After the expected came a British tale of the unexpected. Michael Jamieson only made it to the Olympic Games by two-hundredths of a second and while Britain yesterday prepared to greet two of its sure-thing gold medals, the young man from Glasgow prepared to deliver a medal that nobody saw coming outside his training base in Bath.
It took a world record swim from the Hungarian Daniel Gyurta in the 200m breaststroke to deny Jamieson Britain's first gold medal in the pool last night but silver was warm consolation. Again, the margin between fairy tale and a likely footnote in this country's Olympic history was slender.
Gyurta won almost on the touch, just 0.15sec ahead of Jamieson, who himself finished inside the previous Olympic record time. It is the first medal for a British man in the pool since Steve Parry's bronze in Athens in 2004 and the best since Paul Palmer took silver in 1996.
There should be no doubting his achievement, not least as for once it made his home city take its eye off the ball. Jamieson is a lifelong Celtic fan and his race was shown on the big screen ahead of the club's Champions League qualifier against Helsinki. Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, sent a good luck message.
As a child it was football that took most of Jamieson's interest. Was that, he was asked afterwards, better than playing at Parkhead? He grinned. "Yes," he said, "absolutely. I got a message to say the final would be shown at Parkhead tonight before the game. That's quite special."
Not as special as his swim, nor the story of his path to the podium. At the trials here in March, Jamieson had squeezed past his fellow Scot by two hundredths of a second to claim the second Olympic place behind Andrew Willis, his clubmate who finished eighth last night. Jamieson's qualifying time was a personal best; step one.
Having gone out in the heats in the 100m breaststroke – an event he had made only after Daniel Sliwinski withdrew from the British team – Jamieson has produced almost the perfect 200m. Almost.
In his heat on Tuesday he swam a new personal best and set a new British record; step two. Then yesterday morning he stormed through his semi-final to qualify fastest for the final and break the British record yet again; step three.
Step four began in a flood of noise. He looked relaxed – something not all British swimmers have here during the Games – as he marched to his lane with a smile and a wave to the crowd. On one side of him was Willis, third quickest into the final, on the other Gyurta, the favourite.
It was a tight race. Jamieson turned into the final length in third, more than half a second behind Gyurta. As the metres ticked away Jamieson found one final surge of energy and edged ever closer.
It was another personal best, a British record of course, yet step four was one too far.
"What an amazing night – the crowd was completely unbelievable," said Jamieson. "I got goosebumps again walking behind the blocks. It's been a quite special week. I've done everything I wanted to. It's been good day for GB all-round.
"Today has been quite spectacular. It's quite overwhelming. I knew after [the heats] I was capable of getting a medal – I knew there was a chance of gold. Dan's been overwhelming favourite all year – he's been challenging the world record all season and I'm delighted I ran him so close."
Jamieson, who will have some birthday to celebrate when he turns 24 on Sunday, splits his time between Bath, one of British swimming's five centres of excellence, and Edinburgh, where he is studying for a degree in international studies. He spent a year in Paris to learn French, and to improve his swimming, before deciding to make the move to Bath two years ago. That was the year he won silver in the Commonwealth Games. Last year was interrupted when he ruptured a ligament but a fifth place in the World Championships suggested a developing talent.
"I have seen him in training for years and knew he's capable of great things – now we've seen that," said Willis.
The 21-year-old from Frimley faded after a good start – he was third at the halfway point – perhaps overwhelmed by the effort required in pushing his own personal bests lower with each previous race.
Both men are trained in Bath by David McNulty – the reason Jamieson makes the long journey to Bath rather than his home city, where most of the Scottish swimmers are based. McNulty, 43, was the man behind Jo Jackson's bronze in Beijing, now he has a silver to add to the collection.
The medal restores a proud British history in the breaststroke – Jamieson follows his fellow Scot David Wilkie on to an Olympic podium.
Wilkie took 200m gold in 1976, while Duncan Goodhew and Adrian Moorhouse won 100m golds in 1980 and 1988.Reuse content