After a medal drought that had the locals worried, Team GB finally broke through yesterday with a haul of Gold Medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics – sending up a celebration across the UK.
It’s a sign of how well London is running these Olympic Games when an American like me begins to root quietly for Team GB athletes. As the first week of competition wore on, UK athletes weren’t exactly gilding the Union Jack. Still, the energy amidst many of the reporters in the Media Centre and around Olympic Park called for a little Team GB success to make those around us and helping us a little happier.
You have to understand the atmosphere in London as the ecstatic optimism of the Opening Ceremonies anticipation gradually gave way to grumbling desperation. Team GB swimmers were sinking, and their soccer squad managed only a draw against Senegal. After a battle against France to land these Games back in 2005 and years and billions of Pounds Sterling spent in preparation, Great Britain at least wants to serve up a respectable performance.
With more than a billion viewers tuning in to watch an event meant to show off everything British in culture, construction and athletic competition, it was getting past time for the Brits to answer the bell’s Five Rings.
And it’s not like the Brits don’t have an athletic inferiority complex. Shame and embarrassment have a special place in the very prim and proper English culture. So, while they might put on a brave public face during the lead up to the competition, they mumble to each other how they expect to go tap out quickly. You only have to eavesdrop on train conversations to realize that. I’m told the same bleak house attitude spreads throughout the city during World Cup Season, also.
While the U.S. and China battled for the top of the medal board, Team GB was scraping out a Silver there and a Bronze here to the tune of three, then four pained medals. But, the hosts broke through with a rumble of countrywide fan fair led by the BBC and the Fleet Street press.
The day started with Team GB scoring their first Gold Medals of these Games with first place in the Women’s Pairs Rowing for Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. They were expected to dominate, and they did – offering much needed relief to British eyes fixed blearily on TV screens.
Then, Sir Bradley Wiggins – perhaps Team GB’s biggest star due to his recent win of the Tour de France – raced to Gold in the men's 44K time trial. Wiggins be-sideburn’d face splashed across every newspaper as Londoners celebrated an end to their Olympic drought.
That seemed to open the medal floodgates a bit for Team GB as they sit at 15 as I file this story – with five Gold. While Team GB won’t challenge the Americans or the Chinese for the most Golds or the most medals overall, they’re in the Top 10 – and that seems to be enough for the locals.