It will be remembered as Britain's golden weekend. The country's most successful two days at an Olympic Games for a century were rounded off here yesterday when the track cyclist Rebecca Romero won the eighth British gold medal in 48 hours. A total of 17 medals were won as Britain climbed to third place in the overall table behind China and the United States.
Twelve years after returning from Atlanta with one gold and finishing an all-time low of 36th in the medals table, the British team are poised to enjoy their most successful Games since winning 56 golds at the London Olympics of 1908. Their tally stands at 11 golds, six silvers and eight bronzes. With the cyclists favourites to win up to five more golds, the total of 15 from Antwerp in 1920 looks certain to be surpassed.
Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, described it as "the greatest weekend in British Olympic history". He added: "We haven't delivered at this level of consistency across some of the sports which I would call the formula one sports for many, many generations." The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who will write a personal letter of congratulations to every British medallist, said: "The whole country has been watching and has been thrilled by Team GB. We are immensely proud of what they have achieved so far and inspired by their performance. Our Olympians' talent and dedication represent the very best of Britain."
The 1920 Games were the last at which Britain finished as high as third in the medals table. Although the team are likely to slip from that position by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished here next Sunday, their performance still represents astounding progress. They have already surpassed the nine golds won in Athens and need one more to beat the Sydney 2000 total, which was the highest since 1920. UK Sport's target of 35 medals here looks certain to be beaten.
It was the sailors who showed the way yesterday. Britannia ruled the waves at Qingdao as Ben Ainslie won his third successive Olympic gold in the Finn class and Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson finished top of the Yngling standings. It was a second Olympic gold in a row for Ayton and Webb, who won alongside Shirley Robertson in Athens.
The lightweight double sculls partnership of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter won rowing gold at Shunyi Lake, where the women's quad and men's eight both took silver. Twenty-four hours earlier the men's four won their third successive Olympic title, overhauling Australia in a thrilling finale. Britain's final tally of two golds, two silvers and two bronzes was their best Olympic rowing performance for 100 years and saw them finish on top of the sport's medals table.
To win gold in the track cycling individual pursuit, Romero beat her colleague Wendy Houvenaghel in the final.