As British athletes celebrated their biggest Olympic medal haul for a century, Gordon Brown signalled yesterday that they would be recognised through the honours system and held out the prospect of a Great Britain football side to compete in the London 2012 Games. The Prime Minister confirmed there would be a Downing Street reception for the team when it returns to the UK, and said there had been such "spectacular successes" that the honours system is bound to recognise them.
With a tally of 47 medals – 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze – on the penultimate day, Britain lay fourth in the medal table behind China, USA and Russia.
In Beijing for the closing ceremonies, Mr Brown said he thought the London Games in 2012 would be different from Beijing's, but insisted they would still be an extraordinary world event. "I think music and the cultural aspects of the Games will be very important as we move forward to 2012," he said. "I think there is more emphasis on our creativity of the sporting legacy that is left after the Olympics and on fun. In all these areas where our creativity is leading the world, I think we will want to showcase that to the world when they look in on London in 2012," he said.
Mr Brown added that he would be surprised if Britain did not enter a football team in the Olympic tournament. Britain has not entered a team in the Olympics since 1960, partly because of fears it could jeopardise the future of the individual England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Irish national sides. "I hope there will be a team by 2012. It will be Team UK. I hope we can get an agreement on that," he said, adding that he had spoken to Fifa boss Sepp Blatter about the situation.
Boris Johnson, who will today receive the Olympic flag on behalf of London 2012, said London's games would be a more "intimate" Games, on a smaller scale than Beijing, but insisted the event would be "fantabulous". He said he expected the Games would also come in under budget.
"We are looking at what we can do with the various sites and venues to make sure that we don't have a significant waste of taxpayers' money," he said.
Mr Johnson will receive the Olympic flag in the handover ceremony in Beijing, which will also feature an eight-minute London slot involving a 10-year-old girl from east London, Tayyiba Dudhwala, who was chosen in a Blue Peter competition, David Beckham, rocker Jimmy Page and singer Leona Lewis.
The ceremony will also be marked by celebrations in the Mall in central London, and across the UK, with big screens beaming live coverage across the country.
The Queen yesterday congratulated British and Commonwealth athletes for their successes in Beijing and said she was looking forward to the London Games in 2012. "The golden triumphs of the present British team can only serve as further inspiration to those who will be working hard over the next four years to make the London Games a shining example of Olympic success," she said.
Her comments came amid further celebrations as British athletes claimed more medals. Team GB ended the penultimate day with another gold and two bronze medals. One more Briton is still to compete in the men's marathon today.
Boxer James DeGale continued Team GB's golden glory by winning the men's middleweight title. The 22-year-old Londoner won a hard contest with Cuban Emilio Correa. DeGale sank to his knees at the final bell.
The boxer's gold medal followed other success for British athletes. Kayaker Tim Brabants, who had already won gold, added bronze in the men's 500m race while Sarah Stevenson won bronze in the taekwondo contest, becoming Britain's first ever medallist in the sport. Stevenson's triumph came after she had earlier been eliminated, only to be reinstated after the British team appealed. Diver Tom Daley, 14, finished seventh in the final of the 10m platform event. Dan Robinson, 33, of Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, will end Team GB's Olympic competition when he runs in the marathon tomorrow.
Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, admitted that funding levels for London 2012 hopefuls had still not been finalised, but insisted he was confident that promised money would be available. The Government has launched a sponsorship drive to encourage businesses to top up the funding already pledged from the Exchequer and the Lottery.
Mr Burnham said UK Sport, the body that distributes cash to elite competitors, should plan to receive the full amount of funding – worth £100m a year. He added that Gordon Brown has thrown his weight behind the campaign to bring in private sector sponsors.
The Government is aiming to raise at least £80m in sponsorship on top of the £520m promised in lottery funding and direct support from the taxpayer as part of a six-year package announced in 2006.
10.30am: Sir Chris Bonington climbs Scafell Pike to hoist a London 2012 flag at its peak.
1pm: Closing ceremony begins in the Bird's Nest Stadium, Beijing. Entertainment will be provided by Beyoncé, Jackie Chan and Placido Domingo.
2.30pm: Guo Jinlong, Mayor of Beijing, hands the Olympic flag to London Mayor Boris Johnson. David Beckham, Leonie Lewis and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page appear in Beijing.
3.15pm: In London, Will Young, the Feeling and McFly play a free concert in the Mall to 40,000 people. Other cities will see this on big screens. Swimmer Michael Phelps appears on stage.
4pm: Olympic flame goes out in Beijing. Fireworks display.
5pm: Flypast by the Red Arrows ends the party in the Mall.
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