Before Team GB men’s gymnastics’ outstanding success yesterday, it appeared as though the hopes of Great British sporting fans were going to be dashed at the 2012 London Olympics. Boasting only two silver and two bronze medals, Team GB had failed to secure a podium spot in the cycling on day one, while Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield were unable to hold onto their first place in the diving after their inaugural three dives. While the atmosphere at the Olympic Park remained buoyant, and indeed expectant, supporters were perhaps, behind the souvenir merchandise, becoming a little consumed by angst at the length of time it was taking Team GB to finally secure a gold medal.
It came through the most incredible performance from rowing pair Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, for whom it literally was plain sailing as they came through in a time of 7:27.13. Stanning and Glover became the first British female rowers in history to take the gold at the Olympic Games, and when the result was announced around the Olympic Park a massive roar went up from the crowd as a new pair of sporting heroes were propelled into the national consciousness. In many ways these Games have been notable for two extremely positive developments, firstly the greater equality between female and male athletes in Team GB, and secondly the impressive performances of Britain’s female competitors.
These include the Team GB women’s football side – unlike their male counterparts, Team GB inched past Brazil last night to top their group and head into the knock-out stages courtesy of a second minute strike from Stephanie Houghton. Hope Powell’s outfit will play Canada in Coventry on Friday, a quarter-final clash that will raise hopes and possibly expecations of another medal. For now, however, Houghton in particular has played down her team-mates’ chances – they simply want to keep playing as they are. Quite rightly, too.
Although the momentum is clearly with Team GB’s female competitors, a surprise was well and truly sprung in the gymnastics, where the men’s grouping of Kristian Thomas, Louis Smith, Max Whitlock, Dan Purvis and Sam Oldham became the first British male gymnastics team to win an Olympic medal for a century. Despite nearly snatching second, only for Japan to be promoted from fourth back to second after the judges had initially awarded the silver to Team GB, these “ordinary boys” as they have been dubbed by the newspapers did the nation proud. In particular, Smith’s performance on the pummel horse, which earned him a score of 15.966, was truly extraordinary at the North Greenwich Arena. It was a majestic performance from all competitors, and one which truly brought the Games to life for Team GB fanatics at the Park, in the stadium itself, or watching on television.
Last but by no means least is the man that will be the winner of the BBC sports personality of the year award – Bradley Wiggins. The sideburned hero, born in Ghent, Belgium, followed up his Tour De France glory with a gold medal in the time trial. Easily the highlight of the day for Team GB, the nation was simply waiting for him to succeed. Wiggins’ face was on the Olympic programme, while thanks to his exploits, thousands of children are (probably) taking to their bikes in the hope of replicating the magical summer he has given all of us. A day after Michael Phelps was crowned the “greatest ever Olympian”, Britain has crowned its own sporting legend. Wiggins has surpassed the legendary Sir Steve Redgrave as the UK’s greatest, with four golds, a silver and a bronze medal. All hail Sir Bradley. After all, it can’t be far off now.
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