Back in 1995, surveying the young Manchester United side featuring Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Gary Neville, which had slumped to a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, pundit and former Liverpool footballer Alan Hansen coined a now infamous phrase. “You can’t win anything with kids”, declared the Scotsman confidently. A mantra that was dramatically proven to be false and misguided that very season by Sir Alex Ferguson‘s youthful charges, Hansen’s words also apply to the most exciting and unpredictable phenomena of the London 2012 Olympic Games – youth.
So far 15-year-old Ye Shiwen from China has won the 400m IM, American 17-year-old Missy Franklin has picked up three gold medals, and Kate Ledecky has well and truly outpaced Team GB favourite Rebecca Adlington in the 800m freestyle. These kids, eh? Always winning medals and showing up their elders. It’s a shame you can’t win anything with ki… Oh, wait. You can.
The abiding memory of the Games will differ for every observer. Some will recall the giant Arcelor Mittal structure cast in red steel, others will remember Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake crossing the line in the 100m final and yet more will see the Olympic Stadium and stunning velodrome in their minds in the days and weeks after the Olympics. However, the swimming has been so captivating and permeated with youth that it has, in my mind, even outshone the incredible achievements of Britain’s cyclists and rowers.
Franklin, to take one of the above examples, is sure to dominate international swimming for more than a decade. While the United States have been exceptional in the pool throughout London 2012, Franklin has even managed to stand out over the legendary Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, and Ryan Lochte. She has humiliated athletes twice her age and oozes confidence and finesse to an extent that Hansen would find nothing short of impossible and unthinkable.
Despite the rather cruel rumours surrounding Ye Shiwen, of the Chinese swimmer being a drugs cheat, there has been no proof of this despite the scurrilous accusations of US coach John Leonard – thus, her achievement remains laudable and admired. Add in Ruta Meilutye, the 15-year-old Lithuanian currently residing in Plymouth, and the future of this captivating sport, particularly women’s swimming, looks incredibly bright. London has become a proving ground for these young, hungry stars desperate to prove themselves, and we, the general public, are being treated to a master class by four girls whose combined age adds up to just 62. An average age of 16.5 years and seven gold medals between these four exceptional athletes. Take that, Hansen.
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