We are the champions: Why Andy Murray's Wimbledon victory is just the latest sign of Britain enjoying a golden age of sport

From tennis to athletics, rugby to cricket, cycling to golf, these islands are producing world-beaters as never before, writes Robin Scott-Elliot

If last year hosted Britain’s golden summer of sport then 2013 is proving one hell of successor. It may be less garlanded, less swaddled in red, white and blue but it is one that has provided yet further evidence that when it comes to sport, all sport, we have never had it so good. Britain has a true golden generation.

On Saturday morning the Union flag fluttered over Sydney, by the afternoon it was flying over Kitzbühel in Austria, raised on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary, and standing proud in the Pyrenees, cracking in the stiff mountain wind as Chris Froome pulled on the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. And then finally last night it flew over a corner of the capital.

Tennis, rugby union, triathlon, women’s boxing and cycling are sports in which Britons are winning, and the list goes on. A year after the best British Olympics for a hundred years, our golfers are preparing to join the greatest show on earth in Rio 2016 with a run of success this country has not seen for 20 years. Yesterday Justin Rose, winner of the US Open, looked on from the royal box; Chris Hoy from Andy Murray’s box. The Union flag and a crackling recording of the dirge of an anthem have become a must for event organisers.

In two days England’s cricketers, after a winter that saw them earn a first Test series win in India for 28 years, begin their campaign to win a third successive Ashes, something that has not been done since 1981. The focus will shift to Trent Bridge and the national summer game. It is one that will be intense, at times hyperbolic, always fascinated because sport matters in this country, or perhaps more pertinently to this country.

Britain’s broader place in the world has dwindled – instead of dispatching gunboats, it is now a train of thunder-thighed cyclists, a coxless four, or men in funny trousers with a sharp set of irons who set sail to remind the globe these islands are a player.

You could not swing a racket in the royal box yesterday without hitting a politician with an eye on another sporting bandwagon having the horses hitched. In a time of austerity, funding for Britain’s Olympians remains untouched – who would dare cut the cash that helps put a smile on the country’s worn face?

Sport has long been embedded in this country, part of its cultural identity, different sports for different classes but dug deep in society. What marks the current surge of British success is its breadth and its professionalism.

This is not “Play up, play up and play the game”. This is plan the game and win it. Team Sky’s ruthless, intricate mapping of Bradley Wiggins’ route to history last year, the first Briton to win in the 99th edition of the race, mirrored how British cycling has come to rule the Olympic world. Britain’s success at London 2012 owed plenty to executing well-funded, well-supported battle plans.

UK Sport, the body that hands out government and National Lottery funding to elite sport and ensures we get value for it via places on podiums, receives regular requests from curious counterparts around the world: how do you do it? Funding in Olympic sports – in rowing, sailing, cycling Britain rules the world – is all important. Money provides a down payment on medals; £347m will be spent on Britain’s Olympians in the Rio cycle and the promised return is more medals than in London 2012.

But there is brilliance, too. Murray is dazzling to watch on a tennis court, at a time when the men’s game has never been better. Froome, as dry and guarded in public as the Scot, is similarly engaging in his work. To watch each in action yesterday afternoon was enriching. Each is worth supporting for the manner in which they go about their business, regardless of what flag they do it beneath.

Sport is cyclical. the UK has four male golfers in the world’s top 10 at the moment, as many as the US, and has won five of the last 13 majors. The previous five had taken 20 years to amass. There is no one, all-embracing reason for the rise of the likes of Rose, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell. Rose moved to the States to dot i’s and cross t’s, the other three learnt their game in Northern Ireland.

There is an elephant in the changing room: football, the national game. It erroneously claimed a golden generation and of all Britain’s major sports this is the one that causes most concern, especially in the wake of the summer’s ponderous outings by England’s age-group teams and a decline in the numbers playing the game at grass-roots level. But then there is the Premier League, for any faults still the most exciting and most watched domestic league.

The audiences attracted for sport in this country, firstly in football but much broader too – 80,000 turned up to watch Paralympic heats last summer – is a key reason why sports want to stage events in Britain. Next up in October is the rugby league World Cup, in 2015 it is the Rugby World Cup.

Sport has never been more universal. In this century 12 countries have won titles at Wimbledon for the first time. At this year’s championships 63 different nationalities were represented across the various draws. Last week an African wore the yellow jersey for the first time. Since hosting the Beijing Olympics, China have become a sporting super power. It is Britain’s only super power and every politician sweating in the royal box yesterday as Andy Murray put the blue back into the Union flag knows it.

Video: Wimbledon fans jubilant at Murray's success

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test