Sport editor James Shapland takes a look back at a quite spectacular summer – one that Britain will never forget.
With the European Championships, Wimbledon, and the small matter of an Olympic Games in London, the summer of 2012 was set to be a belter. And it certainly did not disappoint.
It may seem like a distant memory, but June 8th saw Euro 2012 kicking off in potentially controversial host nations Poland and Ukraine. Fears of racism and violence were fortunately never realised and we were treated to a competitive and entertaining tournament. While English hopes were yet again dashed in a quarter-final shootout, Spain created history as they became the first international side to win three major honours on the bounce.
Next came the tennis at SW19, with British number one Andy Murray hoping to better his previous semi-final finishes and challenge for a first major win. A shock second-round exit for Rafael Nadal cleared the way for the Scot to reach his first Wimbledon final and a meeting with six-time champion Roger Federer. After blazing to a 6-4 victory in the first set, Murray struggled to contain the firepower and finesse of the Swiss master and succumbed to 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 defeats in the final three. A highly emotional Centre Court saluted the first male Brit to reach a Wimbledon final in 74 years.
In undoubtedly the main event of the sporting calendar, London played host to the Games of the 30th Olympiad. The question of whether Britain would rise to the occasion was firmly answered in a magnificent opening ceremony, followed by 16 days of sporting brilliance.
Despite a shaky start on day 1, with firm gold medal favourite Mark Cavendish among others who failed to pick up a medal, Team GB experienced unprecedented success throughout the Games.
The traditionally British events provided much of our success and certainly some of the most memorable moments of London 2012. With a home crowd roaring them on at Eton Dorney, the rowers dominated proceedings, picking up nine medals in total; four more than the next-best team from New Zealand. Katherine Grainger made the headlines, ending her Olympic silver streak in emphatic fashion in the women’s double sculls.
Even greater British domination was demonstrated in the Velopark, where the team collected a whopping seven gold medals. Sir Chris Hoy surpassed the previous record set by Sir Steve Redgrave to become Britain’s most successful Olympian as he and Victoria Pendleton bowed out of their cycling careers in glorious style.
Despite losing such great competitors, the future of British cycling certainly looks secure in the hands of the next generation. Young riders Laura Trott and Jason Kenny picked up two gold medals each and showed that there is plenty to look forward to beyond Vicky and Sir Chris.
Bradley Wiggins cruised to an Olympic gold medal in the time trial event barely two weeks after he wrote his name in the history books by becoming the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. A remarkable summer for the newly crowned king of Kilburn.
Track and field has never been a fruitful arena for the British, but a certain Super Saturday turned this curse on its head. In the space of 45 minutes, the Olympic Stadium erupted in celebration for three gold medals to Team GB. Jessica Ennis, the poster girl of 2012, captured the hearts of a nation with her resounding victory in the heptathlon. Despite the significant cushion of a 188-point lead, the superstar raced her way into a first-place finish in the 800m to round off a dominant display across the events.
Next, it was the turn of the injury-ridden long jumper Greg Rutherford to leap his way onto the podium. With an impressive jump of 8.31m, he became the first Brit in 48 years to win a gold medal in the event. Finally, the 10,000m saw Mo Farah step up to join the party. An enthralling race had viewers across the country on the edge of their seats as he gained the lead and stormed into a nail-biting final lap. Out in front, there was no way that Mo was letting gold slip from his grasp, and he crossed the line to a roar of joyous spectators.
Saturday is clearly Mo’s lucky day as one week later he claimed gold in the 5,000m to become only the seventh man to win both races at an Olympic Games. Heralded as one of the greatest British runners of all time by Lord Seb Coe himself, Farah fever has swept across Great Britain.
Across the events, Team GB flourished in front of the home support and dwarfed the medal haul from Beijing, with a stunning 29 golds and 65 overall. A third-place spot on the Olympic table behind the United States and China reflects the passion and commitment of our heroic competitors in a fortnight that we will never forget.