Three athletics golds arrived in 48 minutes on that famous night in Hackney nine years ago when Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford all became Olympic champions in a crowning moment for the country’s home Games. Magic Monday was not played out in front of an engrossed stadium, but the exploits of Peaty, synchronised divers Tom Daley and Matty Lee, and cyclist Tom Pidcock brought the same feeling of lift-off for Team GB.
First came Peaty. He swam just after 3am UK time, but plenty stayed up to watch Britain’s surest bet for gold. The breaststroke king has not been beaten in a major race for seven years, and he added to his 100m gold in Rio with another dominant display, becoming the first British swimmer to successfully defend an Olympic title.
As Peaty was wrapping up media duties, London and Rio bronze medallist Daley was warming up in the diving pool at the other end of the arena with his new partner. Leeds’ 23-year-old Lee was making his Olympic debut, but if he felt any nerves, he didn’t let them show, putting in a precise performance alongside his more experienced partner to pip China to a tense and emotional victory.
While they hugged manically and the tears flowed, another Yorkshireman was on his way to muddy glory. Pidcock is only 21, but he is already a multi-talented cyclist with a career spanning road, time trial, cycle-cross and even electric bikes; here he furthered his reputation as a master of all trades, winning the men’s mountain bike race convincingly in searing heat and navigating the dirt track’s jumps, boulders and bridges with a performance belying his young years.
Pidcock’s success was all the more remarkable given that he was hit by a driver while training in Girona in May. The car cracked his bike in half and shattered his collarbone into five pieces. He was back on his bike six days after surgery but barely raced in the interim.
“I’ve trained really hard. I knew I was in great shape, but there’s always doubt when I haven’t performed in a race,” Pidcock said. “The Olympics just transcends any sport. You compete and represent your country and everyone in your country is behind you, no matter what sports they like. It’s just national pride, it’s unbelievable.”
For Daley, it was a moment he’d dreamed of since first stepping on to the Olympic stage as a 14-year-old boy in Beijing. And it was also an opportunity to send a message to young gay people in Britain. “When I was a little boy, I felt like an outsider and felt different, and felt like I was never going to be anything because who I was wasn’t what society wanted me to be. To be able to see out-LGBT people performing at the Olympic Games is… I hope it can give young kids hope.”
Lee was honoured to have made history with his diving idol. “All those years back I was a fan, a little kid looking up to him. Now we’re best mates and Olympic gold medallists.”
Peaty will reflect and take stock. He is a father now and life, he says, is no longer all about winning swimming races. “As soon as I stop having fun, I will stop,” the 26-year-old said. “I’m still having fun, but I also have a lot of fun with my boy, I have a lot of fun at home and having a normal life too.”
How long will he go on? “Such a big decision is a family decision now. It’s not just me being a selfish athlete. We’ll have that conversation when we’re home. We’re targeting Paris [2024 Olympics] anyway, but anything after that is kind of a bonus really.”
And as if all that wasn’t enough, a day which started in the early hours with Alex Yee’s hard-earned silver medal in the men’s triathlon culminated in Welsh 22-year-old Lauren Williams doing likewise in the taekwondo arena. It capped a Magic Monday that will live long in the memory for fans of Team GB, lifting Britain to fifth in the medal table, and may just have kickstarted another successful Olympic Games.
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