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A Squash Player's Olympic Diary: Days 8-16

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Saturday 4th August

All hell broke loose in the Olympic stadium tonight, and presumably in all venues in Britain with television sets. It always looked like being a good night for GB with Jessica Ennis top of the leader board going into the 800m and Mo Farah competing in the final of his favourite event, the 10k. Not only did they both bring gold home in incredible style, but Greg Rutherford joined the party in the long jump, an event that was wide open. It was Pontefract Squash Club's end of season club dinner and when the Sheffield girl finished the heptathlon with that brilliant 800 metres, everyone quickly abandoned any thought of food and merriment to cheer her to victory, a scenario surely repeated in pubs, clubs and front rooms all over the country.
This is where the Olympics comes good. Sportsmen and women performing at the top of their games and inspiring so many, is the great draw of such an event.
I came home early from the dinner and watched the replays from the evening. Lost count of how many times I watched Mo Farah coming down the home straight to the roaring, northern tones of Steve Cram.

Sunday 5th August

Woke up this morning with the British national anthem in my head. With all the success of the British team it is an unavoidable, yet it is an annoying presence. As national anthems go, ours has got to be one of the worst. "God save the queen"! This impertinent phrase makes up half the anthem, and strikes me as having nothing to do with Jessica Ennis winning gold medals; it's confusing and irrelevant. I can't think of anyone less in need of 'saving' than the monarch, and how does God come in to it? Aren't 50% of Brits atheists? At the height of British success what a shame we have spent most of the celebrations singing this atrocity.
I have therefore brought upon myself an enforced ban on the watching of medal ceremonies, unless the gold goes to Germany.

Why is it that when 100 metre runners now line up before the race, they all do the same hideous actions to camera? Since Bolt came on to the scene with his unique asides and poses, all the others have done is copy him, and they look ludicrous. Bolt is the only person who can talk to the audience, reenact all the little stories in his head, or cheekily say: 'I am gonna win' to the camera before a race. There are only so many athletes over the course of history that have displayed such superiority, class, charisma and arrogance. Ali and Bolt are the obvious examples and can get away with it. The rest should realise they are not in a position to even try, and settle for just waving to the crowd.

Apart from breathtaking Bolt himself, the highlight or lowlight of the night had to be watching the BBC commentary team actually watching the 100metres final. Colin Jackson got so wound up that he shouted: 'oh look there's whats-his-name!' during the race. I don't know about anyone else, but i'm holding my breath listening to Jackson and Denise Lewis talk, hoping that it's all going to be ok.

Christine Ohuroghu performed so well to get a silver, and would perhaps have beaten Sanya Richards Ross over 500metres, but the American was a worthy winner, and charming in her interview.

Not many people would know it, but the badminton men's final was brilliant. Lin Dan beat Lee Chong Wei 2-1 in a brutal encounter. Agility, style, speed, toughness and oodles of skill were on display, and Lin Dan was so happy that he almost forgot to shake hands with his Malaysian rival, instead racing around the arena.

Monday 6th August

I am busy thinking of ways I can make training as short as possible in order to get back to the television. I still feel horribly bitter not to be in London, and really want to slag the Olympics off in any way I can, but can't deny that watching the sport is too absorbing for me to be sulking. I find it fascinating to see all these dedicated, driven athletes getting the attention they deserve.
I have scarcely seen an athlete so overcome by emotion on the podium than Felix Sanchez was today after winning the 400m hurdles. Quite a story too. He last won Olympic gold in the event in 2004.
I saw Beth Tweddle's performance on the uneven bars, and it was - and this time I mean it - amazing. It's incredible to watch and must take thousands of hours to perfect. She was thrilled to get a bronze, even though it could have been gold.

Tuesday 7th August

Plenty to be interested in today. It was interval work in gym this morning, and I made it so that my session coincided with the men's triathlon. It meant that anytime I felt like I wanted to be sick I could glance at the screen in the gym and know that the triathletes were feeling deathly, at the very same time.

The Brownlees, Alistair and Jonny, who live just up the road from me, won gold and bronze. We share the same physio, Alison Rose, ( also physio to Jess Ennis) so I have followed their careers with interest and have met them at the odd awards ceremony in Yorkshire. They are understated, incredible athletes and at least now they might get recognition because of the Olympic games. It's a shame that winning multiple world titles and being ranked in the top few in the world isn't enough to have already made them household names.

