Canberra Times

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Those funny, furious and feckless moments

Phil Lutton recounts 10 things that didn't go the way everyone envisaged in London.


German superheavyweight lifter Matthias Steiner was one of the truly inspirational stories of 2008, when he won gold in Beijing and took the podium with a photo of his wife, who had died in a car accident. Steiner made headlines at these Games as well. Unfortunately, it was because he ended up being crushed by a steel bar he was trying to hoist above his head. Attempting his second lift in the snatch, Steiner groaned as he tried to power through a lift of 196kg. Instead, his arms gave way and the bar clattered down on to his head and neck, leaving him prone on the mat. Thankfully, after some precautionary x-rays, he was given the all clear.


''North Korea'' and ''sense of humour'' aren't regularly used in conjunction, so it was no surprise the North Korean women's football team didn't laugh off the first flag gaffe of the Games. The football competition began two days before the Opening Ceremony and it took only minutes for it to produce a minor international incident. Just before play at Hampden Park, a photograph of North Korea's Kim Song Hui was flashed up on the screen - next to the South Korean flag. The mortified North Koreans gestured angrily towards Olympic officials. They refused to take the field for more than an hour.


As Americans tend to do, Serena Williams was hand on heart and beaming with apple pie pride as she stood on the dais to accept her gold medal. She had once again proven to be unstoppable at Wimbledon, the home of the tennis tournament. As the Stars and Stripes was hoisted towards the blue skies of SW19, a gust of wind ripped it off the pole and sent it flying into the crowd.



After all these years, nothing makes viewers ask ''Can he still have children?'' like a snapped pole in the vaulting. Our man for London was Cuba's Lazaro Borges, who strode confidently down the track to thunder the pole into its mounting. As it bent, he started to take off and set sail for the bar. Instead of sending him hurtling over the bar, it exploded in three pieces. We're told the crown jewels are still in working order.


Fans booed, there were threats of walk-outs and demands for refunds - just another night at the badminton, really. With pool play in place for the first time, teams quickly worked out that winning all of your matches wasn't the easiest path to gold. Instead, the players went rogue, with organisers facing the unbelievable scenario of teams playing each other and both trying to lose. As a result, China's world champion doubles pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were sent packing, along with pairs from South Korea and Indonesia. A complete cock-up.


German diver Stephan Feck - a walking headline before he even stepped on to the springboard - provided one of the true ''avert your eyes'' moments with his painful entry to the pool. In the qualifying rounds of the three-metre springboard, Feck attempted a forward 3½ somersault pike. It all went horribly wrong, with Feck spinning out of control like Maverick's plane in Top Gun before smashing into the water flat on his back. His dive earned a resounding zero.


You would have been a brave punter to bet on a particular Bulgarian hurdler at the Olympics. And sure enough, Vania Stambolova made good on her unfortunate surname. The 28-year-old flew out of the blocks in the heats of the 400m hurdles, leapt at the first barrier … and stumbled over, crashing down on to the track and failing to finish the race.


Ever since Eric the Eel splashed around the pool in Sydney, there has been a quest at every Olympics to find his successor. Not a Games can go by without a cult figure being adopted by the fans and media. The usual criteria includes being hopeless at your sport, trying very hard and smiling all the way. Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger didn't take long to put up his hand. Nicknamed ''Hamadou the Hippo'', he finished dead last in all of the races he contested in the men's single scull. And he did it all with pride and perseverance, stroking his way up the lake at Eton Dorney as the galleries roared him to the line. He even went for a row up the Thames with Fairfax's very own sculling expert (on the water and in the bar), Rupert Guinness.


Over in the States, host broadcaster NBC was subjected to furious criticism for their decision to delay, well, everything from London. Not even the most-anticipated event of the Games, Usain Bolt's 100m final, was beamed into the US. But the network had the last laugh. Despite being pilloried, they had record ratings.


We couldn't finish this list without a salute to German gold medal winner in the discus, Robert Harting. After taking the title with a throw of 68.27m, he raced to the crowd and ripped his shirt to shreds like Hulk Hogan. He then embarked on a victory lap by leaping over the hurdles on the track set up for Sally Pearson's 100m final, then tried to rip one of the prongs of the Olympic flame out of the ground. Later that night, he drank an Olympic pool's worth of beer, got robbed, fell asleep on a train and wasn't allowed back into the village because his pass was missing. And that, my friends, is what going for gold is all about.