Postage Stamps for Paralympic Gold Medallists

16 Aug

The Royal Mail in the UK has announced that it will be issuing postage stamps featuring all athletes who win gold for Team GB at the Paralympic Games. Postage stamps commemorating the success of gold medallists in the Olympic Games have been a massive hit, but there hadn’t been any plan to do the same for the Paralympic Games. This didn’t go down too well with the great British public, so the Royal Mail has taken another look at the idea and decided that issuing stamps for Paralympic gold medallists is the way to go.

I applaud this decision, but I don’t like the fact that it wasn’t the plan from the very beginning. The Paralympic Games aren’t in any way inferior to the Olympic Games, so having one rule for the Olympics and a different one for the Paralympics makes absolutely no sense to me.

Tickets for the Paralympic Games have been selling like hot cakes, and the Games themselves will get plenty of media coverage in the UK via the BBC. Some members of the public might not be interested in watching or hearing about the events simply because they have heard the word ‘Olympics’ once too often over the past few weeks, but it is encouraging to note that the majority of Olympics fans are just as keen to keep up with developments in the Paralympics.

Getting back to those postage stamps, I don’t know much about stamp collecting but I would expect that a nice collection of stamps featuring gold medallists could be quite valuable one day. Okay, so nobody is going to get rich with a couple of first class stamps that have been stored in their wallet for a few years, but if the entire library of stamps were purchased in presentation packets and unopened, it wouldn’t surprise me if that collection increased in value over time. After all, the UK is unlikely to host an Olympic Games or Paralympic Games for quite a few decades, so the postage stamps issued this year will eventually be hard to come by.

Even if the stamps don’t increase in financial value, they are certainly useful as souvenirs, so if you live in the UK and you haven’t already started collecting, now might be a good time to do so. Then, when the Paralympic Games begin – and there are just 13 days to go – you can add to your collection without skipping a beat.

Olympic Games Musical Conclusion

13 Aug

The Olympic Games concluded last night with three hours of musical entertainment from a wide variety of performers in what had been billed by event organisers as the ‘disco at the end of the wedding’. In true ‘wedding disco’ style, the Closing Ceremony was an eclectic potpourri of numbers from artists as diverse as Jessie J, Queen, the Spice Girls, the Pet Shop Boys and Eric Idle, not to mention Russell Brand’s rendition of I am The Walrus. What is remarkable is that the Closing Ceremony was a whole lot better than it sounds on paper, so if you didn’t get the chance to see the live television broadcast you might want to check out YouTube at some point and enjoy the highlights.

The problem with wedding discos is that when the last song has finished playing, everyone knows that the party is over, and the same can be said about the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was an enjoyable evening, but no amount of musical celebration can disguise the fact that we now have to wait four more years until the next Olympic Games take place in Rio. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start counting down to that just yet, but I won’t deny that a part of me is very tempted…

As far as Team GB is concerned, the London Olympics has been the most successful Games since 1908. We ended up in third place on the medal table, with a total of 65 medals. 29 of those medals were gold, 17 were silver and 19 were bronze. The USA finished in first place overall, with 104 medals (46 gold, 29 silver and 29 bronze) and China ended the Games in second place with 87 medals (38 gold, 27 silver and 22 bronze).

When you consider how populous the top two nations are, the performance of Team GB is even more impressive. What we have demonstrated at this event is that, whilst Great Britain might not be the biggest nation in the world, we still have plenty of talent, and we also know how to transform that potential into demonstrable medal-winning ability.

Although the Olympic Games have now concluded, the good news is that we still have the Paralympic Games to look forward to. The Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games will take place on Wednesday 29 August and we then have eleven days of sporting action to enjoy before the Closing Ceremony on Sunday 9 September.

