Rowers' refusal to be beaten heralds a most glorious day
Four gold medals represent a record-breaking haul. James Lawton reports from Beijing
Sunday 17 August 2008
In the glorious stockpiling of British Olympic gold here yesterday, who could begin to say that one medal was won more remarkably than another?
Perhaps only someone who had been convinced that one of the nation's greatest Olympic traditions was in ruins, with the boat once powered by Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent apparently sunk and gone. That seemed the obvious conclusion when, with 500 metres to go, the stroke of Britain's coxless four, Andy Triggs Hodge looked across for the pacesetting Australians and saw only their stern.
"When I saw that," said Hodge, "I just thought, Jesus. But then I also thought, I really want that gold medal." It was a resolution he shared with his team-mates and, inch by inch, the Australians were hauled back and destroyed before the finishing line.
This was a classic act of grace and resolution under some of the most severe pressure sport can bring, and if you were looking for a keynote performance, a level of fortitude that defined the efforts of yesterday's other golden British performers, swimmer Rebecca Adlington and cyclists Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, this was surely it.
It had all the qualities that take a competitor to the top of Mount Olympus for at least a day, the greatest attribute being a refusal to acknowledge that you are beaten. The great Redgrave did it when he won the last of his five golds on a still, crisp morning in Sydney eight years ago. Pinsent, still great, even though he won a mere four, did it on a steamy day in Athens. Each time they inspired massive recoveries of will when the issue appeared to be lost.
Both were at the water-side yesterday as their successors made sure that a day which had dawned with such high British hopes would not see any failure of nerve. Pinsent said, "They were all magnificent. They did exactly what they had to do win that race. The kept their nerve, which was most vital, and they dug down and found things that maybe before this they didn't know they had."
Pinsent's team-mate in Athens, Steve Williams, the one surviving gold-winner, shook his head and said, "These have been the hardest months of my career and my life – but now they are the greatest. The effort that came from our crew today is something I will never forget."
Nor will a grateful nation already thrilled by the British resurgence at these 29th Olympics – and the early morning heroics of the 19-year-old Adlington from Mansfield.
Along with the cyclist Nicole Cooke, Adlington had, at the start of the Games, created the sense that these could be remarkable Olympics for Britain when she became the first home woman swimmer to win gold in the Olympic pool since 1960. Yesterday, with a withering performance in the 800m freestyle she delivered a superb one-two combination of gold medals, and broke the world record set by the American Janet Evans in 1989 – the year of her birth.
Adlington's performance simply overwhelmed the field in a time of 8 minutes 14.10 seconds. Italy's Alessia Filippi and Denmark's Lotte Fris of Denmark gave chase, but must have groaned at the futility of all.
Said Adlington, "I hope what I have done will show a lot of young people in Britain that if you work enough you really can get your dream. Sometimes you sit by the side of the pool and think it is just too hard to go on. But then you know that there are great rewards down the road if you persevere. I certainly know that now."
Cyclists Hoy and Wiggins were scarcely on new ground. They know about the thrill of going up on the podium, and what they produced was another reminder of how British cycling has mastered the world's best opposition.
The British cycling team have been highly praised for their attention to detail –and their ground-breaking technology, but yesterday, once again, Hoy and Wiggins made the point that the most valuable ingredient of all is the level of the commitment of the cyclists.
While the Government is quick to draw attention to its fundraising support – £265m of lottery money was pumped into the British effort – the British teams have been making a point of their own: that they are able to compete at the highest level – and that this has been true for many years.
Here, though, the Britain's athletes have been given the basic support that has always been required in the modern era of the Olympics.
Yesterday it seemed like some kind of magic form. It wasn't, but to watch Andy Triggs Hodge and his team-mates making the effort of a lifetime was spellbinding. Hodge called the feat "primeval". It certainly came from the heart – and it will never be forgotten by anyone who saw it.
Super saturday: A record-breaking day for our athletes
With nine medals, and gold and silver guaranteed for today, Team GB have never had a better Olympics day.
03.25 Swimming: Rebecca Adlington takes gold in the 800m freestyle with a new world record. Her second gold of the games.
09.59 Rowing: Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington win bronze in the women's double sculls.
10.17 Rowing: Stephen Rowbotham and Matthew Wells take bronze in the men's double sculls.
10.38 Rowing: The men's coxless four of Tom James, Andy Hodge, Pete Reed and Steve Williams win gold. Williams now has two gold medals – he won in Athens in 2004.
10.46 Cycling: Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel will between them take gold and silver today by qualifying for the 3,000m individual pursuit final.
11.57 Cycling: Chris Newton wins bronze in the men's points race.
12.34 Cycling: Steven Burke wins bronze in the 4,000m individual pursuit.
12.41 Cycling: Bradley Wiggins wins the men's 4,000m pursuit. His second gold after victory in the same event in Athens.
13.03 Cycling: Chris Hoy storms to a gold medal in the men's keirin, ahead of GB's Ross Edgar, who gets silver. Hoy is now the most successful Scottish Olympian ever.
Today's medal hopes
08.50 rowing: Men's lightweight double sculls. Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase are unbeaten this season Prediction: Gold.
09.10 Rowing: Men's lightweight four. Last year's world champions have lost form and face tough competition from Denmark. Prediction: Bronze.
09.30 Rowing: Women's quadruple sculls. They have been world champions for the past three years.
10.10 Rowing: Women's eight. The crew will be looking to improve on the bronze medal they won at last year's world championships.
10.30 Rowing: Men's eight. The crew came first in Monday's qualifying race, and have a chance of taking the gold when up against the USA, Canada, Poland and the winner of the repechage today. Tom Stallard is set to quit after the Olympics.
TBA Sailing: Finn class. Fickle winds yesterday meant that defending champion Ben Ainslie had to postpone seeing off the USA's Zach Railey.
TBA Sailing: Women's yngling. Failing winds also delayed this British-Dutch duel. The British sailors, Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, who have been dubbed "three blondes in a boat", are two-time world champions, with Ayton also holding a gold medal from Athens.
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