When bronze ambition measures up to golden gongs

When Jess Ennis and Mo Farah somehow found those extra gears and kicked home to secure yet more Team GB gold medals on Saturday night, there were tears of pride and joy up and down this land.

If ever there was a statement that we still have the right to use the word ‘great’ in our title, and underline that vision of this being an Olympic Games for everyone, here it was -two superb sporting products of a multi-cultural UK leading the world.

Crowning Mo-ment: Farah’s finish in the 10,000m proved a defining moment (pic courtesy of BBC Sport)

We’d already seen world and Olympic records tumble and enough GB gongs to hang as bunting in Bradley Wiggins’ homecoming before heptathlon hero Ennis, 10,000m star Farah and long jump jet Greg Rutherford joined the party.

And from Stratford to Weymouth and Wimbledon, there’s plenty more of that to come  these next few days at London 2012.

But for all the wondrous stories and tales of inspiration aired so far – culminating in Saturday night’s track and field master-class – we’re still in danger of losing the true message of the Olympics if we’re not careful.

I guess we’re all guilty of forgetting about our modest initial medal aim as we eye up the leader-board and see how we’re (almost) competing with the big guns of China and the USA. That’s no mean feat when you take into consideration the comparative size of the UK, and it’s also a great advert for Lottery funding.

Greg’s Grace: Rutherford about to strike gold at London 2012 (pic courtesy of BBC Sport)

But for every rousing play of the national anthem and hoisted Union flag, it’s sometimes the less obvious stories and glories that catch this old cynic’s eye. Fantastic a moment as they were, I find myself looking beyond the Grainger, Hoy and Wiggins headlines, seeing more of that old time spirit in the attitude of a few lesser lights.

So step up to the writewyattuk podium Rebecca Adlington, for her rousing acceptance of a bronze medal after a sapping 800m freestyle swim in the Aquatics Centre, complementing that she gained in the 400m free.

Michael Jamieson’s 200m breaststroke silver might have been deemed more impressive, but the Mansfield marvel showed maturity beyond her 23 years (yes, I know, that’s ‘old’ for a swimmer) as she ‘bigged up’ her honour in a post-race poolside chat with Sharon Davies.

The same goes for physically-broken Coleraine rower Ian Campbell after his single scull bronze. A superhuman effort on the water at Eton Dorney left the poor bloke a wreck and he could hardly lift his head as John Inverdale hovered sympathetically with his mic.

In the same boat, so to speak, were ‘defeated’ pair Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter after being pipped by the Danes (painful) at the climax of a thrilling lightweight double-sculls race, the afore-mentioned Inverdale left in tears and Sir Steve Redgrave again called on to help carry a medal winner to the podium.

Perhaps understandably, Purchase and Hunter couldn’t quite see beyond their failure to strike gold and were bereft, yet they had every reason to feel proud of their own vast efforts and salute their opponents.

I felt more empathy for the Polish girls who finished third to women’s double sculls victors Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins, their smiles of delight what this Games should all be about. While Grainger’s tale of try, try, try again should be applauded, all that previous silver was something to be savoured.

You’ll forgive me for not reeling off every rowing medal winner. There’s only so much space here, and again they proved to be world-beaters, putting in the shade all those no-lesser stories involving fellow competitors in such a demanding sport.

Jess Brilliant: First lady Ennis is all smiles for the cameras (pic courtesy BBC Sport)

The same goes for the glut of cycling medal winners, but I’ll add Chris Froome to my list, his mammoth achievement of third at the men’s time trial hot on the heels of second overall at the Tour de France – while the world can barely see past the sideburns of cycling colossus Brad Wiggins.

An honorary mention for Wiggo though, who was quick to praise his team-mate (again) in an illuminating BBC interview with Gary Lineker after his time trial, the man of the moment cool without being cocky, entertaining without preening, and on the whole humble and gracious.

I’ll add Lizzie Armitstead to my honours list too, getting the party started with a silver medal on a day of good old British rain, crashes, toil and pain, and that after the GB boys got their tactics wrong on the road – the rest of the field getting their own back for Paris and all that.

Next up I’ll praise David Florence and Richard Hounslow, who had to settle for C2 canoe slalom doubles silver after being pipped by their own team-mates, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott.

What a bit of broadcasting magic that proved. I’d only popped out of the house for an hour or so and found myself in the car park at Asda listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s compelling commentary as they switched between Lee Valley and the double trap shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks as Peter Wilson claimed the Olympic title. Just who would have thought that would have made great radio?

I can’t leave out the equestrians. How great must it be to collect your silver medal from your Mum, as was the case with Zara Phillips, with your cousins later hogging the TV limelight, telling Sue Barker how proud they were of you.

And how fresh it was to see Mary King strike silver at 51, in her sixth Olympics. Not sure if she’ll go on to take the honour of becoming the oldest Olympic medallist mind, as that will probably remain with Britain’s John Copley, winner of a silver medal in the 1948 engravings and etchings competition, at the age of 73. Yes, 73. Yes, engravings and etchings.

Then there was Euan Burton after his tears following an early exit in the judo, later made up by a silver for his partner Gemma Gibbons – complete with a heart-warming post-bout spirited reaction from US champion Kayla Harrison – and a bronze for Karina Bryant.

I’ve also picked our men’s gymnastic artistic team – Louis Smith, Daniel Purvis, Max Whitlock, Kristian Thomas, and Sam Oldham. Who could forget their superb third place and all the drama of that appeal by Japan that saw the silver snatched away from them? It was worth viewing for the reaction of mega-excitable ex-Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker and his co-commentators alone – a TV commentating gold assured.

That of course is just highlighting those who made it to the podium. Spare a thought for the likes of diving pin-up Tom Daley, not just having to face a narrow defeat but also personal Twitter troll abuse, and so many more.

Then there was Team GB rising football star Daniel Sturridge after his penalty was saved, signalling our quarter-final exit, as was the case with a late miss by Karen Carney for the women the night before. All three will surely bounce back and be all the stronger for the experience.

And less we forget it’s only a Games, on a lighter note my final gong goes to a bit of an outsider, and relates back to the Velodrome drama again.

I could have chosen the men and women for their team pursuit and sprint glories, or Victoria Pendleton for her persistence and superb late charge as she claimed her keirin title. But instead I’m going for that unlikely early leader in that latter event.

He may have looked less than dynamic – the definition of calm itself – for those first relaxed six laps, but in sport there should perhaps always be a respect for the pace-setters. So hats off to the unnamed rider of the Derny motorised bicycle, competing in both the men’s and women’s races and looking like he was just out to the shops for a few last-minute items until he took a wrong turn to end up on the track.

Just when you get wrapped up in sport and start to believe all the hype, here’s something truly bizarre that makes you see through all the expert analysis and talk of lactic acid (which seems to have just been discovered this past week, judging by the amount of column inches and TV analysis that mention it). And that’s okay by me.

If Manx missile Mark Cavendish’s infectious boyish grin isn’t enough to bring a smile to your face, the sight of the mystery man in black on the Derny surely will, not least when the cycling experts find themselves having to defend the bike’s relevance for the umpteenth time.

Author’s note: you may have noted that I refuse to use the words ‘medal’ and ‘podium’ as verbs in the above London 2012 review. It’s a bastardisation of the English language and I’m not having it, even if – like Daphne, Fred, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo – those medalling kids have ‘gotten away with it’ on the radio and TV every night so far.

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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