Britain rules again with waves of gold
BEIJING (Reuters) - Britain's 12 golds and third place in the medals table herald their best Olympic performance since the "Rule Britannia" days of empire nearly a century ago.
The gold triumph by Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins in the men's cycling track team pursuit on Monday put Britain behind only sporting superpowers China and the United States in the Beijing table.
It is a remarkable turnaround just 12 years after Britain collected a solitary gold at the Atlanta Olympics and finished way down in 36th place.
Now Britain's golden wave in Beijing has them ruling over traditional sporting giants like Australia, Germany, Japan and Russia in the medals table. The British are in contention for at least another handful of golds before Sunday's closing ceremony.
A look at the record books shows Britain have never enjoyed such a golden Games since Antwerp in 1920 when they won 14. They last managed to finish as high as third in 1912 in Stockholm.
The timing of the Beijing successes in cycling, rowing, swimming, sailing and gymnastics has delighted British sports officials as they prepare to host the Olympics in London in 2012.
Much of the credit for the gold rush is widely attributed to heavy financial investment since the 1990s when many British sports were in the doldrums because of poor training facilities and a lack of sports heroes to spark interest among the young.
The poor showing in Atlanta in 1996 occurred just after British sport started receiving National Lottery money.
By 1997 athletes were given grants, allowing them to train full time. The money also allowed sports to develop state-of-the-art training centres and to employ physiologists, team managers and coaches -- with several coming from abroad.
By Sydney in 2000, results were quickly starting to show and Britain finished 10th. They repeated it in Athens.
"We can rule the waves again," Britain's top-selling Sun trumpeted in a headline on Monday. British officials said they were organising a heroes parade through the streets of London on October 16 for the Beijing medallists.
The most British successful sport in Beijing so far has been cycling, with 11 medals and six golds on the road and track.
"We've got a young dynamic team and we haven't even started yet," Britain's cycling coach Dan Hunt told reporters.
"We have got three or four academies now and all of them are going to start producing medals by 2012, 2016. So are the senior guys. So it should be a good fun four years," said Hunt.
British riders have been in scintillating form in the Beijing cycling velodrome. They have failed to land a medal in just one of the eight events contested so far.
With sprint world champion Chris Hoy, two-times world champion Victoria Pendleton and pursuit ace Wiggins, Britain are certainly not short of ammunition.
Britain also finished top of the rowing medals table on Lake Shunyi in the best Olympic performance since 1908, with two golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
The standard they set themselves was evident when both silver-winning crews sat disgusted with their result.
A one-man boxing team in Athens of silver medallist lightweight Amir Khan has developed into eight boxers in Beijing, with three still in the quarter-finals.
Rebecca Adlington became Britain's first double Olympic swimming champion in a century, breaking a world record set in the year she was born.
Britain have even won their first individual male gymnastics medal in 100 years.
The performance is all the more remarkable as it was clearly well ahead of the expectations of British Olympic officials.
Before arriving in China, they had set a goal of fourth place in the medals table in London four years' time.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, Patrick Vignal and Pritha Sarkar, Editing by Ralph Gowling)
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