BEIJING (Reuters) - Next Olympics hosts Britain reached their highest gold medal tally in a century on Tuesday with four victories including one from a once-banned runner.
Christine Ohuruogu, who only made it to Beijing after winning an appeal against a lifetime Olympics ban, powered to gold in the women’s 400 meters for Britain’s first athletics win in China.
“Everyone always dreams about winning but you never think there’s a reality to something you dream about,” said the elated 24-year-old Londoner, who served a year’s suspension for missing three doping tests in 2006.
Other wins in cycling and sailing cemented Britain’s third place in China, with 16 golds the best since 1908 and the perfect way to fire up enthusiasm at home for the 2012 Games.
Hosts China are way ahead with 43 golds, their seemingly unassailable lead helping dull some of the national pain over the withdrawal through injury of track idol Liu Xiang.
The United States are second with 26 golds.
In the highest-profile race of Day 11, Rashid Ramzi gave Bahrain the first gold in their history in the men’s 1,500 meters.
Perhaps the most moving story came from Germany’s weightlifter Matthias Steiner, who won the super-heavyweight gold to lay claim to the title of world’s strongest man.
Choking back tears on the podium, Steiner, 25, held up and kissed a photo of his late wife, to whom he had promised Olympic success when she was dying after a car crash last year.
“I‘m not the superstitious type, don’t believe in higher powers, but I hope she saw me,” he told Reuters after his win.
Aided by the power of the local yam vegetable, according to his father, Jamaica’s Usain “Lightning” Bolt breezed through another race, this time the 200 meters semi-final.
Bolt played for TV cameras at the block and eased up to take a sideways look at competitors before crossing the line first.
“That’s just me,” he said. “I like to enjoy what I do.”
Should he win Wednesday’s final, following his world record-breaking 100m victory, Bolt will be the first man to win an Olympic double sprint since America’s Carl Lewis in 1984.
While China’s rise may be inevitable, given it has one fifth of the world’s population to choose from, Britain’s success was more surprising. Even traditional rivals were impressed.
“Their new-found cockiness has got some substance to it,” Australia’s Olympic Committee president John Coates said. Nowhere have the Britons been cockier than on bikes.
Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won the men’s and women’s sprints, making it a remarkable eight Beijing golds on road and track for the new cycling superpower. In Qingdao, on the coast, another Briton, Paul Goodison, won the sailing Laser title.
Britain’s success is attributed to heavy new investment in sport. That has allowed athletes and coaches to train full time, as well as seen improvements in facilities.
Chinese leaders and people alike showered their injured Olympics 110m hurdles champion Liu with get-well messages a day after he limped forlornly off the track, depriving the hosts of what they hoped might be their greatest single moment of glory.
Liu, who along with basketball player Yao Ming is China’s most idolized sportsman, surfaced on Tuesday, vowing not to quit.
“There’ll be opportunities next year,” he said.
Cuban 110m hurdles world record holder Dayron Robles blazed into the semi-finals and should win now Liu is out.
At least fans who wept at Liu’s exit were cheered by the medal table. “There is basically no worry about top spot,” state news agency Xinhua said, eschewing China’s pre-Games caution.
The locals are loving it: one man cycled 1,300km (800 miles) to tow his 98-year-old grandmother to the Games in a pedicab.
Further cheering the Chinese national mood, environmental authorities said Beijing had enjoyed its cleanest air in 10 years this month despite athletes’ pre-Games fears.
One man whose lungs definitely were not affected by any lingering smog was German triathlete Jan Frodeno.
The 27-year-old outsider, who only took up triathlon to impress a girl, broke away from three of the sport’s biggest names at the end to win the swim-bike-run endurance test.
“During the race I told myself: ‘Boy, be greedy -- it’s champagne or fizzy water’,” said the former lifeguard.
Though the “beautiful game” plays second fiddle to other sports at the Olympics, there was a mouth-watering soccer semi-final between soccer powers Argentina and Brazil.
Argentina won 3-0 and a frustrated Brazil, who have won the World Cup five times but never an Olympic gold, had two men sent off late on. Nigeria reached the soccer final for the first time since winning gold 12 years ago with a 4-1 thrashing of Belgium.
Reporting by Beijing Olympics bureau; Editing by Jeremy Laurence