• London Olympics 2012: Ten things

British highs and lows

Steven Lynch
August 11, 2012
Mo Farah goes for double Olympic gold © Getty Images

Each day of the Games we will bring ten facts you may or may not know about the great sporting spectacle that is the Olympics. Today we have some British highs and lows

It's the last full day of athletics, and the last men's track event might provide more British joy: Mo Farah, GB's first 10,000m gold medallist, aims to become the first at 5000m too. He won the world title at this distance in Daegu last year. Gordon Pirie is Britain's only silver medallist, behind the metronomic Russian Vladimir Kuts in Melbourne in 1956. At the 1924 "Chariots of Fire" Games in Paris, the scheduling forced Finland's Paavo Nurmi, the world record holder at both distances at the time, to run the 1500 and 5000m on the same afternoon: with less than two hours' rest between the two finals, he won both.

There's been more British success in the women's 800m, from Kelly Holmes in 2004 and a memorable run from Ann Packer 40 years previously in Tokyo. Packer had been the favourite for the 400m, but faded to bronze: however, in the 800, an event she disliked and hadn't often run, she found an extra gear on the final bend and purred past the field. The women's 800m made its debut in Amsterdam in 1928, but the sight of some of the competitors in distress at the end persuaded the IOC to remove it from the schedule, and it didn't come back until 1960.

A feature of not-so-long-ago Olympics was the sight of Britain's Steve Backley being pipped at the post in the javelin by the pesky Czech Jan Zelezny. Backley won bronze in 1992, and silver in 1996 and 2000 - behind Zelezny each time. But things have moved on, and now it's the Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen's chance to emulate Zelezny's golden hat-trick. The javelin was first hurled at the Olympics in London in 1908, when there were two competitions - the "normal" one, and a freestyle event in which the spear could be held anywhere and thrown in any manner. Sweden's Eric Lemming held the javelin in the conventional way in both events, and collected both gold medals.

The women's high jump has seen some close battles over the years, none more so than in Berlin in 1960, when the first three all cleared 1.60m. The Hungarian housewife Ibolya Csak won after a jump-off: but if the current "countback" system had been used, the gold would have gone to the 16-year-old Briton Dorothy Odam. Just behind them in fourth came Germany's Dora Ratjen - who, it later transpired, was actually a man called Heinrich. Odam - by then Mrs Tyler - finished second again in London in 1948 (behind America's Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal) and was followed as the silver medallist by two more Brits, Sheila Lerwill (1952) and Thelma Hopkins (1956).

There's probably plenty of fun in store in today's two relays. The women's 4x400m has been won on the last four occasions by the United States, but Russia and Jamaica - who have shared the minor medals in the last three Games - might have something to say about that. And the men's 4x100m has thrown up a few surprises over the years, not least in Athens in 2004, when Mark Lewis-Francis held off Maurice Greene by the thickness of his vest to clinch a surprise gold. The only other British victory came back in 1912, when GB finished second to the Americans in the semi and second to Germany in the final ... but both winning quartets were disqualified for incorrect baton changes.

As the boxing moves to a climax there are five men's gold medals on offer today, including the middleweight (under 75kg) category, won by James "Chunky" DeGale in Beijing. Forty years before that, Chris Finnegan took another gold for Britain in Mexico. The 1952 middleweight champion was Floyd Patterson, who later won the world professional heavyweight title.

It's been a long wait for Tom Daley, but his event - the 10m platform diving - is decided today. Daley first came to prominence when he reached the final in Beijing aged only 14, and the following year he won the world title in Rome. Italy's Klaus Dibiasi was supreme on the Olympic platform in 1968, 1972 and 1976, then the American Greg Louganis won it twice, in 1984 and 1988, after taking silver behind Dibiasi in Montreal in 1976 aged 16. Britain's only medal to date was Brian Phelps's bronze in 1960.

It's the medal matches in the men's hockey today: Great Britain take on Australia for the bronze, still reeling from that 9-2 semi-final defeat by the Netherlands, who face defending champions Germany in the final. Britain haven't won a men's hockey medal since taking gold in Seoul in 1988.

The men's modern pentathlon takes place today, 100 years after the first one in Stockholm in 1912. The discipline was thought up especially for the Olympics by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, and was supposed to represent the trials of a soldier forced to deliver a vital message in wartime - riding an unfamiliar horse, engaging in a swordfight, shooting his way out of trouble, swimming across a river, then running to safety. Sweden's Lars Hall, the first winner who wasn't in the army, is the only man to win gold twice (1952 and 1956). Britain has never won an individual medal, but they did take gold in the now-discontinued team event in 1976, the year the Russian Boris Onischenko was disqualified and sent home in disgrace for cheating - he rigged his epee to register non-existent hits during the fencing.

And it's the final of the men's football competition, with Brazil - who have scored three goals in all their matches so far - taking on Mexico. Rather surprisingly perhaps, Brazil have never tasted gold before, while the Mexicans have never even won a medal. Argentina won the last two Olympic titles, helped by Carlos Tevez in 2004 and Lionel Messi in 2008.

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