Sitting up for Beijing Gold

Tom Daley 19 June 2008

Matt Horrocks

Sports Editor 

TCS takes a look at Britain’s best medal hopes for Beijing this summer and notices a surprising fact – Britain succeeds in sports where you sit down. Cycling, Sailing and Rowing are the only three sports to which the British Olympic Association (BOA) have given ‘green’ status, indicating that they are the best prepared for the coming games.

With pre-Olympics favourites like Zara Phillips already sidelined through injury, who should we be looking to to bring home gold this summer?

 

Track Cycling

The GB cycling team is poised for its most successful Olympics yet, coming off the back of a record-breaking haul of nine gold medals at the world championships in Manchester this March. Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton and Romero look to be Britain’s best chance of dominating a sport this summer.

Chris Hoy (pictured above right), a proud Scot, has been a stalwart of British cycling for a decade, and a multiple medal winner. He took gold in the 1km time trial four years ago in Athens, and golds in the keiran and individual sprint in Manchester. The decision of the IOC to drop the 1km time trial from this year’s games seemed to disadvantage Hoy. There had been a perception that 1km sprinters were simply instruments of brute force, without the tactical brain to compete in races like the individual pursuit. Hoy shattered this illusion in the semi-final of the world championships, defeating the defending champion Theo Bos, the acknowledged master of the tactical race.

While Hoy sprints, Bradley Wiggins is in it for the long haul. He took home three golds from Manchester, in the 4km pursuit, the team pursuit and the 50km Madison. He seems a solid bet to retain the 4km pursuit title he won in Athens. Wiggins’ most impressive feature is the sheer variety of ability he demonstrates. The 4km team pursuit is a test of sprinting and of teamwork, as all four members need to maintain a streamlined formation for maximum speed. The madison though, requires incredible endurance, coordination with a team member (in Wiggins’ case it’s Mark Cavendish) to perform the slingshot, and a tactical brain.

Victoria Pendleton is without doubt the darling of British cycling, but her fame is born more of her talent than her looks. Although she has come in for criticism by posing for some glamorous photos it hasn’t distracted from her performances. With two world titles from the 2008 championships, she looks in imperious form in the run up to Beijing. At the launch of a new British Olympic Association programme called Girls4Gold she seemed upbeat about her prospects, saying “the experience from Athens is going to be so valuable and I feel much better prepared for what to expect.”

Rebecca Romero, a newcomer on the cycling stage, has a remarkable story to tell. Having won silver in rowing in Athens, her professional career seemed ended by a troublesome back injury. But it was that injury that led her to cycling, which soon turned into a new passion. She has shown impressive form at the 2008 world championships, winning gold in the individual and team pursuits. Were she to repeat this feat in Beijing she would be the first British female to medal in two different summer sports. Her astonishing transition between these sports drew her into the limelight during the March world championships and has ensured that she will be the focus of much media attention in the months ahead.

Sailing

Sailing was a fruitful endeavour for the Brits in 2004, topping the medal table ahead of Brazil and Spain. Britain’s maritime history has fostered a lingering fondness for sailing, and this can be seen in our sailing Olympians this year.Ben Ainslie will return to the Olympics for the fourth time, seeking his fourth medal, and is already Britian’s most successful sailor. As in 2004, he will be competing in the single-handed dinghy, known as the Finn class, hoping to bring home gold again. He heads to the waters off Qingdao in impressive form, having won the 2008 Finn Gold Cup Melbourne.

Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton are also current Olympic champions, this time in the Yngling class. They return to the Olympics with new partner Pippa Wilson. Placed number one in the world after a string of excellent performances in the 2007 season, they are firmly set on a podium finish in Beijing. In 2004 much of the media focussed on Shirley Robertson, Webb and Ayton’s former teammate, who won her second gold. This time around, expect a much more balanced coverage on the three sailors.

Rowing

Rowing has always been one of Britain’s elite sports. However, with the retirement of the likes of Redgrave, Pinsent and Cracknell over the last decade or so, the sport has lost its star performers, leaving the way clear for a new crop of British rowers to come to the fore.

The blue ribbon event for rowing is the men’s coxless four, the boat which Cracknell and Pinsent rowed to victory in four years ago. The newly reshuffled lineup of Andy Hodge, Tom Lucy, Peter Reed and Steve Williams won their race in Munich early in the year but have not raced together since.

Injury and inconsistency have caused the crew to be continually switched about, leaving the crew searching for a return to form. Medalling in Beijing seems like an unlikely prospect at this point.

Team GB’s most favoured competitors are probably the men’s lightweight double scull and the women’s quad. The men’s pair of Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase recently won the World Cup in their event at Lucerne and have constantly impressed throughout the season. They were Britain’s only success story after a disappointing meeting for the team.

The other prospective gold medallists are the women’s quad of Katherine Grainger, Frances Houghton, Debbie Flood and Annie Vernon. They go to Beijing as the reigning world champions but suffered a severe setback to their preparation by not only losing to the USA, but also to an unfancied Chinese team at the same meet at Lucerne.

 

Others

What is there left to say about Paula Radcliffe? The head-bobbing 34-year-old is the best marathon runner of her generation and seemed certain to be Britain’s sole athletics gold in 2004. Her teary-eyed withdrawal from the race was one of the most devastating and iconic images of that year’s games for the British public.

She returns to the Olympics having won the recent New York marathon, but her training has been disrupted by a recently diagnosed stress fracture of the shin. If she wins in Beijing it will be all the more impressive.

Tom Daley could become the story of these Olympics. The 14-year old European diving champion is already the youngest male Brit to enter the games since 1960. If he gets a podium position, as he has already shown the form to do, he will be out youngest medallist ever in the summer games. His talent from the 10m board is matched by impressive confidence and ease in front of the camera. He is sure to get attention from the media this summer, whatever his success.