LONDON — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:
British cyclist Bradley Wiggins has inspired a nation—to don sideburns. Thousands of fans, men and women, boys and girls, taped fake hair to their cheeks in hopes of creating a winning karma for Wiggins, the Tour de France champ renowned for his scraggly sideburns. “We all love Wiggo,” said Wayne Coxon, a 39-year-old fan near yesterday’s finish line who had taped his own custom-made fur to his face for the occasion. “People have come from all over the country to be here.” Two rival British tabloids, the right-wing Sun and left-wing Daily Mirror, both sought to capture the British zeitgeist by turning their front pages into populist cut-outs of Wiggins’ facial hair. “HERE WIGGO! Help Bradley triumph by wearing his lucky sideburns with pride,” the Mirror declared on its front page featuring a lifesize cutout of Wiggins’ hair and ears. The Sun offered readers a pair of “24-carat” sideburns colored gold for the occasion. Its “furry simple” instructions advised readers to “Be a Hair-o” by cutting along the dotted lines and using tape — not glue — to affix gently to one’s cheeks.
What’s the deal with that Danell Leyva and his ever-present towel? Call it superstition. The US gymnast likes to pull the grayish-blue towel with stars on it over his head between events so he can maintain his focus and not get distracted by everything else going on around him. He used to have two, but one ripped so now he carries the same one everywhere he goes (yes, he does wash it). Any doubts about the power of the towel were erased earlier this year at Winter Cup, a ranking meet for the US men. Leyva forgot to pack the towel and had one of his worst meets in a long time, falling on parallel bars, where he’s the reigning world champion, during qualifying, and high bar, his other best event. He wound up a distant fourth. The towel has become so “famous” it now even has its own Twitter account: http://twitter.com/leyvastowel
— Nancy Armour
New kind of unitard
Ghada Hassine of Tunisia is now the first Olympic weightlifter to compete in a newly approved “unitard” that covers most of her body. Rules requiring lifters to wear a costume that doesn’t cover the arms and lower legs were changed last year. The US had petitioned for a change on behalf of a Muslim lifter. Hassine, 19, wore the unitard yesterday under the traditional weightlifting outfit and a hijab covering her hair as she participated in the “B’’ group of lower-ranked lifters in the women’s 69-kilogramme category. She cleared 102 kilogrammes in the snatch and 120 in the clean and jerk for a 220-kilogramme total, putting her in second place before the top medal contenders had competed in the “A’’ group.
It had to happen.
After a week of being asked about bikinis, Dutch beach volleyballer Reinder Nummerdor snapped at a reporter asking about the traditional women’s uniform. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand. “It has nothing to do with our sport.” There has been a lot of attention on the women’s outfits, especially in light of a new FIVB rule that allows shorts and T-shirts for those whose cultural beliefs would prevent them from wearing bikinis. (It is unrelated to the longtime rule that allows them to cover up in cold weather.) The players have been largely tolerant of the questions. American Kerri Walsh Jennings says people might come for the scantily-clad women, but once they see the sport they understand they are looking at world-class athletes. But Nummerdor had enough, pointing out that the beach volleyball uniforms are not really any different than what sprinters wear and—as far as the men are concerned—much less revealing than the swimmers’ suits.
Playing it safe
Over at the gymnastics, the public announcer wanted to make absolutely sure he’d got this one right. You know, there’s been enough confusion already about North and South Korean flags. As he introduced Kim Soo-myun, he hesitated, almost got it wrong—and then everything went silent. The crowd started to laugh and applaud.
Then, in an assured tone, the nationality was finally given: South Korea! “I am sure you would appreciate that i want to be absolutely sure,” said the announcer, to much amusement. He didn’t know, presumably, that the North Koreans aren’t even taking part in the gymnastics here. They were banned as punishment for a case of age falsification.
—Peter de Jong
“Don’t be robotic!” That was the advice coming from Chinese basketball coach Bob Donewald to his players during practice yesterday. China has lost the first two games of the Olympics and Donewald is trying to get his players to loosen up and improvise as the game goes along. They play Australia today, and desperately need a win to start validating all the changes Donewald has made since taking over the program three years ago. “We need results,” he says.
Quickquote: ‘True British hero’
“A true British hero. First the Tour (de France) and now Olympic Gold”—Prime Minister David Cameron hailing cyclist Bradley Wiggins on Twitter after he won gold on Wednesday.
Help from a folklore legend?
Did Britain’s first Olympic gold medal come with a little help from Finn MacCool? Just before rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won the final of the women’s pair, Prime Minister David Cameron wished for success at a famed spot at Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, a dramatic natural stairway of tens of thousands of basalt rocks that run into the Atlantic. Legend has it that the causeway was built by MacCool, a mythical Irish warrior, who fashioned a seat-like section of rock called the Wishing Chair. Visitors who recline in the alcove are reputed to have their wishes granted. “I’m not allowed to tell anyone what it was, but as soon as I got back and turned on my mobile phone I heard the good news,” Cameron said, after he visited the site early Wednesday.
Maybe the stencils got slightly mixed up. Or perhaps the person who stenciled “London 2102” on an umpire stand at Wimbledon, the Olympics venue for tennis, was guessing when a British man would finally take the Grand Slam title. Whatever the case, the transposing of numbers at the All England Club was realized Tuesday and has been corrected. Earlier this month, Andy Murray of Scotland became the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1938. He lost in four sets to Roger Federer for the Swiss player’s 17th Grand Slam title. The last British champion was Fred Perry in 1936.
Before Dawn Harper got famous for winning an Olympic gold medal and Lolo Jones got even more famous for losing it, Michelle Perry was supposed to become the Next Big Thing in hurdling. It never happened. The best in the world in 2005, 2006 and 2007 tore her hamstring early in 2008 and couldn’t recover in time to make it to Beijing. She watched the Olympics on TV, and her story became another reminder that for every Jones and Harper who get their chance, there are dozens of athletes who put in all the hard work and never see the ultimate payoff. “I remember them announcing the Olympic hurdlers on TV,” Perry told me the other day. “The final sentence they said was, ‘And Michelle Perry won’t be making the Olympic team.’ “Had you told me I’d hear those words, you never could’ve convinced me it would’ve been true.” Perry does have her special Olympic moment of sorts: It was her shoes that crossed the finish line first in Beijing — albeit on Harper’s feet. Without a sponsor and unable to afford new spikes, Harper bummed a pair off Perry and wore them to her upset victory over Jones, who was leading when she tripped on the second-to-last hurdle. Perry learned that while training under the direction of the renowned coach Bobby Kersee: “The motto with Bobby has always been, ‘Help pull the next person up.’”
— Eddie Pells
Editor’s note— Eyes on London shows you the Olympics through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across the 2012 Olympic city and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.