By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
It’s hard not to get bitten by the Olympics bug. For so long it felt like an abstract notion that would never actually come around. It’s finally here and over the next few weeks we’ll all undoubtedly discover a passion for the 50m rifle prone shooting event we never knew we had before. Maybe not, but we’ll be willing on our countries whenever there’s a sniff of a medal in sight.
Here’s a look at how Great Britain have performed at the Olympics since 1980 in the vain hope of guessing how they’ll get on in 2012.
For the 80s and once in the 90s, five gold medals was the standard return for Great Britain. In 1980, it was down to the successes of some huge names in British athletics. And Allan Wells. Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson excelled in track and field, Duncan Goodhew took the 100m breaststroke in the pool and Allan Wells benefited from the US boycott of the Moscow games to become arguably the most unlikely 100 metre champion in the history of the Olympics.
Four years on in Los Angeles, Coe and Thompson were familiar faces on the top step of the podium. Tessa Sanderson won the women’s javelin, the tragic Malcolm Cooper won gold in shooting and a comparative unknown by the name of Steven Redgrave was part of the successful Men’s Coxed Fours.
Seoul 1988 is inextricably linked with Ben Johnson’s pharmaceutical-fuelled ‘victory’ in the 100m. His famous disqualification promoted Linford Christie to silver and possibly overshadowed anything else at the games. Cooper claimed a second gold in the shooting, as did Redgrave in the coxless pairs alongside Andy Holmes. The men’s hockey team won gold, Michael McIntyre and Bryn Vaile won in sailing and Adrian Moorhouse won the 100m Breaststroke.
Enter the Lunchbox
It was Linford Christie’s year in Barcelona four years later. He star has waned substantially since, but it was a massively popular victory at the time. It was also the year Sally Gunnell won the 400m hurdles. Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave teamed up to win gold in the coxless pair, the first of three Olympic wins the pair enjoyed in each other’s company
1996 was a low ebb for British athletics. A single gold medal backed up by a sprinkling of the other varieties was only good enough for 37th place on the medals table, behind such sporting powerhouses as Kazakhstan (24th) and North Korea (33rd). The atrocious performance was blamed on many things. Poor coaching and a particularly untalented generation were identified as major issues, but the energy expended on doing the Macarena must also have taken it’s toll.
Since then however, things have picked up markedly. In 2000, Steve Redgrave winning the last of his five Olympic gold medals before heading off into the sunset to advertise laser eye surgery was the headline, but there were other notable contributions. Team GB claimed 11 gold medals. Long before his existential crisis, Jonathan Edwards claimed his sole Olympic gold medal in the triple jump. Denise Lewis took the women’s heptathlon and Ben Ainslie made sailing feel a little less toff. It was also the year Audley Harrison won his gold medal, setting him up nicely to go pro and produce some of the worst boxing the heavyweight division as ever seen. Lower down the podium, Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Chris Hoy also got their first taste of Olympic success, but at the time, knighthoods where a considered unlikely.
Ideal Holmes exhibition
The overall medal haul improved in 2004 for the Athens games, but the number of golds decreased to nine. Unless you’re a blood relative of another athlete who won gold, Kelly Holmes’ brilliant wins in the 800m and 1,500m were the abiding memory. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy planted the seeds of the British cycling explosion with gold medals in the individual pursuit and time trial respectively. Elsewhere the men’s 100m relay team pulled off a shock by beating the heavily fancied and rather butter-fingered Americans.
Then came the glory of 2008 in Beijing. 19 gold medals – Great Britain’s biggest haul behind the vaguely improbable 56 at the 1908 London games. Cycling was the catalyst courtesy of eight golds from the likes of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Nicole Cooke and Victoria Pendleton. There were other notable victories. Ben Ainslie claimed his third gold in a row, Rebecca Adlington won swimming’s 400m and 800m freestyle events, before going on to be the butt of a Frankie Boyle insult – a sure sign that you’ve hit the big it.
This time around, hopes are high and rightly so. Lessons have been learned from the blushes of 1996. On top of that, Team GB kick ass at cycling. Getting your hopes up when it comes to British sport is a dangerous past-time. Certainly, further improvement is expected, with a total of 23 gold medals or more a 5/6 shot. The total medals tally also predicts increased success with 63 or more medals also chalked up as a 5/6 chance.