Gripping. Sensational. Triumphant. Unifying. These are not just needlessly emphatic one word sentences; they also describe the past week of Olympic action without hyperbole. I hate to ‘tempt fate’ (although I actually quite enjoy it as to me the concept is meaningless) but London 2012 is shaping up to be one of the most successful summer Olympic Games since Plato threw a javelin over Mount Olympus to start the great tradition (I confuse my Ancient Greek history a little so forgive me for any inaccuracies). Thus far the events have run very smoothly, the atmosphere around London and at competitions has been buoyant and welcoming, and athletes have smashed records left, right and centre. Other than last Friday’s Central line signal failure transport has even come up trumps so far. Oh yeah, and Great Britain have absolutely smashed it.
Things were becoming slightly edgy by last Wednesday as we saw British medal hopefuls appear to feel the home pressure, particularly in the swimming pool. However, this was before all the sitting down sports that Britain so excel in had reached their final stages. By Wednesday afternoon, signs that swimming would now be looked back upon merely as an anomaly for Team GB emerged, as rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning ushered in the first of a torrent of gold medals. Since then, there’s been no looking back…other than the other three golds won in rowing, where looking back is an essential feature of the race. Saturday provided a potentially lethal overdose of British medals, hauling in an incredible total of six golds and one silver. ‘The greatest day in British sporting history’ has been the claim of many journalists, and, other than chess grandmaster Nigel Short’s joint-first place at Amsterdam in 1991, I could hardly disagree.
Here’s a run-through of all the sports that matter (as in those that Britain have won medals in):
Never have journalists been given such a good opportunity to use ‘Oarsome’ in so many headlines. Historically, rowing is Britain’s strongest Olympic event (discounting athletics as a single sport); even at Atlanta 1996 where GB forgot how to compete, Redgrave and co still managed to bring home gold. With such experience in creating winning athletes as well as home advantage, Eton Manor was always where Team GB were bound to push the boat out and make their biggest waves.
After Glover and Stanning won the Women’s Pair, they were followed by Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins in Women’s Double Skulls, the Men’s Four of Gregory, Reed, James and Triggs-Hodge (the poshest name so far) and Katherine Kopeland and Sophie Hosking in the Women’s lightweight Double Skulls. Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter were narrowly beaten by the Vikings and showed the difference missing out on gold can have on your physical state, as both slumped into a near-death experience before being towed away by Team GB Godfather Redgrave. In total GB achieved an amazing nine medals- four gold, two silver and three bronze- leaving a total of twenty-one British male rowers to look awkward holding a dainty bouquet of flowers. Oarsome indeed.
Although sheltered from real road cycling by not having to face reckless lorry and cab drivers, these guys should still be given credit for pushing their bodies to the absolute limit, their calves always looking ready to explode. In achieving a hard-fought silver medal, so nearly pipping the Dutch world champion Marianne Vos to the finish line, Lizzie Armistead became the first British athlete to be sent round every BBC television and radio studio to say the same thing a hundred times. It was in the men’s time trial that the likely winner of the BBC Personality of the Year award showed his true class. Fresh from becoming the first British Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins and his sideburns destroyed the field to win gold at a canter. His understudy, Chris Froome, picked up bronze to politely give Wiggins the spotlight, with much expected from Froome in years to come.
Four golds and one bronze bear the fruit of Britain’s labour so far (although Jason Kenny and Vicky Pendleton may well have increased the tally by the time this is online). The GB Team captain Sir Chris Hoy displayed immense resolve to help the Men’s Team Sprint win gold alongside Phillip Hines and Jason Kenny, Pendleton overtook someone called Keirin in the one with the moped to win her second Olympic gold, the Men’s Team Pursuit eased to victory and the women’s team did likewise. Astonishingly, all four of these victories were achieved in world record times.
There can be no other sport where the extreme capabilities of the human body are so vividly displayed (apart possibly from darts, but for the opposite extremes). Louis Smith’s breakdance-on-a-bannister routine earned him an unlucky silver in pommel horse, as he only missed gold by posting a decimally lower score for execution than Krisztian Berki, and Max Whitlock followed up with an unexpected bronze.
