Gritty Nicole Cooke admitted she had achieved a lifetime ambition after claiming Great Britain’s first gold medal of the Beijing Games in the women’s road race.
The 25-year-old, who finished a disappointing fifth in Athens four years ago, won the 126km contest with a fiercely contested sprint finish in torrential conditions.
“We did it, it was perfect. It’s a dream come true,” said Cooke, who let out a roar of delight after reaching the finish. “I came over the line and I was just so happy and there were so many emotions that were coming out all at once. I made so much noise because that’s just the person I am.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I still feel like the normal Nicole from before the race. It’s just so exciting.”
Cooke’s gold was the first medal of any colour for Team GB at this Olympic Games, the first cycling gold for a British woman and the first gold won by a Welsh athlete since 1972.
It is also tipped to be the first of many for a highly fancied British cycling team that includes Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. Cooke, the 2002 Commonwealth road race champion, looked to have blown her chance of victory when she ran wide at a hairpin bend as the breakaway five riders neared the line.
Teeming rain had made for treacherous conditions and Cooke appeared taking the bend too quickly for fear of losing grip.
But she made amends with a lung bursting dash in the final 200m and held off Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Italy’s Tatiana Guderzo, who took silver and bronze respectively. She finished with a time of three hours, 32 minutes and 24 seconds.
Cooke paid tribute to team-mates Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws for their pace making and defensive work. She added: “We all knew that we were good riders, but the best chance that we had was to ride as a team.”
Cooke will return to the scene of yesterday’s triumph, in the shadows of the Great Wall, to bid for a second gold in the time trial on Wednesday.
Having finished 19th in the 31.2km event in Athens, she will not start as favourite, but now has momentum.
“It seems like I’m in good form so I’ll do my best,” she added. “It’s another opportunity for a gold so I’ll give it a go.”