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Friday, December 28, 2012
In the latest of our series looking at sporting memories of 2012, sports editor MARK HEATH looks back at two emotional Olympic moments.
FOR me, sport has always been about emotion.
And, in this most incredible year of sporting triumph, there’s been more than enough tear-jerking, heart-stopping moments to fill several pages with.
But I will always remember two specifically – a pair of Olympic memories that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and brought tears to my eyes.
Working late shifts throughout the London Games meant I could indulge my passion for sport of all kinds by watching a lot of action on the myriad of superb BBC channels available.
And one of the great things about the Olympics is how you suddenly find yourself watching, and caring deeply about, sports that you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see.
Back in August, over a steaming pile of ironing, I just happened to flick onto the channel covering judo.
What unfolded before me will stay with me forever.
Unheralded judoka Gemma Gibbons went on an unlikely tear through the -78kg division, battling through to a semi-final match-up with world champion Audrey Tcheumeo.
It was a fight I was assured that Gibbons would have little chance in.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the 25-year-old was fighting for something far bigger even than an Olympic medal.
Eight years earlier, Gibbons had lost her mum, Jeanette, to leukaemia at the age of just 49.
The driving force behind her judo career, she was the one who first got Gemma involved in the sport at the age of six.
She lived long enough to see her daughter win a gold medal at the British National Junior Age Championships, aged just 16, but never realised the dream of watching her compete in an Olympic Games.
While many would have considered quitting the sport in the wake of such a crushing tragedy, Gibbons fought on – and duly found herself on the verge of at least a silver medal in London.
Her fight with Tcheumeo was one of the most dramatic events I’ve seen all year.
And, of course, when she won with a brilliant throw, all the pent-up emotion of the past eight years came bursting out.
Gibbons slumped to her knees in tears as everyone around her exploded in celebration, before dragging herself to her feet, looking to the skies and mouthing “I love you, mum.”
Surrounded by friends and fans, the one person she wanted to be there most couldn’t be. It was an intensely private moment, shared with an audience of millions. Beautiful, and incredibly touching. Even writing about it now, I’m in danger of welling up!
Gibbons would go on to lose in the final and finish with silver, but that hardly mattered – her place in Olympic folklore had already been secured.
My other outstanding memory of the Games comes from another combat sport, and a true local success story.
For months ahead of the Olympics, we’d followed the battles of Lowestoft boxer Anthony Ogogo as he tried to reach London.
A charismatic, thoughtful and articulate young man, his Olympic dream burned brighter than most – and he frequently told us how he wanted to use his success to inspire the youth of Suffolk, a county he’s fiercely proud to hail from.
His qualification alone was enough of a drama. Fighting against a serious shoulder injury, Ogogo made the Games at the last possible qualifying event, the European Championships.
Then, on the eve of the Olympics, tragedy struck. His mother, Teresa, suffered a brain haemorraghe and Ogogo seriously considered pulling out of the boxing tournament.
He eventually decided to fight on, but was handed a nightmare draw which saw him face world champion Ievgen Khytrov in the second round.
Watching at home ahead of another late shift, I threw every punch with Ogogo as he put on the performance of his life, outboxing his foe in the first round.
It didn’t look like it was going to be enough though, as Khytrov came storming back in the second, forcing the referee to give the Lowestoft fighter two standing eight counts.
It all came down to the final round, with a tiring Ogogo forced back to the ropes by a determined Khytrov. It was sink or swim time.
Watching, I vividly remember thinking it was over. Ogogo’s dream was about to be ended.
But he refused to quit. Biting down on his gumshield, he walked into the storm and fired back with all he had.
It was one of the most remarkable examples of will to win I have ever seen. Ogogo had nothing left, it seemed, but was simply not going to let himself lose – not in London, not with Suffolk behind him, not with his mum fighting her own battle.
The result, when it was finally announced, saw Ogogo win on the judges’ verdict after a 18-18 draw on points.
It made me somewhat late for work, but I had just witnessed one of the greatest performances in Britsh amateur boxing history.
That night, the EADT back page featured a picture of a wildly emotional Ogogo with the headline ‘I did it for you, mum.’
It was the perfect story. Anthony went on to claim bronze – Suffolk’s only Olympic medallist – and told how he would give the medal to his mum, now recovering well.
Beautiful, yet again. Two inspiring moments which will live with me to the end of my days.
And proof, if proof were ever really needed, that we’ll do anything for our mum.
- What do you think? What’s your sporting memory of 2012? Let us know by leaving a comment below!