Hoy the epitome of excellence at home and abroad
SPORTS REVIEW OF 2008. Part 3: Hoy is Britain's golden boy at dream Olympics
MORE than any other British sports man or woman in 2008, Chris Hoy exemplified excellence. More than any other member of the Great Britain team at the Olympic Games in Beijing, he typified the demanding standards which led to such success.
Quite simply, in terms of British sport it was Hoy's year. His three gold medals in China made him the most successful Scottish Olympian of all time, and his achievement was fittingly recognised by the wider public earlier this month when he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
And all this came about despite the removal of his favourite event from the Olympic programme. The ditching of the one-kilometre time trial, the kilo, meant Hoy was unable to defend the title he won in Athens, and some of his supporters feared he would be unable to replicate the triumph elsewhere.
Hoy, however, declined to indulge in self-pity, and instead just got on with proving his all-round supremacy. The three-man team sprint, in which he was joined by Jamie Staff and Jason Kenny, was his first gold. The keirin, which he won ahead of his fellow-Scot Ross Edgar was his second. And the individual sprint, in which he defeated Kenny in the final, was his third.
In every race in every event he displayed the same exalted standard. He was flawless, and unbeatable, and visibly the most powerful man on the track.
What is more, his influence was felt way beyond those events in which he took part. For some time the de facto leader of the British cycling team, in Beijing he became the standard-bearer for the whole of Team GB – literally so at the closing ceremony, where he carried the Union Jack. He did not win the first gold medal, he did not win the last, but he did display the painstaking professionalism, the almost obsessive attention to detail, which was the key to Britain doing so well.
Athens, where nine gold medals helped Britain to tenth place in the final medal table, was supposedly going to be a hard to act to follow. Instead, that position ended up by looking relatively modest, as a haul of 47 medals in total, including a scarcely credible 19 golds, saw the British team end up fourth, behind only the hosts, the USA and Russia. Two Scots besides Hoy and Edgar contributed to the British medal count. David Florence emulated the 2004 achievement of his team-mate Campbell Walsh by taking silver in the canoe slalom, and Katherine Grainger was a member of the British team which came second in the quadruple sculls.
It was an indication of Grainger's competitiveness, and of the hunger for victory shown by the whole team, that bitter dejection was her initial reaction to coming second. These were the third Games in which she had become a silver medallist, but the disappointment did not keep her down for long, and she has recently announced her desire to keep on competing up to the next Olympics, in London in 2012.
Of course, Hoy's fellow cyclists contributed even more than his compatriots to Britain's high placing in the medals table. Nicole Cooke was first off the mark for the team as a whole, winning the road race. On the track, Bradley Wiggins won the individual and team pursuit (the latter with Ed Clancy, Paul Manning and Geraint Thomas), Rebecca Romeron won the individual pursuit, and Victoria Pendleton won the sprint.
In all, our cyclists won eight gold, four silver and two bronze medals. Their dominance saw them win three titles in all at the BBC awards: besides Hoy's triumph, David Brailsford, the head of the team, was named Coach of the Year, and the team as a whole were Team of the Year.
After Cooke had set the ball rolling, teenage swimmer Rebecca Adlington was Britain's next gold medallist when she won the 400- metres freestyle, becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic swimming title since 1960. Adlington also won the 800m as the swimmers ended up with six medals – double their target.
Rowing and sailing, traditional strengths for Britain at the Games, again played their share, and boxing and canoeing also weighed in with a gold apiece – from middleweight James Degale and kayak racer Tim Brabants respectively.
The only sport which came close to being a disappointment was athletics. Christine Ohuruogu was the only gold medallist on the track when she added the Olympic 400 metres title to her world championship crown from the previous year, while Phillips Idowu failed to live up to his billing as favourite in the triple jump, coming second.
After Britain took a total of just four athletics medals, Dave Collins, the sport's performance director, paid for the underachievement with his job.
In general, however, it was a triumphant Team GB which flew back into the country to a rapturous reception in late August. And just weeks after that, the success continued at the Paralympic Games.
A total of 102 medals, including 42 golds, gave Britain a second-place finish at the Paralympics, behind only the Chinese. Cycling again led the way, with 17 golds and three silvers.
One of the earliest victories went to the Scots cyclist Aileen McGlynn. Piloted by Ellen Hunter, the partially-sighted McGlynn won the kilo, the event having been preserved when the organisers of the Paralympics chose not to follow the lead of their Olympic counterparts.
Among many other remarkable stories from the Paralympics, pride of place must go to Eleanor Simmonds. Only 13 at the time, the English swimmer won two gold medals, in the 100m and 400m freestyle.
Stars such as Hoy were in demand for months after Beijing as the celebrations continued, and it is only in recent weeks that the 32-year-old has got back to something approaching normality. In the end, of course, nothing will ever be the same for Hoy, and what he did in a few days in 2008 will be part of his life for ever. So too, if the rumours are true, will the prefix 'Sir'. If anyone is honoured for what they did at the Olympics it has to be him.
Lightning Bolt eclipses golden wave of Phelps
WHILE British spectators were understandably caught up in the success of their own competitors, the Olympic Games witnessed other performances which will also go down in history. Forty-three world records were set across the sports, and there were also 132 new Olympic records. In terms of global impact, however, two men stood head and shoulders above the rest – Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter, ended up with three golds, in the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay. He also ended up with a world record in each event as he proved himself to be far and away the fastest man in the world.
And, as if aware that the public had become blase about yet another new world best time in the 100m, Bolt added a twist to his own runs. None of this nonsense coaches tell you about accelerating through the tape – he set his record while slowing down and starting to celebrate.
Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, would later criticise Bolt for the nature of his celebrations, but the official was in a minority of one. Everyone else warmed to the exuberance of the young Jamaican, to the obvious delight he took in being able to perform in such style.
In any other Games, Phelps' eight gold medals – a record for a single Games – would have been recognised as the principal sporting story and main achievement, just as Mark Spitz's seven golds had been in Munich 1972. The 23-year-old American's victories all came within an eight-day spell, and all but one set world records.
In terms of success, 13 August was the stand-out day, as it brought wins in both the 200m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle relay. The most remarkable individual race, however, had come two days earlier.
Having got his collection of golds going by winning the 400m individual medley, Phelps did all he could to win gold No2 by setting a US record in the first leg of the 4x100m freestyle relay. With one leg to go, however, even that did not look like being enough, as Jason Lezak began the anchor leg half a length behind Alain Bernard of France.
Bernard, who would end up with three golds himself, was the fastest freestyler in the field, but somehow Lezak clawed back the deficit. It was one of the most dramatic moments of one of the truly great Olympic Games.
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