The Team GB medal machine roared on; the nation added a cluster of golds and bronzes to its already impressive tally, as some of the country’s biggest names turned in tremendous performances to live up to the hype.
On the lake at Eton Dorney, one of the most anticipated moments of the Games had finally arrived, as the nation’s most admired female rower closed in the gold medal, which has eluded her for over a decade. Katherine Grainger was “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”, one broadcaster put it. Harsh terms, but painfully accurate: Grainger had won silver in three consecutive Olympics, with the London Games potentially representing her final chance to grace the top of the podium.
The answer to her gold drought lay at the feet of Anna Watkins, the British rower who paired up with Grainger for the first team in 2010 in what turned out to be an unbeatable combination. The duo claimed gold at the World Championships in 2010, a feat they repeated the following year. With such a glittering record behind them, they were the firm favourites as they lined up in the double sculls final.
Rowing fans will be hoping to see the young pair performing even more strongly…
An explosive start pushed them ahead right from the start, jumping into a lead after 500m, which they held onto right until the finish. Australia kept within a respectable distance of them, but never looked like they had a hope of worrying the British. Amidst a cacophony of roaring from the predominantly British crowd, their boat crossed the line firmly in first and Grainger had finally secured the gold she yearned for. The tears of relief and pride that emerged during the national anthem spoke for themselves.
It was a less formidable performance from Britain’s male rowers, but two boats still displayed the class and determination needed to get hold of a medal. Alan Campbell could barely walk after a gruelling single sculls race saw him claim bronze just a second ahead of fourth-placed Sweden. The Northern Irishman had to be helped away from his post-race interview by Sir Steve Redgrave, so utterly had the race destroyed him.
Another bronze awaited the Men’s Pair, as new boys on the block George Nash and Will Satch marked their Olympic debut with medal success. They finished just half a second after the French in what was a remarkably encouraging performance. Rowing fans will be hoping to see the young pair performing even more strongly at the next Games in Rio.
…a strength of will which was swiftly apparent in her performance.
Britain’s cyclists came up with the goods yet again in the velodrome, smashing records and snapping up medals with wild abandon. The Men’s Team Pursuit, raced by Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh, saw Britain all but crucify their opponents. Not only did they clinch gold but they broke their own world record in the process, slicing a second off the record they set in qualification.
Moments later, GB’s cycling poster girl, Victoria Pendleton, appeared to banish the disappointment of yesterday’s disqualification from her mind as she faced the challenge of the Keirin. It was far from obvious that this was her least favoured event, as her blistering speed from yesterday was apparent once more. She crossed the line ahead of the Chinese to claim gold, the second Olympic gold of her career.
Two final bronzes crept into the British tally, from yet more individual sportswomen. For 33 year old Karina Bryant, London 2012 represented her final chance at Olympic success. The veteran judoka had been to three consecutive Games and failed to progress beyond the quarter finals. But this was her year. As she turned to confront Ukranian Iryna Kindzerska, determination was etched on her face – a strength of will which was swiftly apparent in her performance. As she threw her opponent to the ground for her winning score, a lifetime’s training and dedication was turned to sporting glory in an instant.
…the respect and admiration felt for British sportswomen across the nation.
But while bronze represented the pinnacle of Bryant’s career, swimmer, Becky Adlington, couldn’t hide her disappointment at coming third in the 800m freestyle. Despite a storming performance in her semi-final, Adlington couldn’t compete with the speed of 15 year old American, Katie Ledecky, and had to settle for bronze.
Another young woman was making waves today, although she was light-years away from any sort of medal. Saudi Arabia’s Wojdan Shaherkani was met with rapturous applause when she emerged to fight her first ever international judo competition. She wore a specially designed lycra cap as a compromise after a raging debate over whether she would be permitted to wear her usual headscarf. Despite being knocked out after just 1 minute and 22 seconds, the impact of Shaherkani’s inclusion in the games cannot be understated.
Thus far, female athletes have provided some of the most emotive and awe-inspiring moments of the games. Team GB has captivated the public with the heroic achievements of sportswomen like Grainger, Pendleton and Bryant. No matter where the country ends up in the medal table, these women can feel an immense pride at what they’ve achieved – not just for themselves, but for the respect and admiration felt for British sportswomen across the nation.