Brit athletes came of age

HOPES were high in sporting circles that Great Britain would enjoy a vintage Olympics; after all, host nations typically experience a spike in performance. But few imagined the last two weeks could go as well as they did, with records tumbling like dominoes, new talent emerging and a few stars ascending to true greatness.

Mo Farah’s exhilarating 5k and 10k victories, roared on by an enraptured Olympic Stadium, stood out as defining moments, as did Jessica Ennis crowning her heptathlon triumph with a virtuoso 800m run on that magical middle Saturday night – although there were heart-rending, nerve-shredding, shout-at-the-TV moments on a daily basis.

Sir Chris Hoy’s sixth gold, making him Britain’s most successful Olympian of all time, followed a riveting men’s keirin competition that redefined gutsy. The tears that followed, and those of Victoria Pendleton, for whom this was also both an emotional homecoming and a farewell, will live almost as long in the memory as their single-minded brilliance.

Bradley Wiggins attained national treasure status by adding the road cycling time trial gold medal to his recently acquired Tour de France title, just to underline Britain’s omnipotence on two wheels, while Ben “you don’t want to make me angry” Ainslie showed just why he is now the greatest Olympic sailor of all time.

To a certain extent those triumphs were expected, but there were others, too, that we had only dared to hope for, but no more. Andy Murray’s straight-sets thrashing of Roger Federer in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon, just weeks after the same man had swept him aside on the same Centre Court, felt like a watershed moment. Alistair Brownlee overcame an Achilles problem to claim a triathlon title that seemed fated to be his, while Katherine Grainger finally, cathartically won the rowing gold that had eluded her all these years.

Inevitably, there were disappointments. Injuries trampled on the dreams of Paula Radcliffe and Phillips Idowu, while Britain’s swimmers were thoroughly eclipsed by superb American and Chinese opponents. But those low points were outweighed by unexpected delights, such as Gemma Gibbons winning judo silver, Greg Rutherford leaping from nowhere to long jump gold, track cyclist Laura Trott’s pair of golds in her first Olympic Games and a surprise 1-2 in the men’s double slalom canoe.

Britain’s boxers were outstanding, delivering just as much success as had been hoped, with Nicola Adams entering the record books as the first ever female Olympic champion. The equestrians excelled themselves too, with Charlotte Dujardin another to make history, while the gymnasts also boosted the medal total.

It had long been chalked up as a big moment for Tom Daley. The teenage diver endured a testing start, coming fourth in the 10m platform synchro, thanks largely to an error by partner Pete Waterfield. Yet Daley, who lost his father last year, showed huge maturity amid the setback, defending Waterfield to the hilt, and on Saturday night received his reward with bronze in the individual event.

Daley came of age at London 2012. But then so did so many of his British team-mates, surpassing UK Sport’s medal target of 48 and most of our giddiest expectations with 29 golds. Our Greatest Team, they were billed, and they were.

We may never see the like again.

TEAM GB’S GOLD MEDAL WINNERS
■ Nicola Adams (Boxing)

■ Ben Ainslie (Sailing)

■ Tim Baillie (Canoe)

Etienne Stott (Canoe)

■ Laura Bechtolsheimer (dressage)

Carl Hester (Dressage)

■ Scott Brash (Equestrian)

Peter Charles (Equestrian)

Ben Maher (Equestrian)

Nick Skelton (Equestrian)

■ Alistair Brownlee (Triathlon)

■ Steven Burke (Cycling)

Edward Clancy (Cycling)

Peter Kennaugh (Cycling)

Geraint Thomas (Cycling)

■ Luke Campbell (Boxing)

■ Katherine Copeland (Rowing)

Sophie Hosking (Rowing)

■ Charlotte Dujardin (Dressage)

■ Jessica Ennis (Heptathlon)

■ Mo Farah (Track)

■ Helen Glover (Rowing)

Katherine Grainger (Rowing)

■ Alex Gregory (Rowing)

Tom James (Rowing)

Pete Reed (Rowing)

Andrew Triggs Hodge (Rowing)

■ Chris Hoy (Cycling)

■ Philip Hindes (Cycling)

■ Jade Jones (Taekwondo)

■ Anthony Joshua (Boxing)

■ Jason Kenny (Cycling)

■ Dani King (Cycling)

■ Ed Mckeever (Canoe)

■ Andy Murray (Tennis)

■ Victoria Pendleton (Cycling)

■ Joanna Rowsell (Cycling)

■ Greg Rutherford (Long jump)

■ Laura Trott (Cycling)

■ Anna Watkins (Rowing)

■ Bradley Wiggins (Cycling)

■ Peter Robert Russell Wilson (shooting)