The Aussies are getting some flack for not being as good as they usually are, but Sally Pearson held her nerve in the 100m hurdles, an event she has recently dominated.

Victoria Pendleton, surely the most emotional athlete at the games after Sanchez, finished her glittering career off with a silver medal, losing out to her big rival Anna Meares. Chris Hoy won his second gold of the games in the Kierin, and the pictures of his mother as the race was played out were absolutely priceless. If you haven't seen them, make sure you find them; I can't ever remember seeing anyone so horrified to be watching a sporting event. Well, she wasn't really watching. She spent the entire race either facing the wall behind her or occasionally peering gingerly at what was happening on the track.

Weds 8th and Thursday 9th August

The women's 200metres final was a real prospect. It was a strong line-up, peppered with quality. Sanya Richards Ross, Alison Felix and Shelley Ann Fraser-Price seem to be great role models for young people. It has been a pleasure watching them, and their engaging personalities will have endeared them to many viewers over the last week or so. Felix, with a languid and effortless style, won well. To win an Olympic gold is one thing, but to do it so elegantly as she did, puts an athlete in a special category. Michael Johnson, Phelps and Usain Bolt are rare examples of athletes who make it look as if they might be able to win with their eyes closed, and when these athletes come along, all there is to do is sit and gawp.

The winner of the men's 800 metre final could well sit in this category. David Rudisha ran an incredible race to win the gold medal and break the world record, a very popular winner. I always think you can tell by the tone of the voices of the commentary team, and it was clear they absolutely loved him. I'm not sure I could have said the same a few nights before for the 1500metre final, when Steve Cram and Brendan Foster's reaction to the Algerian winner was ever so slightly muted. Maybe they knew something we didn't, or maybe they just didn't like the guy, but they showed their enthusiasm freely for Rudisha. And it was not hard to see why; his interview oozed class and understatement, and you couldn't help thinking that this man has not been lavished with the praise he deserves for his achievement there.

Meanwhile on the campaign trail for squash's inclusion, Ben Dirs, a BBC blogger, wrote a chirpy little article on synchronised swimming and how he feels sorry for squash players.

He had an interesting point. These swimmers undoubtedly work so hard, but how accessible a sport is it? Is synchronised swimming a sport even? Are there clubs and is it widely played by the public?

Anyway I'll leave that to him to work out. I'm tired of working out the puzzle.

Friday 10th Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th August

There has been some interesting stuff going on in the boxing and Taekwondo; at one point the other day I thought the speakers in my car were going to explode, so excited were Colin Murray and co-commentators getting over Jade Jones, who unexpectedly won gold in the 57 kg category. The boxing has been successful for Great Britain and not bad at all for Yorkshire: Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams flew the flag for the nation's most successful county.
More muting of the television for renditions of 'God Save the Queen'.
You can tell the Olympics are nearing the end when the relays begin.
Saturday evening was yet again filled with tension and excitement. Mo Farah repeated his success last week, completing an unbelievable distance double. What an incredible achievement, and justification for those endless weeks pounding out mile after painful mile.
Almost simultaneously Tom Daley won a bronze medal at the Aquatics centre, and must be relieved with that. He has had immense pressure on his shoulders being a face of the games, and with the death of his father so recently, this is a magnificent effort.

It's all over after tonight's no doubt excessive ceremony, and for certain there will be some sore heads for the next week or two.

My Alternative quick fire Olympic Awards:

Best gold medal winning story: Katherine Grainger, rowing.
Best BBC Presenter: Hazel Irvine
Worst BBC pundit: Tessa Sanderson
Most entertaining sport: athletics
Olympic Sport that is least like a sport: synchronised swimming
Least watchable sport: water polo
Biggest disappointment of a sport: fencing
Best venue: velodrome
Most impressive athletes: tough one, but the gymnasts
Best overall moment: Mo Farah's win in the 10,000m
Most excessive high-fiving: a three way tie between badminton and tennis doubles and volleyball.
Most inflated ego: all 100metre male sprinters
Best medal ceremony performance: Felix Sanchez, 400m runner
Dullest National Anthem: GB

Most competitive athletes: the women's doubles badminton teams
Best parent reaction: Chris Hoy's mum, Carol
Best interview of the games: Greg Rutherford or Chad le Clos' father

James' book 'Shot and a Ghost: A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash' is available to buy from Willstrop.co.uk, Amazon or on Kindle.