welcome the world to London.

Lighting the Olympic Cauldron

The lighting of the Olympic Cauldron provided a magnificent climax, surrounded as it had been by inevitable speculation about who would have that honour - a dramatic conclusion to the 8,000-mile Torch Relay. The cauldron, designed in the shape of a flower of copper petals, each of which was brought in by a competing country and which would bloom for the 17 days of the duration of the Games, was lit by seven young athletes nominated by seven past British Olympic heroes, literally enacting the passing of the Olympic Flame to a new generation.

The petals were sent to the countries to keep at the end of the Games. The evening concluded with the Parade of Olympic Athletes from all 204 nations, the arrival of the Olympic Flag and a musical finale with performance.

Team Sri Lanka for London 2012

The Sri Lanka team for London 2012 comprised of two athletes – Anuradha Indrajith Cooray (Marathon) and Christine Merrill (400m Hurdles), one shooter – Mangala Samarakoon with Rear Admiral Shemal Fernando as the Team manager of athletics and shooting, two badminton players – Niluka Karunaratne, Captain Team Sri Lanka and Thilini Jayasinghe with Rohan de Silva as manager, two swimmers – Heshan Unamboowe and Reshika Udugampola with Samantha Wickramasinghe as manager. The Chef De Mission was the experienced Deva Henry and other officials included Ranjani Jayakody, Nishanthe Piyasena, Gamini Jayasinghe and Professor Arjuna de Silva.

Both Track and Field athletes were not among the medal prospects. Merrill, a 24-year undergraduate of the University of California ran a Season’s Best 57.15 to finish 30th in the First Round. The experienced athlete who qualified to run at the Olympic Games at the London Marathon, Anuradha Indrajith Cooray could manage only the 55th position among 109 competitors clocking 2:20.41. The shooter, Mangala Samarakoon could manage only 45th and 47th positions in 10m Air Rifle and 50m Rifle Prone events with scores of 583 and 585 respectively.

Athletics at Olympics in IAAF’s Centenary

The athletic events of London 2012 produced four world records, thrilling competition galore and noisy enthusiastic crowds for every session. Whether these were the greatest ever Olympic Games is a topic for debate. It is certain that London 2012 did a fantastic job in presenting athletics to the world, fittingly in that International Athletics Associations Federations’ (IAAF) Centenary Year. IAAF President Lamine Diack cited the packed stadium for every session. He claimed: “No one can doubt the position of athletics at the Olympic Games. Eighty thousand seats filled, in the morning, in the afternoon and evening. We know we have remarkable athletes and they proved it here in London on the world’s largest stage.”

Obviously, the vast crowds were particularly ecstatic when there were British athletes to encourage, but they were also generous in their appreciation of athletes from all over the world.

Lightning Bolt strikes again in 100m

The athlete everyone wanted to see was, of course, Usain Bolt of Jamaica. Nobody quite knew if he was in top form and there was speculation as to whether Yohan Blake who had beaten him in both sprints at the Jamaican Championships would steal his thunder.

Yet, Usain proved yet again that he is the world’s fastest man by retaining the title he had won so spectacularly at Beijing 2008. In one of the most highly anticipated blue riband races for decades, the 25-year superstar of the sport crossed the line in an Olympic record of 9.63, ahead of all those hoping to relieve him of his crown.

By his own admission, he was only 95% fit after niggling problems with his back and hamstrings, so there was no time to waste in those 41 strides for any theatrics. After a relatively poor start, he was upright at 40m and ahead at 60m. From then on the 198cm tall Bolt was all puffed cheeks and concentrated effort until he dipped with a glance at the trackside clock.

Behind him was Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin. It is a final in which seven of the eight men broke 10 secs, a first in Olympic history. Chants of ‘U-sain, U-sain’ rang out from the 80,000-strong crowd, relishing a 100m final worthy of all the pre-Games hyperbole. Bolt the showman re-emerged after the race to strike his Lighting Bolt pose and show that big booming smile as he paraded the Jamaican flag on a lap of honour.  