Will we fare as well in the Paralympic Games as we did in the Olympics? We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, here’s a clip of some of the Closing Ceremony fireworks that we saw last night…

Women’s Boxing Hits the Games Running

10 Aug

The current Olympic Games is the first one in which Women’s Boxing has featured, and I have to say that before the event started I really didn’t know whether I would enjoy it or not. I am a fan of boxing and other combat sports, but I have never gone out of my way to specifically watch women’s events, and I suppose I might have previously been a bit old-fashioned in that respect. But no more. Women’s Boxing has impressed the socks off me, and yesterday’s Women’s Flyweight (51kg) final between Cancan Ren of China and Nicola Adams of Great Britain was easily as good as any match that I have seen with men in the ring.

Adams won the fight – and the gold medal for Team GB – by scoring ahead of her opponent in three out of four rounds, and by the end of the match (at which point the scoreboard read 7-16 to Adams) she looked as if she could have gone on for another four at least. She fought Ren with discipline and a calm nerve, striking when the opportunity arose and maintaining a tight guard throughout.

Although Adams was in the lead from the end of round one, she never allowed herself to get complacent, which is just as well because Ren shifted gears in the third round and demonstrated her ability to box aggressively. If Adams was a worthy winner of the gold (and she was) then Ren was certainly as worthy of winning the silver.

In the Women’s Lightweight (60kg) final, Katie Taylor won the first Olympic Gold of the Games for Ireland, beating Sofia Ochigava of Russia. This was a closer match than the Fly final, with all of the judges having the fighters on equal points in the first and fourth rounds. Ochigava was ahead on points in the second round, but Taylor had a superb third round to edge in front. The final points tally was 10-8 to Taylor.

The USA beat Russia in the Women’s Middleweight (75kg) final, with Claressa Shields scoring 19 points and Nadezda Torlopova scoring 12. The boxers were level pegging at the end of the first round, but Shields took things up a notch and was the clear winner in the second, third and fourth.

Anyone who had doubted how successful (or popular) Women’s Boxing would be at the Olympic Games need ponder no more. Women’s Boxing has hit the Games running, and I for one expect to see it at many more Games to come. Congratulations to all of the athletes who competed, and particularly to those who managed to secure a medal. Not only did you all put in a fantastic performance, you also demonstrated just how thrilling Women’s Boxing can be.

Money, Medals and the Olympic Legacy

9 Aug

Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, yesterday announced that the Bank had revised his forecast for economic growth in 2012, and now expects it to be ‘around zero’ rather than the 0.80% previously stated. What the heck am I talking about this for on a blog about the Olympic Games, I hear you ask? Well, soon after that announcement the media here in the UK was bursting with people talking about how the Olympics had failed to deliver, how there would be no lasting Olympic legacy, and so on. There were a few enlightened businessmen who were able to see the wood for the trees, but in the main the broad message pumped out by broadcasters was that the Olympics weren’t delivering the economic boom that everyone had a right to expect.

Personally, I think it is far too early to measure the effect that the Olympic Games have had on the British economy. After all, the Games haven’t even concluded yet and we still have plenty of Paralympic Games action to enjoy when they do. Looking at the figures and making a judgement now is a bit like watching the start of a marathon and complaining that the anticipated winner isn’t in the lead after the first 100 metres.

No, there hasn’t been a stampede around the shops in London, and in some ways that is a good thing, because it means that the City has been able to continue running smoothly. But what did we expect? We encouraged people to visit the UK to enjoy the Olympics and they’re doing just that. Maybe we didn’t make it clear that we wanted them all to miss a few events and go shopping too…

Any financial rewards that are to come from hosting the Games in 2012 are likely to come much later – not twelve days into the event. Hosting the Olympics is a long term investment, and they are as much about inspiring people to succeed – in all walks of life – as they are about filling stadiums and selling hot dogs.

There could be thousands, or even tens of thousands of kids in the UK who are currently watching the Games and who will, as a result, aspire to set themselves ambitious goals, work hard and achieve greater levels of success (and create greater levels of wealth) than they might have otherwise. Can we quantify the overall financial impact of something like that? In my opinion it would be very difficult to do so, and trying to do it at this point would be ludicrous.

