When the heavens cracked with thunder and rained down with a vengeance on the Beijing Olympic Green Archery Field yesterday, the portents looked good on the medal front for Britain's team of female archers.
Having just seen their chance of gold disappear with a semi-final defeat against China, Naomi Folkard, Alison Williamson and Charlotte Burgess were left to face France in the bronze medal match. And there was only one winner the last time British archers engaged in a duel in the rain with arrow-slingers from across the Channel. That was the little skirmish at Agincourt back in 1415.
Sitting high up in the main stand yesterday, hastily pulling on an emergency issue plastic mac, Sir Clive Woodward must have been smiling a wry smile to himself. It was a deluge of similar proportions that did for the flaky French in the Rugby World Cup semi-final in Sydney five years ago, when the current British Olympic Association's director of elite performance was England's head coach in the oval-balled game – and when Jonny Wilkinson's trusty left boot fired a succession of arrows straight into the bullseye of Gallic hearts. The trouble was the downpour was too heavy in Beijing yesterday for the archers to make their scheduled start.
The contest was delayed for 45 minutes and no sooner had the combatants stepped on to the field than the rain dried up altogether and it was the French trio who proceeded to hold their collective nerve.
With two of the eight rounds remaining, they led by a single point, 150-149. But then two 10- bullseyes gave them a three-point advantage going into the last round and loaded the pressure on the British team. Folkard fired a nine, Williamson a 10 and Burgess an eight, but when Sophie Dodemont prepared to take the last shot for France she needed a seven to tie the match and an eight to win the bronzes. Her arrow landed smack in the eight zone. Clearly, she is not a member of Agincourt Archery Club.
As Dodemont and her team-mates celebrated their 202-201 victory, their rivals – second in the rankings round on Saturday – plumbed the depths of despair. Williamson, a 37-year-old veteran of five Olympics and the bronze medallist in the individual competition in Athens, broke down in tears in the press room. "I feel like I've let down the other two," the Shropshire woman said. "I feel I should have pulled my weight a bit more."
It was the South Koreans who had the most telling weight of shot yesterday. Roared on by a scarf-waving, song-chanting band of supporters reminiscent of the Anfield Kop, they beat China in the final to claim the title for a record sixth time. By then, it was pouring again – with Beijing rain and British tears.