Bolt Eyes Legend Status with 200m Victory

Four days later, Bolt and Blake were back for the 200m final and again the world’s most famous and popular athlete was in devastating form. Covering the first, curved 100m in 10.0 seconds, two meters clear of his friend and rival, he ran just quickly enough to stay ahead in 19.32 seconds to equal the fourth fastest time on record as the irrepressible Usain Bolt led a Jamaican clean sweep of the medals in a thrilling 200m. This, after all, was Bolt’s favoured distance – the one in which he first came to prominence as a sprinter of rare quality when he became the youngest-ever world junior champion, aged 15 in 2002.

Blake took the silver, posting a season’s best time of 19.44 while the little known Jamaican Warren Weir, 22, was third with 19.84, a personal best. It was the first-ever Jamaican clean sweep of the medals in the men’s 200m final. For Bolt, it was looking forward to being hailed as ‘a legend’ as he paraded his way round yet another lap of honour.

Given his fame, Bolt had more pressure and scrutiny on his 6 foot 5 inch frame than any other athlete in the world. Not only did he manage to keep such distractions from affecting his track execution, he also captured the hearts of Olympic Stadium spectators with his theatrics, camaraderie and heart-on-sleeve sense of fun and enthusiasm for his time in the limelight.

The repetition of the triple-haul of Golds he achieved in Beijing sealed Bolt’s legendary status in London.

First Gold for Grenada in 400m

On a night of surprises and upsets in the Olympic Stadium, Kiran James continued his sensational progress by adding Olympic gold to the world title he won in 2011. His victory came from a 400m final that contained no USA athletes for the first time in modern Olympic history. The 19-year old took the first Olympic medal of any colour for Grenada in 43.94. He finished ahead of Luguelin Santos, 18, of the Dominican Republic and Lalonde Gordon, 23 of Trinidad – a Caribbean clean sweep and from the part of the world now dominating world-class sprinting.

Rudisha World Record to Win 800m

Lord Sebastian Coe called it ‘the performance of the Games, in any sport’, and few would dispute that Kenyan David Rudisha’s world record in the Olympic Stadium was among the greatest moments of London 2012. The 24-year old world champion came to the Games intent on breaking the Olympic Record of 1:42.58.

His eyes lit up as he caught sight of the time as he crossed the line and the crowd responded with rapturous applause. He had broken the world record for the third time and his 1:40.99 fulfilled the pledge that he made to himself ‘to make the Lord Coe proud.’

Nijel Amos of Botswana took the silver and Timothy Kitum, another Kenyan collected the bronze. It was the greatest 800m ever seen.

Jamaican World Record in 4x100m Relay

In the most fitting of finals, to no one’s surprise, Jamaica also retained the 4x100m Relay but the quartet of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Blake and Bolt (8.8 for his flying 100m) had to break the world record to stay clear of the USA.

Jamaica’s memorable world record of 36.84 – improving the mark they set at Beijing 2008, was a barrier breaking, the previous record being 37.04 from the 2011 World Championships. Usain Bolt anchored the Jamaican quartet and it was the London 2012 Games’ fourth athletics world record and the fourth of Bolt’s stellar career. The USA took the silver with Trinidad and Tobago being promoted to bronze after the Canadians were disqualified. “It’s always a beautiful feeling to end like this,” said Bolt and his Olympic medal tally now stood a six Golds including four World Records.

Pure Mo Farah magic in 10,000m

This was British athletics at its very best. Mo Farah’s 10,000m triumph capped a fantasy night for a sport that normally struggles for a British gold medal. This was the night that Farah took on the Africans over 25 laps and beat them, sprinting from the front around the final circuit and crossing the line in 27:30.42. Farah ran a careful, strategic race, remaining with the defending champion until only five laps were left. It was fitting that the silver medal was won by Galen Rupp of the USA, Farah’s training partner. Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia took the bronze. “I can’t believe it,” said Farah.

