Wow. It’s been 20 years since Atlanta 96 and the solitary gold medal we won at those games. Since then, there’s been a terrific turnaround, and the past few Olympics in particular have made me feel a great sense of pride in Team GB. I recall Super Saturday from London 2012 and the amazing performances of our athletes throughout those games – but in Rio right now, they’re on the verge of eclipsing even 2012.
65 medals were won four years ago, marking GB’s best ever games. No nation has ever bettered their previous performance when they were hosts, yet Team GB are on the cusp of doing exactly that.
Laura Trott became Britain’s most successful female Olympian with her fourth gold, demonstrating a ruthless dominance over her rivals in cycling. She has owned the velodrome at Rio, as she did in London, and she has at times made it look easy. Watching her is to watch a masterclass – she is supremely confident, a master of her craft, and if she goes to Tokyo, she’ll get more golds.
Trott’s fiancee Jason Kenny displayed the sort of focus that any top athlete needs when his kerrin final was twice held up by false starts. It would easy to be distracted and unnerved, but Kenny wasn’t. He would claim his sixth Olympic gold, equalling the best gold total set by a British Olympian. If he and Trott have kids… Well, the future of British cycling will be in good hands!
Cycling is where Team GB really shines. We won medals in every velodrome event save one – and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe every member of the cycling team won at least one medal. Interestingly, some members of the French cycling team were complaining that our success is down to money – this is rather belittling to the years of hard work and training that goes into becoming a top athlete. Should we pour scorn on the efforts of Team USA, who operate with a much higher budget than anyone else? That would be grossly unfair to the individual efforts of each athlete.
Britain’s female hockey team made history when they beat the reigning Olympic champions Netherlands to claim their first gold medal in the sport – a big step up from the bronze earned in London (itself an impressive feat). The pendulum would swing a little in the match, with Britain taking the lead, only for the Dutch to ramp up the pressure and twice lead, only for Britain to level the scores at 3-3 and force a shootout.
Keeper Hinch was immense. She made herself loom large in the faces of the Dutch players, who could not find a way by her in the shootout. To be fair, every player was immense – 8 games, 8 wins. You can’t get any better than that!
Brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee won gold and silver respectively in the men’s Triathlon – you have to feel a note of sympathy for Jonathan – second best in the world and still not the best in his own family! In the build up, it seemed that Jonathan might have the edge on his brother – but two years’ extra experience and training might have helped Alistair when it mattered most. At least Jonathan can rightly say he improved from London, when he took bronze.
There was history made in gymnastics. Britain’s youngest competitor, Amy Tinkler, aged just 16, won bronze on the floor, and in doing so becomes only the third British women to win a medal in an individual gymnastics event. Nile Wilson become the first ever Briton to win a medal in the horizontal bar, also claiming bronze.
Max Whitlock won two golds in Rio, on the floor and on the pommel – where he squeezed ahead of fellow Briton Louis Smith. Whitlock trained for a time in Basildon, where I live, so I have a tenuous connection to him!
Nick Skelton became Britain’s oldest gold medallist in over a century when he won gold in show jumping at the age of 58. Remarkable stuff!
This is but a snapshot of what we’ve achieved. Team GB have already surpassed the target set for Rio of 48 medals, and at the time of writing this, have 61 medals, just four shy of the 65 won in London four years ago. No Olympic team has bettered their medal total when they had hosted the previous games – might GB be the first to achieve this feat?
Of course, it’s not all about Team GB. There are other incredible stories here too.
Usain Bolt completed a ‘treble treble’ by winning gold in the 100m sprint, 200m sprint and 400m relay, something he also did in Bejing in 2008 and in London. He plans to retire after the World Championships next year – and he can retire knowing he has no equal on the track.
US swimming star Michael Phelps cemented his place as one of the all-time Olympic greats, taking his gold medal tally to 23, to go alongside the 3 silver and 2 bronze medals he also has. Phelps fell from grace a few years ago, yet he rebuilt his life and his reputation, and then came to Rio to prove himself one final time. It seems he too will retire for good after Rio, and no one can doubt him now.
Speaking of swimming, this was where Simone Manuel made history for the USA. She became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold in an individual swimming event, and in all took two golds and two silvers. At just 20 years of age, she is bound to have more medals in her.
She wasn’t the only American called Simone to have a great games. Simone Biles was a key driving force behind America’s gymnastics successes, winning four golds and a bronze in her first Olympics. She has also set records – the first US woman to win four golds in gymnastics at a single Olympics. She crushed the competition.
There’s still a few days to go, but this has been a spectacular Olympics. There were concerns about Rio’s readiness, but I think they’ve met those concerns and the games have ultimately been a success story. Brazil have given us a colourful carnival.