The Men’s Team defied expectations to finish third behind China and Japan with one especially ridiculous vault performance from Kristian Thomas, who seemed to look more surprised than anyone else when he landed with his feet perfectly planted to the floor. Beth Tweddle really raised the bar with her performance in the uneven bars but unfortunately missed out on potential gold or silver because of a large step in her dismount. Life can be so cruel when you’re somersaulting ten metres in the air between two horizontal bars. Still, she was delighted to win an Olympic medal at her third attempt, having won the World Championships three times.
In another successful sitting down sport for GB, Tim Bailie and Etienne Scott edged out their (now ex-) friends David Florence and Richard Hounslow to gold. The water looked very rough to me, with ferocious currents ripping through the course, but I imagine officials took the decision that conditions were equal for all competitors, so the final was allowed to take place before the water returned to a nice placid state.
Britain entered a competitor in each classification for the first time, and as a result the immediate exits by eight out of the twelve British players looked disproportionately bad as only a small few were expected to progress anyway. Gemma Gibbons claimed silver in the under-78kg category and Karina Bryant manage bronze in the over-78kg, unluckily coming up against a Japanese behemoth who could have easily competed in an over-130kg.
Let’s be honest, we were all thinking it as we tuned in to watch Peter Wilson attempt to win gold in the Men’s Double Trap: ‘this is a really boring sport to watch’. Despite the inherently spectator-unfriendly format of the event, watching fifty slow-motion replays of clay pigeons exploding into green clouds of dust suddenly became enthralling when Britain smelled gold in the hands of Wilson. By far the least overweight of the finalists, I can’t help but think it was Wilson’s ability to stand for hours on end without wanting to go back to the ranch to cook up the killings that ultimately won it for Britain.
Ben Ainslie, you beauty. For the first half of the incredibly confusing Finn class competition, the Danish surprise package Jonas Hogh-Christensen consistently beat Ainslie, suggesting that maybe the British sailing great could finally be beaten. However, together with a Dutch competitor, the Dane used bully tactics in the seventh race to force Ainslie into a ‘penalty turn’, eating up time. Ainslie was not happy, saying in a television interview: ‘They’ve made me angry. You do not want to make me angry’. Although disappointingly he didn’t turn into the Incredible Hulk, Ainslie did turn things around in the remaining races to take his fourth gold medal in consecutive games- a record bettered only by Sir Steve Redgrave. Incidentally, my suggestion for a new Olympic event (in addition to Parkour) is an around-the-world sailing race, started in time to finish towards the end of the Games.
Ennis, Farah and um…what’s his name again? Rutherford, right. We salute you. Along with three others, these were the athletes who made Saturday a day to remember until the day we die- or lose autobiographical memory functioning; whichever’s first. Ennis cruised to a stunning victory in the Heptathlon, breaking the British female 100m hurdles record in the process. Farah similarly left the field for dead in the 10,000m, to the deafening sound of 80,000 fans totally losing their shit. Rutherford had barely been talked about as a potential winner in the long jump; GB team mate Chris Tomlinson had received more hype in the build-up to the Games. Christine Ohuruogu oh-so-nearly crept into first place again in the women’s 400m final, but instead gained a well-earned silver after a difficult couple of seasons.
Ah good, another sitting down sport: we’re bound to do well. Ah-ha! Just as I’ve checked the Olympic update as I’m writing, Britain has won gold in Team Jumping. Brash, Charles, Maher and Skelton rode the harshly unnamed winning horses to victory. The horses will presumably get their own medals at least?
This was the only sport where Britain fell way short of their medal target, which is unfortunate for swimming as it is very likely to significantly affect funding for the elite swimming programme. Becky Adlington did her absolute best but perhaps felt the weight of pressure in being Britain’s only real hope of gold, managing two bronze medals in the 400m and 800m.
Murray finally won at Wimbledon (sort of)! He absolutely blew Federer away in the final to win gold, which is no mean feat. Somehow at the Olympics it never looked in doubt for Murray, perhaps such was his determination to win after his bitter defeat at Wimbledon in July. Only an hour after winning gold in the singles, Murray returned to the Centre Court with Laura Robson to go for gold in mixed doubles. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen second time round, but we can now finally officially confirm that Murray is indeed British rather than Scottish.