The problem, of course, is that financial benefits were used as bait when officials were trying to convince British tax payers that hosting the Games was a good idea. The take-home message was that, if we hosted the Games, our economy could only benefit, so spending huge amounts of money to make it happen was worthwhile. Now the money has been spent, and many people are looking for the instant payoff. Sadly, the instant payoff isn’t there, and it was never going to be there.

The truth of the matter is that we spent a lot of money to host the Olympic Games because we wanted the bragging rights, we wanted to see our athletes win Olympic medals on home turf and we wanted to feel like winners. And we got all of those things. Whether any of that translates into economic benefits over the long term is a different matter altogether.

I’d like to think that it will, but even if it doesn’t, it is my belief that hosting the Games in 2012 could have enriched Great Britain in ways that we haven’t yet begun to realise.

The Best Olympic Games Since 1908

8 Aug

Yesterday saw Team GB exceed its own performance at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 in terms of the number of gold medals won. At the end of Day 11 Team GB had won a total of 48 medals, of which 22 were gold, 13 silver and 13 bronze, and that is the best performance by Great Britain at the Olympics since the London Games in 1908. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that there are still five days of the 2012 Games to go!

I said a few weeks ago that the ‘official’ 2012 target of 48 medals was doing Team GB a bit of a disservice, as we had won 47 medals in Beijing and this time we had home advantage on our side. I am glad to see that my faith in Team GB has already been extremely well rewarded, and it is a certainty that more medals will be added to the current tally before we are done.

Sir Chris Hoy put his own name in the history books yesterday by securing his sixth Olympic gold medal and becoming the most successful British Olympian of all time. His sixth gold came in the Men’s Keirin event, with Germany taking silver and New Zealand sharing bronze position with the Netherlands.

Laura Trott continued the excellent work that she had started on Monday and won herself the gold medal in the Women’s Omnium track cycling event. Sarah Hammer finished in second place to take the silver for the USA and Annette Edmondson took bronze for Australia.

Two more gold medals came in the Men’s Triathlon and Team Dressage events. Alistair Brownlee won gold in the Triathlon, Javier Gomez took silver for Spain and Jonathan Brownlee (Alistair’s brother) won himself (and Team GB) the bronze. In the Team Dressage, Team GB beat Germany and the Netherlands to win the gold, so well done to team members Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin.

I have to say that I am really enjoying writing about Team GB winning medals, so congratulations to all of the athletes who won a gold, silver or bronze during the first eleven days of the Games and the very best of luck to those who will be working towards that goal today!

Team GB Still Riding for Gold

7 Aug

Team GB picked up another two gold medals yesterday thanks to their riding prowess in saddles of two kinds. On horseback, Great Britain won gold in the Team Jumping equestrian event after it proceeded all the way to a Jump-Off. The Jump-Off, for the benefit of readers who don’t usually follow equestrian events, is a tie-break stage, so well done to Team GB riders Nick Skelton, Ben Maher, Scott Brash and Peter Charles for sealing the deal and getting the first Showjumping gold medal for Britain in sixty years. The silver in the Team Jumping event went to the Netherlands, with Saudi Arabia taking the bronze.

The other kind of saddle that helped Team GB to win a gold medal was the kind found on a bicycle. To be more specific (and probably a tad less annoying) the saddle was on the bicycle of Jason Kenny, who saw off the imposing threat of France’s Gregory Bauge in the Men’s Sprint to win gold (his second of the Games) and leave his rival with silver. Third place – and the bronze medal – went to Shane Perkins for Australia.

Jason Kenny had famously been selected to represent Team GB in this event instead of Sir Chris Hoy, and so it was good to see him step into such massive shoes and replicate the success of his more experienced teammate. Of course, back in 2008 Hoy had predicted that Kenny would be the one winning gold in the 2012 games, so he will be pleased that his foresight proved to be as accurate as we had all hoped.

