Rio 2016: British pride at record-breaking medal haul

Saddleworth Independent’s sports editor Tony Bugby is reporting from his seventh Olympic Games and here he gives a unique, final insight into how Rio de Janeiro is coping with the greatest show on earth.

rio_olympics_2016_logo_a_pGreat Britain is certainly riding the crest of a sporting wave after a record-breaking Olympic Games, and it has been a privilege to be part of it in Rio de Janeiro.

Not only has it been Great Britain’s greatest-ever overseas Olympics in terms of medals, a haul of 67, but they became the first nation to increase its tally the Games after they were hosts.

It is something the nation ought to be proud of and experiencing it at first hand has been extra special and at times emotional.

Having worked with sportmen and women, I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into a four-year Olympic cycle and, in the case of a sprinter, all that work can hinge on one 10-second race.

It is understandable, therefore, that tears can be shed, both of joy when winning or succeeding or despair when things go wrong.

As for Great Britain’s success, it exceeded expectations as the British Olympic Association had set a target of 48 medals, one more than obtained in Beijing.

Traditionally extra resources are channelled by the hosts into sport to ensure they enjoy a successful Games.

Usually these are not sustained and in each subsequent Games there has been a decline in the number of medals accrued.

Great Britain bucked the trend and remain on an upwards curve as they claimed second place in the medal table finishing ahead of China.

These are heady days as underlined by stats released by UK Sport that demonstrate the rewards since Lottery funding began for elite sport in 1997.

It must be said, the funding began with sport at a low ebb – it was the year after Atlanta when Great Britain won only one gold in a haul of 15 medals.

As funding kicked in, results steadily improved as the tally was 28 medals in Sydney, 30 in Athens, 47 Beijing and 67 London.

Suddenly funding ensured Great Britain’s elite athletes were able to compete on a level playing field as it allowed them to become full-time.

And in Rio, there were some remarkable British performances, notably Mo Farah becoming only the second person to successfully defend their 5,000 and 10,000 metre Olympic Games crowns. The other was Flying Finn Lasse Viren.

But there has been so many more – the Brownlee brothers taking gold and silver in the triathlon, cyclists Jason Kenny and Laura Trott striking gold, Trott for the fourth time and Sir Bradley Wiggins claiming a fifth cycling Olympic gold and eighth medal overall, another record, Andy Murray defending his tennis title from London 2012 as did rowers Helen Glover and Heather Standing, boxer Nicola Adams, taekwondo’s Jade Jones and dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, and Justin Rose taking gold in the first Olympic golf competition.

Of the 27 gold medallists, 22 who claimed silver and 17 bronze, they all had a story to tell.

Young Adam Peaty has overnight become a swimming superstar as has gymnast Max Whitlock who won two golds in the space of an hour, Jack Laugher and Chris Mears who prevented China from doing clean sweep of the golds in diving, a monumental achievement, and young slalom canoeist Joe Clarke, the babe of the British team, upstaging his elders to win a gold. The list goes on.

And speaking of elders, showjumper Nick Skelton, aged 58, became the oldest British gold medallist since 1912.

The youngest member of Team GB, 16-year-old gymnast Amy Tinkler, even came home with a medal, a bronze in the women’s floor.

It will be the end of an era for the likes of 40-year-old rower Katherine Grainger, the only British woman to medal at five Olympics, Farah, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, women’s hockey captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and double gold Olympic dressage horse Valegro.

And elsewhere, Rio almost certainly was the swansong for swimming legend Michael Phelps, winner of 28 Olympic medals – 23 gold – and Usain Bolt who completed a treble treble after claiming three sprint titles at Beijing, London and Rio.

To finish, please permit me a piece of personal indulgence to recall the best 10 moments I experienced at the Rio Olympics:

1: Great Britain women’s hockey team: They struck gold and prevented Holland claiming a third Olympic title in a row – the Dutch had gone 21 Olympic games unbeaten and the final was a magnificent spectacle ending in victory following a shootout. It was special for me as I had been following the career of Great Britain’s Nicola White for 10 years and memorable to share in her moment of triumph and also spend time with her family and witness their joy.

2: Usain Bolt: being present to see the sprinter complete his treble treble was also historic, a feat that may never be repeated. And to have seen him win eight of his nine golds in the flesh has been memorable, more so the Olympic and world record obliterated in Beijing and London.

3: Michael Phelps: There will probably be no other swimmer who will match the exploits of the American who has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 gold. It was magical to witness the first of his five golds in Rio, in the freestyle relay.

4: Brazil football team: Fulfilling a dream to watch Brazil play in the Maracana, the stadium the tannoy announcer labelled the ‘temple of football’. The noise when Germany missed a penalty in the shootout and when Brazil legend Neymar scored the winning spot kick was deafening and will live with me forever.

5: Sir Bradley Wiggins: Winning his fifth Olympic cycling gold in the 4,000m team pursuit in a world record time. Also the first Brit to win the Tour de France, he is without doubt our greatest-ever cyclist.

6: The Browlee brothers in the triathlon: Alastair winning gold and younger brother Jonathan silver and their embrace at the end while lying on the ground after crossing the finishing line. They are great mates, but fierce rivals when competing against one another. Triathlon is a great sport as a spectacle, especially here with Copacabana as a backdrop.

7: Katherine Grainger: To medal at five different Olympics is special and the 40-year-old is a rowing legend. After striking silver at Sydney, Athens and Beijing, she finally got her hands on gold in London, but it was back to silver again in Rio.

8: Adam Peaty: After seeing the young swimmer take the Commonwealth Games by storm in Glasgow two years earlier, he repeated it against the best in the world in Rio taking the 100m breaststroke title in a world-record time.

9: Joe Clarke: After some of his peers flopped, the babe of the canoe slalom team took an unexpected gold in the K1 class after fearlessly negotiating the course.

10: Amy Tinkler: For sheer romance, the 16-year-old gymnast and youngest member of the British Olympic team claiming an unexpected bronze in the women’s floor exercise.

 

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