Britain celebrates as rowers and cycling champion race into gold-medal history


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The Independent Online

Five days of patient, and not so patient, waiting came to an end yesterday as Britain was rewarded with its first gold medal, promptly followed by another to quieten the critics.

Rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover delivered the first gold by storming to victory in the coxless pairs.

Stanning, 27, is a captain in the Royal Artillery from Lossiemouth, Scotland, and may well be back in Afghanistan before the end of the year. Glover, 26, a former PE teacher from Cornwall, started rowing only four years ago. She is a product of the UK's Sporting Giants programme which aimed to find tall people with athletic potential.

"We kidded ourselves that there was no pressure," Stanning said afterwards. "The last thing we said to each other was, 'It's just for us', but it was for the whole of the team and the whole of the country." It was also the first gold medal won by Great Britain in women's rowing.

At the start of the week, the crowds at Eton Dorney had probably not thought they might be present to see Team GB's first gold medal. But they had worked it out by yesterday morning.

This is the home of the "wall of noise", the venue that sporting chiefs want everywhere else to live up to. There wasn't an empty seat in sight.

Five seconds into the race their win ceased to be in doubt – the pair moving effortlessly away from the opposition. As they approached the finish, clear of the field, the 25,000-strong crowd went bananas.

"I can't believe we were here to see it," was the verdict of Paul Acre, wearing a Union Flag T-shirt, hat, shorts and socks. His four-year-old son, Simon, offered a more direct appraisal. "Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!" he shouted, banging his Union Flag painted face against his dad's attire.

By this time, the streets around Hampton Court were full of fans of the man who is already the king of this "summer like no other" as he took his place in the time trial event.

Bradley Wiggins, with his trademark sideburns, "mod" targets on the sides of his helmet and his blistering pace, destroyed the opposition, riding over the finish of the 44km race and past the gates of Henry VIII's country pile 42 seconds faster than the next man, Germany's Tony Martin.

The win makes him Great Britain's most decorated Olympian, with seven medals: four gold, one silver and two bronze. Sir Steve Redgrave has six, although five of his are gold.

"To win gold in your home city in the Velodrome would have been incredible, but to do it round the streets is phenomenal," he said.

As for a knighthood: "Sir Wiggo? It doesn't sound right," he said. "I'd just put it in a drawer and never use it."

Britain's Chris Froome, who came second in the Tour de France, won the bronze medal and there was more success as Great Britain won a bronze in the men's eight.

Michael Jamieson, 23, claimed a silver in the men's 200m breaststroke final, to add to the haul.

The wins puts Team GB 11th in the medal table with nine medals – two golds, three silvers and four bronze, doing better than it was at the same point in the Beijing Games.