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Eyeing the medal tables and recalling that UK Sport, the government body that distributes lottery money to national teams and athletes, had set a target for Britain to win 41 medals, all of the United Kingdom seemed fidgety—until last weekend.
AT ABOUT 7:15 p.m. in Beijing last Friday, 20-year-old track cyclist Jason Kenny blistered the second of three laps in the team sprint, and self-styled Team GB crushed world champion France by half a second to touch off perhaps the most remarkable weekend in British Olympic history. In a little more than 48 hours, Great Britain won nine gold medals in four sports—cycling, rowing, sailing, swimming—and also added four silvers and five bronzes, leaping to 25 medals overall and making UK Sport's blustery projection seem positively fainthearted.
"The performance of Team GB [on Saturday] means that this is the most successful day of the last 100 years," said Simon Clegg, Great Britain's chef de mission.
Of course, to borrow from George Orwell, a noted Londoner, some gold medals are more equal than others. Last Saturday morning Adlington, 19, broke Janet Evans's 19-year-old record in the 800-meter freestyle, the oldest swimming mark extant, to become the first British woman ever to win two swimming golds. Said teammate Cassie Patten, "If the queen is watching, this girl should be made a dame." Back home, The Guardian, invoking soccer icon David Beckham, opined that in 2012 "for one golden fortnight Becky will be more famous than Becks." Kenny, Daley and others—including Louis Smith, whose bronze medal in the pommel horse was Britain's first gymnastics medal in 80 years—will also likely be barraged with publicity and pressure.
According to British Olympic Association research, before Beijing almost 70% of the nation's gold medal winners and 55% of its medalists didn't reach the podium in their first Olympics. To better prepare them to be less like rabbits in a headlight, as Brits say, Team GB flew about 150 prospective competitors and coaches for 2012 to the preparation camp in Macau and rotated them through the Beijing Olympic Village, the dining hall and two events, accompanied by former Olympians as mentors.
In four years the British Olympians will all stay at home, a land of hope and stories. China had 5,000 years to rehearse the opening ceremony, but the Brits are no slouches at pomp and performance, either. (Instead of Queen Elizabeth II declaring the Games of the XXX Olympiad open, can the Stones just do a live version of Start Me Up?) On Sunday at the closing ceremony, London will have eight minutes—"a sound bite," Coe called it—to introduce itself to the world. Becks himself is expected to be part of the sneak preview of the first Games of the rest of the Olympics' life.
Like London 2012, this should be a kick.