Mo achieves distance Double in 5,000m

It seemed inconceivable that having won the 10,000m the week before, Britain’s Mo Farah could pull off this Double. Only six men in history had achieved such a feat, including the great Emil Zatopek of Czech Republic and Lasse Viren from Finland – but this was a historic Olympic Games in which British athletes were achieving extraordinary feats. When Farah was handily placed throughout the slow-run race and then moved into the lead with less than two laps to go, the impossible became suddenly possible, given that Farah had already admitted to being tired after the greatest week in his life. The Kenyans and Ethiopians had played into his hands by allowing the race to drift along. They gave Farah the perfect platform from which to launch his winning effort, with his famous burst of speed. The strike came even before the bell and Farah was off. Even before he crossed the line, to a standing ovation, his unforgettable celebrations had begun. His time 13:41.66. Farah’s last 400m took just 52.94, the final 800m 1:54.04 and the last 1600m in 3:57.0 which is way inside sub-minute mile pace!

Fraser-Pryce back on top in 100m

Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce caused something of an upset by upstaging the pre-race favourite, Carmelita Jeter of the USA, to win the 100m in 10.75 – an astonishing time considering the breezy, cool conditions in the Olympic Stadium. The 25-year old, who took the lead at half way became the first woman to retain the title since 1996. She crossed the line just 0.03 secs ahead of Jeter, who challenged hard all the way in what she described as a ‘power-filled final’, with fellow Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown taking the bronze.

USA scorch to world record in 4x100m Relay

One of the longest-surviving world records was eliminated when the USA team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter clocked 40.82 to win the women’s 4x100m Relay title. Jamaica came second and Ukraine won the bronze.

A Symbol of the London Games

The track and field programme of the London Olympic Games got off to an electrifying start when the ‘Face of the Games’, Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis, sped to a fantastic time of 12.54 in the opening event of the Heptathlon, the 100m Hurdles. That was not only a British record but the fastest ever recorded in multi-event competition and Ennis never looked back. Adding personal bests in the 200m and javelin and finishing off with a fast and exhausting 800m, she ran out the winner by over 300 points with a national record score of 6955 points. Her effort was the first one of three British triumphs on the second day of the competition – “Super Saturday” as it became known.

Highlights of London 2012 Games

The London 2012 edition had 26 sports, 39 disciplines and 302 events with 10,768 athletes (5,992 men and 4,776 women) and 5,770 team officials. These Games resulted in 32 world records in eight sports. A total of 85 nations won medals, 54 of those winning at least one gold medal. There was a special dispensation for the shooting events, which would otherwise have been illegal under the UK Gun Law. The swimmer, Michael Phelps won four golds and two silver medals in London 2012, to later become the most successful Olympian of all time with 28 medals. In tennis, mixed doubles returned to the Olympic programme for the first time since 1924. Women’s boxing was included for the first time as well.

Closing Ceremony and IOC Medal Table

The Closing Ceremony of London 2012, also known as ‘A Symphony of British Music’ took place on August 12, 2012 in the Olympic Stadium. The United States were once again the most successful nation, winning the most gold medals – 46, the most silver medals – 29, bronze medals – 29 and the most medals overall – 104.

China finished second on the IOC medal table with 38 gold – 27 silver – 23 bronze. The hosts Great Britain third with 29 gold – 17 silver – 19 bronze. Flag bearers of 204 countries entered the stadium and behind them marched all the athletes. Lowering of the Olympic Flag and singing of the Olympic anthem took place. A capacity crowd came together to say ‘goodbye’ to the Olympic Games. The curtain of the London Games 2012 came down full of emotions, warm feelings, songs, dances with athletes coming together in a party-like atmosphere as one nation in the middle of the London Olympic Stadium.

Inspire a Generation

An attractive Participation Medal was presented to athletes and officials with the words: “The London 2012 Games would not have been so memorable without your contribution and that of every member of the Olympic Movement. Please accept this medal. It is a sincere thank you for helping us achieve our vision to use the power of the Games to inspire lasting change.”

(The author possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompasses Olympic Education, IOC and Sports; recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic and Sports pursuits; his byline appears regularly since 1988)