Britain better century-old gold tally

Beijing, August 19:

Britain notched their highest gold medal tally in a century on Tuesday with four more victories in running, cycling and sailing for the 2012 Olympics hosts.

One came in the women’s 400m from Christine Ohuruogo, who might consider herself lucky to be in Beijing at all after winning an appeal against a lifetime ban following a one-year sanction for missing three drugs tests.

Those golds cemented Britain’s unexpected third place in China, with 16 wins the best since the 1908 London Games and the perfect way to fire up enthusiasm at home for the next Olympics. Hosts China are ahead with 43 golds, their seemingly unassailable lead helping dull some of the national pain over the withdrawal through injury of track idol Liu Xiang. The United States are second with 26 golds.

Perhaps the most moving story of Day 11 came from Germany’s weightlifter Matthias Steiner, who won the super-heavyweight gold to lay claim to the title of world’s strongest man.

Also, aided by the power of the local yam vegetable, according to his father, Jamaica’s Usain

“Lightning” Bolt breezed through another race, this time the 200 metres semi-final. Should Bolt win Wednesday’s final, following his world record-breaking 100m victory, Bolt will be the first man to win an Olympic double sprint since America’s Carl Lewis (1984).

While China’s rise may be inevitable, given they have one fifth of the world’s population to choose from, Britain’s success was more surprising. Nowhere have the Britons been cockier than on bikes. Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won the men’s and women’s sprints, making it a remarkable eight Beijing golds on road and track for the new cycling superpower. In Qingdao, another Briton, Paul Goodison, won the sailing Laser title.

Chinese leaders and people alike showered their injured Olympics 110m hurdles champion Liu with get-well messages a day after he limped forlornly off the track, depriving the hosts of what they hoped might be their greatest single moment of glory. Liu, who along with basketball player Yao Ming is China’s most idolised sportsman, surfaced on Tuesday, vowing not to quit.

“There’ll be opportunities next year,” he said. Liu took gold in Athens in 2004, becoming the first man to win a track-and-field event for China. His — and China’s — dream was to repeat the feat at home. “I feel bad for him.

I would have liked to race him,” said Cuban 110m hurdles record holder Dayron Robles who blazed into the semi-finals and is clear favorite to win now Liu is out.

At least fans who wept at Liu’s exit were cheered by the medal table. “There is basically no worry about top spot,” state news agency Xinhua said, eschewing China’s pre-Games caution.

The locals are loving it: one man cycled 1,300km to tow his 98-year-old grandmother to the Games in a pedicab. Further cheering the Chinese national mood, environmental authorities said Beijing had enjoyed its cleanest air in 10 years this month despite athletes’ pre-Games fears.

One man whose lungs definitely were not affected by any lingering smog was German triathlete Jan Frodeno. The 27-year-old outsider, who only took up triathlon to impress a girl, broke away from three of the sport’s biggest names at the end to win the swim-bike-run endurance test. “During the race I told myself: ‘Boy, be greedy-it’s champagne or fizzy water’,” said the former lifeguard.

Though the “beautiful game” plays second fiddle to other sports at the Olympics, Argentina routed Brazil 3-0 in the mouth-watering semi-final between the soccer powers. Sergio Aguero scored goals six minutes apart in the second half and later set up another to lead Argentina to their second straight Olympic final.

Aguero opened the scoring for the defending champions by chesting in a left-side cross in the 52nd minute, then added to the lead from two yards away completing a cross from the right in the 58th. Aguero also set up a 76th-minute penalty kick converted by Juan Riquelme.

Argentina will face Nigeria, who made it to the final for the first time since winning gold 12 years ago with a 4-1 thrashing of Belgium.