Drunk athletes: Faster, higher… boozier

Who can begrudge winning athletes a post-victory bender? Just wait until you're off the podium

After winning Olympic gold in 2004, Bradley Wiggins went on a bender. He drank. He put on weight. "I'd lived so religiously in the run-up to Athens," he admitted, "that I just wanted to feel normal again." Today the cycling superstar is older, wiser and weighed down not by body mass, but by medals. Yet that didn't prevent him enjoying a drink or six on Wednesday, following his historic time-trial win. "Blind drunk at the minute," he tweeted, sharing a photo of himself, vodka in hand. Meanwhile, yesterday's gold winner, shooter Peter Wilson, announced: "I'm going to get very, very drunk and probably do something silly." Who'd begrudge them a bender now?

Good humour greeted the sight of a well-oiled England cricket team, fresh from Ashes victory in 2005, stumbling into Downing Street, where, according to Freddie Flintoff's memoir: "The only contact [he] had with the Blairs… was asking Cherie where the toilet was." But there's a time and a place for drunken celebration and this is true for sportspeople more than most. Flintoff was sacked as England's vice-captain two years later, following the notorious "pedalo incident" in the West Indies.

The England rugby squad were reprimanded for their behaviour during the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year. While their dwarf-tossing and ferry-jumping antics were unbecoming, they might have been forgiven had they taken place after the tournament – especially if England had won it.

"We were really diligent about all the little things that go into a performance," says Steve Trapmore, who won a rowing gold in the coxed eights at the Sydney Games. "We had a saying: 'Will what we're about to do make the boat go faster?' Unfortunately going out and getting plastered doesn't help."

When a sportsperson's hard work and discipline are rewarded with victory, they're celebrated for getting sozzled. If they jeopardise their chances with a pre-game booze-up, they're a disgrace. For every Darren Clarke downing a Guinness (as the golfer did after his British Open triumph in 2011), there's a footballer falling out of a nightclub.

The Olympics, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a rich source of stories of both alcohol-fuelled celebration and drunken shame. Australian rower Joshua Booth was arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning after allegedly causing "damage to a shop front"; his team failed to win a medal on Wednesday. Nick Green, Australia's Olympic Commission chef de mission, said: "We understand there was alcohol involved."

Twas ever thus: at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, British runner Chris Brasher came first in the 3,000-metre steeplechase, was disqualified for interfering with another runner and a day later re-instated and awarded the gold.

"After the appeal committee re-instated me," Brasher recalled, "I went for a liquid lunch with the British media. I recall being drunk on the podium and nearly falling flat on my face as I leant forward, an IOC man attempting to hang a medal around my neck."

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