The Independent, 2 August 2012

Michael Phelps has now become the most successful Olympian of all time. At least, he has if you measure these things in medals, because he now has 19 of those, 15 of which are gold. To put that in perspective, he’s practically a country, having won more Olympic medals than Croatia, and more Olympic golds than Jamaica.

It is undeniably easier to win lots of medals for a swimmer than for, say, decathletes, who must now be thinking they won’t get a chance to level up unless they get a medal for each discipline. Or, ideally, two medals. But it is still an astonishing achievement which he might yet add to before the Olympics are over. He has three more events to go: think what a nice symmetrical number 22 is.

Record-breaking gold-medal wins are all well and good. But Bradley Wiggins hasn’t had things all his own way. The poor man came out of the gym earlier this week to find his kit had been pinched. The Foxhills hotel suggested that ‘cycling fever’ was to blame, and that ‘an over-zealous fan has scored a fantastic London 2012 souvenir’. You’ll note the use of the word ‘scored’ to convey ‘stolen’, presumably because they don’t want their hotel name to be linked in the public mind with thieves.

No such worries beset Wiggins, though, who tweeted ‘Watch your kit at the Foxhills spa… there is a tea-leaf about’. I think this summarises exactly what I like about him: a man who uses a spa and cockney rhyming slang in a single sentence. I call that a win.

I like badminton, as it is one of the few racquet sports I have ever played with even the tiniest degree of success (though only because the court isn’t very big, and I am quite tall, so I can reach a fair bit of it while standing still). But it is the laughing stock of this year’s Olympics. The early rounds of the badminton are no longer a knock-out system, like the tennis, which means the incentive to win each match is considerably reduced.

The new ‘group stage’ system led to the extraordinary sight of China and South Korea serving into the net on Tuesday because they both wanted to lose the match to avoid playing a tough pair in the next stage. Now eight players in the women’s doubles have been disqualified.

The disqualification has proved controversial because it raises the question of whether wanting to lose is the same as cheating. Perhaps it isn’t, but if spectators are paying to watch a match, then the players surely have an obligation to try and win it. Sport is entertainment, after all.

In the run-up to London 2012, it has sometimes been hard to remember what Olympic spirit is: the athletes and the sport have too often got lost beneath corporate self-interest. But that was before Helen Glover and Heather Stanning wiped the lake with the competition in the rowing.

It was obviously a big moment for the British spectators, because it’s our first gold medal of the Olympics. But it was also a great story: no British women have ever won rowing gold before, and impossibly, Helen Glover only started rowing in 2008.

In their moment of triumph, before returning to shore, they kept waving their weary arms in delight. The cameras pulled back, to show who they were waving at: all the volunteers (I can’t quite bring myself to call them by their official title – Gamesmakers - as this isn’t Game of Thrones) who have helped everyone out all week. That would be the Olympic spirit right there.