For anyone who thought the British medal fever was over, yesterday provided a resounding thump back to reality. With four golds, two silver and a bronze in just one day, you were lucky if you went more than two hours without hearing the swell of the national anthem blaring from your television. The best part? There are still five days and a cluster of medal chances to go.
So began another day of offensively impressive medal-winning performances. Opening the podium-clambering were the near bionic Brownlee brothers from Yorkshire, two of the world’s top triathletes.
From the start, a dominant Brownlee presence on the podium looked inevitable. The pair made a strong start in the swimming, which they carried on into the cycling stage. Disaster struck for Jonathan when he found himself handed a 15 second time penalty for mounting his bike in the wrong area. Undeterred, he ploughed on after his brother into the final running stretch.
…to beat their German counterparts and produce a gold-snaring 79.979 average.
Alistair never looked at risk of giving up the gold position, despite dogged pressure from Spain’s Javier Gomez, and strolled over the line wrapped in a flag. For Jonathan, the penalty proved too much for him to fight his way back to silver, but he finished comfortably in third position. Well, comfortably might not quite be the right term, since the medal ceremony had to be delayed after he passed out moments before. Triathlon – a sport not to be taken lightly!
Another battle for glory was taking place in Weymouth, where Nick Dempsey was chasing silver in his home town. The British windsurfer had managed Bronze in 2004 but finished a frustrating fourth in Beijing. After the series of ten races, he found himself in second place going into the all-important medal race and was determined to cling onto the silver position. Despite strong performances from his Dutch and French rivals, Dempsey kept his head and hung onto third place to sail in for silver.
With success on the waves secured, it was over to Greenwich Park where the British were looking to ruffle yet more German feathers with another superb equestrian performance. Following on from yesterday’s triumphant Team Jumping gold, the Team Dressage trio had the opportunity to cause an upset and bring GB’s golden tally to twenty, and they didn’t waste their chance. In a final showdown between Germany and Great Britain, Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin each managed to beat their German counterparts and produce a gold-snaring 79.979 average.
…she also needed Hammer to record a sufficiently slow time to tumble from pole position.
Speaking to the BBC, Laura Bechtolsheimer acknowledged what a huge feat their gold medal represented. “It wasn’t just about beating the Germans. It was about beating everyone else which, in Olympic history, Britain’s never done in the dressage”, she said.
Yet despite all this early medal winning, the day was undoubtedly crescendoing to a dramatic climax in the velodrome. Cycling heavyweights Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott were all rolling out for their second shots at gold in the final day of track.
First up was Trott, on the hunt for another gold medal in the Omnium after her success in the Team Pursuit event. She didn’t make it easy for herself, ending up two points behind the USA’s Sarah Hammer going into the final event, the 500m Time Trial. Not only did she need to clock a time faster than Australian Annette Edmondson’s time of 35.140, she also needed Hammer to record a sufficiently slow time to tumble from pole position. On the face of it this was rather a tall order, but things just seem to be going GB’s way. Trott blitzed the circuit in 35.110, while Hammer could only muster 35.900. The first cycling gold of the day was under the belt.
She left a deflated Pendleton in her wake…
If the roars had been deafening for Trott, they reached a new level as Victoria Pendleton edged onto the track to take on arch rival Anna Meares. The Women’s Sprint final represented her final international race, with Pendleton having already announced her imminent retirement after the Games. It got off to a dream start with Pendleton clinching the first race by one thousandth of a second – or so she thought.
In fact, she was deemed to have wandered out of her lane and the win was snatched from her and handed to her nemesis. She could have clawed it back with victory in the second race, but Meares was just too determined to rewrite the history of their Beijing showdown. She left a deflated Pendleton in her wake to claim the gold and shatter her British rival’s hopes of a glorious swan song.
But if there’s anyone who can be counted on to provide the antidote to such bitter public disappointment, that person is almost certainly Sir Chris Hoy. The five-time Olympic gold medallist bided his time in the Men’s Keirin but stormed to victory in the final lap of the race with his usual explosive power. As he mounted the podium to receive his sixth gold medal, he dissolved into tears: a burst of emotion perhaps provoked by the realisation of what he had done.
He had surpassed Steve Redgrave in the number of golds won by an Olympic champion. He had produced yet another headline-grabbing performance to boost the profile of his beloved sport. But most of all, he had played a remarkable performance in what is turning out to be the most successful games Britain has participated in for over a century.