London 2012 Olympics: French cry foul at British cycling successes
The French have been driven so “mad” by British cycling success that they are resorting to questioning the team’s honesty, the Prime Minister claimed yesterday.
David Cameron said the French had found the sight of the Champs-Élysées covered in Union flags to greet Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France victory “a bit hard to take”.
The British have been so dominant on the cycling track that rival riders and coaches have raised questions about the legality of Team GB’s bikes.
Mr Cameron revealed that the question of Team GB’s integrity had been raised by one French media outlet, who had interviewed him and “virtually accused us of cheating”.
The Prime Minister’s dig at the French contrasted with the situation just over a week ago, when Mr Cameron endured a ribbing at the hands of the French president, François Hollande, about the relative performances of their two countries at that point.
Mr Hollande jokingly thanked Britain for “rolling out the red carpet” for French athletes to win medals – after joining the PM to watch his country play handball.
But the tables have been dramatically turned since then, with France now having only eight gold medals so far to Great Britain’s 24 – and 23 fewer of all colours.
The velodrome has proved a particular cauldron for cross-channel rivalry, British domination of the podium sparking irate suggestions of foul play.
But Mr Cameron, in an interview with Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2, suggested their frustration was a sign of just how well the British system was working.
“We’ve got a system that seems to be delivering. It’s driving the French mad,” he said.
“I did an interview with French television yesterday and they virtually accused us of cheating. I think they found the Union Jacks on the Champs-Élysées a bit hard to take.
“We have got a great system, so let’s build on that and then when we go to Rio in 2016 we can have a good experience.”
The Prime Minister picked Mo Farah’s victory in the 10,000m as his stand-out moment from the Games.
Mr Cameron, who was in the stadium on “Super Saturday” when Team GB won three gold medals in track and field, said: “When I think of the most moving moment for me on that Saturday night, there he was, this sort of slightly lonely figure with the team of Ethiopians and the team of Kenyans chasing him down and trying to stretch him out by having these short bursts of pace and he just kept plugging away. That last lap was just unbelievably emotional and exciting.”
Mr Cameron strongly rejected suggestions of cheating in the interview he referred to with France 2 television, which was dominated by the spat over the cycling.
“Of course, there is no cheating,” he said when asked directly if he could guarantee that was not the case.
“There are the most strict anti-doping tests, in these Olympics, that there have ever been,” he said. “There are very strict rules about equipment.”
Such accusations were unfair on the athletes, he added.
“They work hard, they train hard, they are very talented and they are winners. I think it is very unfair, just because athletes win, to somehow then have suspicions. The first reaction should be to say well done, to say congratulations.
“They have proved again and again in Beijing, in world championships and now in London that these are some of the best cyclists in the world.
“I think there is nothing strange about this. They are just very hard-working, very good, very talented.”
He added: “I know it is difficult, France being such a great cycling nation, but we have done very well. If France did well in the cycling I would say well done, and I am sure French people will feel the same.”
Asked if there was a “secret” element, he quipped back: “The French should know the secret, because you make the wheels of our bicycles.”
Mr Cameron said France had to show it was a “great sporting nation” that would welcome the world to Paris if it was to become a future Olympic host.
Several French cities, including Paris which lost out to London for 2012, are understood to be considering a bid for the 2024 Olympics – the 100th anniversary of the last time the summer Games were held in France.
“I think these bids are very difficult to win. They are extremely competitive,” Mr Cameron said.
“I am a huge fan of Paris: it is a fantastic city. France is a great sporting nation, there are many sports that you excel at. Also, French people are enormous sports fans.
“I think what you have to do is communicate your enthusiasm for sport, for welcoming people, for the legacy you are going to create.
“The more you do that, the more chances that you have.”
Earlier this week, Team GB’s Scottish cycling superstar Sir Chris Hoy laughed off French claims that “magic wheels” are being used by Team GB to achieve track domination.
Hoy said: “I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was joke when I saw the magic wheels comment.
”It’s so ironic because the French are the guys who make the wheels for us. They’re made by a French company. So they should know exactly what wheels we are using.”
The six-times gold medallist added: “It happened after Beijing as well – they pointed the finger then. It’s easier to do that.”
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