Mark Staniforth reflects on how a golden haul of medals from Britain’s Olympians helped mask some of the problems associated with the Games in Brazil.
When Adam Peaty surged to breaststroke gold on the second full day of the Rio 2016 Olympics, even the most optimistic of red, white and blue-waving Britons would have struggled to countenance the cavalcade that was to come.
Tentative hopes of going some way to matching the epic haul from London turned to vibrant reality as Great Britain became the first nation in Olympic history to exceed its medals tally immediately following a Games it has hosted.
The swathe of home-grown success stories added gloss to a Games badly in need of more than a lick of paint, a stunning home city badly hampered by political unrest behind the scenes and more up-front issues of IOC largesse.
When sport took centre-stage it was not just Peaty, the first British men’s swimming gold medallist in more than a quarter of a century, who set about ripping up the record books.
Next to invincible in the Velodrome, Jason Kenny, Laura Trott and Sir Bradley Wiggins – who yesterday announced his retirement – all breached historic marks, while Mo Farah’s lung-bursting double-double of 5,000 and 10,000 metres titles marked him out as one of the greatest British track and field athletes of all time.
Max Whitlock ended the wait for Britain’s first Olympic gymnastics gold medal by winning the men’s floor event – then added the pommel title for good measure less than two hours later.
His exploits headlined an extraordinary display from the GB gymnastics team, which gathered seven medals in total, including inspiring bronzes from young pair Nile Wilson of Leeds and Amy Tinkler.
Taekwondo provided another success story, as Jade Jones successfully defended her London Olympic title while team-mate Lutalo Muhammad was only denied the chance to join her on top of the podium by a last-second head-kick from Ivory Coast opponent Cheick Salle Cisse.
Yorkshire’s own Nicola Adams swept through a boxing competition blighted by scoring controversies as she joined Jones as a double Olympic champion, winning her three fights without breaking sweat and betraying a rare hint of emotion as she reflected on an Olympic achievement which could be her last.
Bustling bronze medallist Josh Buatsi apart, there was an air of disappointment over the rest of the British boxing performances, encapsulated in the way super-heavyweight Joe Joyce missed out on gold via a highly debateable points loss.
Netminder Maddie Hinch pulled off a string of remarkable saves to steer Great Britain’s women’s hockey team to gold after a penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands, evoking memories of Britain’s last hockey success when Sean Kerly’s men’s side triumphed in Seoul in 1988.
All-conquering pair Andy Murray and Leeds’ Alistair Brownlee repeated their London victories in tennis and triathlon respectively, and Justin Rose eased the controversy over golf’s inclusion in a Games for the first time with a popular victory in the men’s event. Amongst the avalanche of other successes was a gold for 58-year-old show-jumper Nick Skelton in his seventh Games, while Britain was walking on water with diving gold for the Yorkshire pair of Jack Laugher and Chris Mears, a surprise canoe triumph for Joe Clarke, and multiple rowing and sailing gold medals.
Britons apart, it was another victorious Games for Usain Bolt and a glorious showcase for beach volleyball, whose competition was played out in front of the packed stands of a temporary arena propped on the Copacabana sand.
Beneath the statue of Christ the Redeemer and buoyed by celebratory caipirinha cocktails, it was easy to ignore the evident issues of financial impropriety, doping allegations and general gigantism that the Rio Olympics threw up. For three weeks of summer, at least, the golden glow was all that counted.