Whilst we’re on the subject of cycling success, Hoy himself will also be representing Team GB today in the Men’s Keirin, and Laura Trott is in an excellent position (joint lead) to land a medal in the Women’s Omnium, so do watch out for those events if you get the chance.

In addition to the gold medals that were won yesterday, Elizabeth Tweddle earned the accolade of being the first woman to win a gymnastics medal for Great Britain since 1927. Tweddle had come excruciatingly close to winning a medal in Beijing, so when she received a bronze medal yesterday for her superb performance on the uneven bars she will have been especially delighted with the achievement. Silver in this event went to Kexin He for china and the gold went to Aliya Mustafina for Russia.

All of this means that Team GB now starts Day 11 of the Olympic Games with a total of 40 medals (18 gold, 11 silver and 11 bronze). China is at the top of the table with 64 medals (31 gold, 19 silver and 14 bronze) and the USA is in second place with 63 medals (29 gold, 15 silver and 19 bronze).

Will today be the day that Team GB surpasses the number of gold medals won by Great Britain at Beijing in 2008 (we won a total of 47 medals, comprising 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze)? Only time will tell, but I certainly wouldn’t like to bet against it!

An Olympic Weekend of Wonder

6 Aug

When I said last Friday that excitement levels were likely to shift up a notch with the beginning of the track and field events, even I hadn’t anticipated the incredible performances that were to follow. Anyone who caught the action over the weekend can’t fail to have been impressed by what they saw, and fans of Team GB in particular will have been delighted again and again as our medal tally soared. Whilst I don’t have space here to detail absolutely everything that has happened since my last post, here are just a few of my personal highlights…

- Cyclist Victoria Pendleton won the gold medal for Team GB in the Women’s Keirin event, with China and Hong Kong picking up the silver and bronze.

- In the Women’s Double Sculls rowing event, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins won gold for Team GB, with Australia taking silver and Poland winning bronze.

- Rebecca Adlington won bronze in the 800m Freestyle swimming event, with Spain winning silver and Katie Ledecky winning gold for the USA.

- Jessica Ennis won gold in the Women’s Heptathlon, with Germany and Russia winning silver and bronze.

- Mohamed ‘Mo’ Farah ran a superb 10,000m race to win gold, leaving the USA and Ethiopia with the silver and bronze positions.

- Greg Rutherford jumped out of his skin to take the Men’s Long Jump gold medal, and the silver and bronze medals were won by Australia and the USA.

- Team GB won gold in the Women’s Team Pursuit track cycling event, with the USA and Canada taking silver and bronze.

- Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking won another rowing gold for Team GB by winning the Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls event, whilst Team GB landed yet another gold in the Men’s Four.

- Serena Williams beat Maria Sharipova to win the Women’s Singles tennis event and secure the gold medal for the USA.

- Usain Bolt set a new Olympic Record time of 9.63 seconds to win the gold for Jamaica in the Men’s 100m, with his teammate Yohan Blake taking the silver and Justin Gatlin picking up bronze for the USA.

- Dan Lin beat Malaysia’s Chong Wei Lee to win gold for China in a riveting Men’s Singles badminton final.

- Andy Murray beat Roger Federer to win gold in the Men’s Single tennis final, which no doubt made up for the same opponent beating him in the Wimbledon final just a few weeks ago. Andy Murray and Laura Robson then won silver in the Mixed Doubles final, with gold going to Belarus.

There were plenty more medal winners from plenty more nations that are worthy of note (every medal win is a tremendous achievement) but these were the events that had me on the edge of my seat all weekend.

As for the medals table, right now China is in first place with 61 medals (30 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze) and the USA is in second place with 60 medals (28 gold, 14 silver and 18 bronze). Great Britain is in third place with a total of 37 medals (16 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze) so well done Team GB and keep up the fantastic work!

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