By yesterday evening, it was being hailed as the greatest day in GB Olympic history. A flurry of gold and silver medals across a range of sports shot the host nation up the medal table and reignited hopes for a prestigious top four finish. Yet again, Britain’s rowers powered their way to medal glory on the water at Eton Dorney, although they were robbed of gold in the dying seconds of the men’s lightweight four event. An agonizing finish saw the GB boat finish just 0.25 seconds behind South Africa, after the gold medal winners pulled off a superb final effort to top the podium. Despite managing to hold off the attack of Denmark, who had to settle for bronze after finishing 0.07 seconds behind, the boat looked distraught at missing out on gold. That’s rowers for you.
With all eyes on the rowing, next to nobody had considered the possibility of a medal in one of GB’s weakest sports, judo. And yet it was on the judo mat that Britain’s most remarkable medal was won, by the almost totally unknown Judoka, Gemma Gibbons. The Londoner was competing in the -78kg women’s category and had barely registered on Team GB’s medal radar. Ranked just 42nd in the International Judo Federation’s listings, she faced some of the world’s most feared judokas going into the round of 32 in her first fight of the day. The media, attention elsewhere, barely mentioned her.
…Gibbons insisted on defying the world rankings at every turn and stormed to victory…
A strong performance against Portugal’s Yahima Ramirez saw her push through to the final 16, where she faced the world number five Lkhamdegd Purevjargal . Unphased by her significantly lower ranking, Gibbons knocked the Mongolian out of the competition confidently to march on into the quarter-finals. Gentle rumblings began to gather about a potential bronze, as the media slowly began to turn its attention to Gibbons’ unprecedented performance. Coming into her next fight as the underdog yet again, she faced the mighty Marhind Vekerk from the Netherlands, ranked tenth in the world, for a place in the semi-finals.
And yet despite her higher ranking, Vekerk simply couldn’t get the edge over the plucky Brit, who battled her way to victory and to a respectable chance of medalling in the semi-final. But standing between Gibbons and the final was World Champion Audrey Tcheumeo of France. Still, Gibbons insisted on defying the world rankings at every turn and stormed to victory over the third seed to book her place in the final and the history books. Hysteria ensued as Britain awoke to the inevitable reality – its first Judo medal in twelve years. In fact, the last British judo player to secure an Olympic medal was Gibbons’ coach Kate Howey, yelling advice from the sidelines, who last pulled it off.
…Richard Hounslow and David Florence, sped their way to silver…
As she emerged from the tunnel, the ExCel Arena erupted in roars, as Gibbons lined up against the world number two Kayla Harrison. But the wave of luck and skill she’d ridden to the final could carry her no longer, and Gibbons was narrowly defeated by the American to finish in silver position. Nevertheless, it was acres away from what her country, her coach and even Gibbons herself would ever have thought she’d achieve. A moment of poignancy as she was seen to pay tribute under her breath to her mother, the woman who encouraged her to start judo but died of leukemia in 2004. Just as touching was the sight of her boyfriend, fellow Judoka, Euan Burton, roaring with pride from the sidelines. Against all the odds, this was surely one of the most inspiring moments of the entire Games.
But Team GB wasn’t finished there. The relatively unknown Canoe Slalom event proved an exceptionally fertile ground for medals as Britain managed to bag not one but two medals in the Men’s Canoe Double. Battling it out in a fiercely competitive final, British pair Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott stormed through the course without incurring a single penalty to win Britain’s first ever gold in the event. Determined not to give anyone else a look in, fellow British athletes, Richard Hounslow and David Florence, sped their way to silver, only slipping into second place in the final section of the course. Water, once again, proved to be Britain’s domain.
…this pushes him level with rower Steve Redgrave in the all-time medal winners listings…
There were two medals to be claimed in the velodrome, another hub of British success, as the men’s and women’s team sprint cyclists events lined up. Fortune, though, was not on the side of Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish in this occasion. The pair clocked a phenomenally fast time, but were unceremoniously relegated from the event after Pendleton was deemed to have overtaken Varnish outside of the legal zone. Her face said it all, as she realised the implications of the error, which marked the end of Varnish’s hopes for a medal of any shade in the 2012 Games. It was up to the men to make amends, as Sir Chris Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny lined up for their team sprint event. And deliver they did – not content with beating the French to gold, they smashed their own record time to roar their way to Olympic glory. For Hoy, this pushes him level with rower Steve Redgrave in the all-time medal winners listings, with a formidable five Olympic medals won in his glorious career.
And so the Olympic stars pulled through. But in a day of headline-grabbing cyclists – a lone figure among the most obscure of Olympic sports stood among them, claiming his own piece of Olympic history. The British public had never heard of Double Trap shooter, Peter Wilson, in the morning, but by evening he was an Olympic champion and a national hero. The Dorset man shot his way to gold despite being thirteen years younger than any of his competitors, collapsing in disbelief as he claimed first place. On the boards of the velodrome, the waters of Eton Dorney or the barracks of the Royal Artillery, British Olympic Champions have emerged in style. And it’s only just begun.