Columnists 12.8.2016 11:37 am

The darker side of the Rio Olympic Games

Tamlyn Patterson

Tamlyn Patterson

It’s only been a week, but oh boy have we witnessed drama. And the athletics hasn’t even begun yet. Who knows what we’ll be marvelling at next week?

We head into day seven of Olympic competition today and already we’ve seen athletes pushed far beyond their limits, and sadly at a huge cost both emotionally and sometimes physically. A cruel twist of fate is all it takes and just like that, the one thing you have worked towards is ripped away.

French gymnast Samit Ait Said was one of the first to make the headlines last Saturday and for all the wrong reasons. Competing in the team preliminaries, the vault specialist landed badly with his left leg literally snapping in half. The pics of his injury shared online carry a graphic content warning – something we’ve become used to with all the recent terror attacks, but never at the greatest sporting showpiece.

Grisly images showing his leg bent at a 90-degree angle have gone viral. The dire situation wasn’t made any easier by the paramedics who proceeded to drop his stretcher while loading it into the ambulance. And if things couldn’t get any worse, injury has once before stood in his way of Olympic glory. He fractured his leg in three places at the 2012 European Championships and had to watch the London Games from his couch.

Despite all the setbacks, the 2013 European rings champion is already back on his feet, determined to walk again. The president of the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, Bruno Grandi, even popped in to visit him at the Vitoria Barra Hospital. Heartbreak of a more technical nature played out at the very same venue 24 hours later.

Defending all-around champion Gabby Douglas of the United States finished third in the overall standings – the top 24 going through – but fell victim to the two gymnasts per country rule. She missed out by half a point behind compatriots Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. What makes it so tough though is the fact that she finished just over one-and-a-half points ahead of fourth-placed Rebecca Andrade, a huge margin at this level. She will however be able to add to the team gold won by the Americans on Tuesday night, after qualifying for the uneven bars final.

But imagine not being able to defend your Olympic individual crown because of some silly two-per-country rule? From anguish to close calls. It’s apparent the 40-minute wait Juan Martin del Potro had to endure before taking on the world’s leading player did him the world of good. The Argentine got stuck in a lift at the Olympic village, but put the limited preparation time behind him to beat Novak Djokovic 7-6, 7-6 to advance to the second round of the Olympic tennis competition earlier this week. After years of injury misery, the 2009 US Open champion could be on to something while world No 2 Andy Murray looms.

And finally, on a positive note, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten is back to all smiles after Sunday’s horror crash which left her with heavy concussion and three broken vertebrae. She tweeted a pic of her swollen and bruised face on Tuesday, reassuring her fans that she is okay. It’s only been a week, but oh boy have we witnessed drama. And the athletics hasn’t even begun yet. Who knows what we’ll be marvelling at next week.

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