Great Britain’s First Two Golds: The Host Nation Comes to the Party

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From left: FRANCISCO LEONG, CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / Getty Images

From left: Helen Glover and Heather Stanning; Bradley Wiggins

Much as with the iconic red buses that pass through London, you wait ages for a Great Britain gold medal and then two come along at once. And for that welcome sight, a nation’s grateful thanks will forever go to a talented trio.

Rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover started GB’s good fortune by turning the women’s pair into a procession, steamrolling the competition with a winning time of seven minutes 27.13 seconds, becoming Britain’s first ever female rowers to win an Olympic title. And a few hours later, obviously still fresh from his stunning Tour de France triumph, Bradley Wiggins won gold in the time trial. The momentum was evident throughout the day, with Scotland’s Michael Jamieson getting silver in the 200m breaststroke as well as a bronze coming from the men’s eight in rowing. The (relative) plethora of medals is, in the words of Prime Minister David Cameron, “going to give a huge confidence boost to the whole country.”

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Hopes were high for a positive result in the rowing as Stanning and Glover are the current World silver medalists. But it’s worth remembering that Glover had never stepped in a rowing boat before 2008, which in sporting terms might as well be the equivalent of last week – she was a product of the National Lottery-funded Sporting Giants talent identification program – while Stanning’s day job is as a Captain in the Royal Artillery, which she returns to next month. Their rivals never stood a chance: despite the Germans gamely trying to keep up, Stanning and Glover were clear at 500m mark, and three-and-a-half seconds (which equated to a three-quarters of a length lead) at the halfway mark. At 1500m, with the gap further increased, the pair seemed to allow themselves a wry smile; that probably didn’t please their coaches but delighted the hometown masses watching around the country and in person at Eton Dorney, just outside of London, which included Princes William and Harry, who are fast becoming lucky mascots (they saw their cousin Zara Phillips win a silver in equestrian’s team eventing). The finish was a procession, with the only remaining issue being which of those highly competitive near neighbors would take silver and bronze (Australia held off New Zealand). Glover was so overcome with emotion that she said “I don’t remember smiling as I never ever thought we’ve got it.” As for Stanning, she wanted “to collapse I’m so overjoyed.”

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Let’s hope they recovered their composure to watch what unfolded during London’s afternoon, with the capital now bathed in golden sunshine. Tour de France winner Wiggins ripped up the record books to become GB’s most decorated Olympian, with his gold in the time trial putting his personal tally of seven – four golds, a silver and two bronzes – one ahead of Sir Steve Redgrave (aptly, the former rower Redgrave cheered Stanning and Glover on in person). After Mark Cavendish failed to deliver any kind of medal on day one of the Games in the road race, the suggestion was that the gruelling three week odyssey across France had simply taken too much out of him and his Team Sky teammates. But Wiggins got his own helping hand of sorts during last Saturday’s race, with Swiss heavyweight Fabian Cancellara, the defending champion, far from his imposing self due to the crash he suffered over the weekend. While Germany’s Tony Martin, much like his rowing compatriots, did his best to make the early running, Wiggins would not be denied and defeated Martin by a margin of 42 seconds, posting a time of 50 minutes 39 seconds. “It was phenomenal, the noise was amazing,” said Wiggins. “I don’t think my sporting career will ever top this now. That’s it. It will never, never get better than that.” But let’s spare a thought for British cycling’s forgotten man of Chris Froome, who followed up his runners-up finish to Wiggo in the Tour with an impressive bronze. In any other year, banners would be written in Froome’s name. But this is not any other year.

The host nation got a brief respite from the gold rush for a quick bite to eat and reflect upon this surge up the standings to 10th. Could the post-dinner viewing possibly include further golds? Scotland’s Jamieson flew through the 200m breaststroke heats but couldn’t respond to Daniel Gyurta when it mattered, with the Hungarian besting him in a world record time of 2:07.28. “I was desperate to get on the podium,” Jamieson said. “I know how strong Gyurta is, his last 50m is the strongest in the world no doubt, the idea was to make a move before then, and try to cling on. I’m so delighted.”

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