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Praise and pain in another day of drama for Team GB’s young squad

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

As the sun began to rise on a blistering Tokyo morning, one of Britain’s most popular athletes, Jonny Brownlee, stood on the podium cradling his first gold medal like a newborn after finally ending his Olympic jinx. As it set, Team GB’s biggest track and field star Dina Asher-Smith broke down after revealing her secret injury heartache. In between, another day of seesawing drama played out again.

But when the dust had settled, Britain was proudly celebrating two more golds in triathlon and swimming, another couple of bronze-plated medals in boxing and windsurfing, with the alluring promise of more riches to come.

Team GB now sits sixth in the medal table, with eight golds, and within sniffing distance of the Russian Olympic Committee in fourth and the Australians in fifth – especially with several track cycling and boxing titles, traditionally strong events, up for grabs in the final week.

Related: Team GB win triathlon relay as Jonny Brownlee ends jinx and finally gets gold

Speaking to the Observer, the British Olympic Association chair Hugh Robertson said that he was delighted that Britain’s young squad were doing so well, especially given the administrative complications and the lack of competitive buildup for most of them.

“So when you consider those three things, I’m absolutely delighted, not only with the way the team has performed but the way the athletes have embraced the whole Tokyo experience,” he said.

“I think we’re exactly where we want to be. Medals predictions are always a bit of a minefield – it’s a bit like the weather forecast. You get it generally right but some of the individual elements are much trickier. So in terms of levels, we are up in some areas and down in others, but it’s been a fantastic first week.”

There was surely no more warming sight on Saturday than seeing Brownlee, in his last ever Olympic race, finally emerge from his brother Alistair’s shadow. Brownlee, who had taken triathlon bronze and silver respectively behind his brother in 2012 and 2016, got a full set of medals after inspiring Britain’s mixed triathlon relay team consisting of himself, Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee to victory over the US by 14 seconds. And afterwards he cried: “Olympics? Completed it. It feels absolutely amazing. It’s my third Olympics and I’ve finally got gold.”

“It’s also the first ever mixed-team relay in triathlon so we’ve made history in that too,” he added. “It’s capped off my Olympic career amazingly.”

His brother Alistair, who cheered him on, later revealed that Jonny had never touched his gold medals as he believed that doing so would bring him bad luck.

Later on a golden Tokyo morning, Team GB’s swimmers won the inaugural Olympic mixed 4×100m medley relay in a world-record time – with the quartet of Kathleen Dawson, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Anna Hopkin delivering a dominant display to come home ahead of China and Australia.

Britain’s swimmers have now won four golds in Tokyo – the most at a single Olympics since 1908 – and with the men’s 4×100m medley relay to come overnight, a historic fifth title could yet be secured.

But there was pain too, particularly as Asher-Smith relayed her secret injury woes. Until tearing her hamstring five weeks ago, the 25-year-old had believed she was primed and ready to become Britain’s first woman to take Olympic 100m gold. Instead she was left to reflect, after failing to make the final. “It’s been a crazy, intense and heartbreaking period,” she said. “I was in the shape of my life. Without a doubt. I’m not trying to sound arrogant but that is where I was.”

After being diagnosed with a disrupted hamstring, Asher-Smith said she ate “everything – KFC, McDonald’s – because I thought, I don’t care any more.” However a second opinion led her to visit a German doctor, who was able to get her back running just 10 days ago.

“Obviously I am so disappointed not to make the final,” she added. “It’s everything I have trained for for the last two years. But the last two weeks of my life have been absolutely insane.”

However there was better news out on the water as Emma Wilson won bronze in the women’s RS:X to become only the second female British Olympic windsurfing medallist after Bryony Shaw’s bronze in 2008.

Wilson’s mother Penny Way competed in two Olympics, finishing sixth and seventh at the 1992 and 1996 Games in Barcelona and Atlanta. Those achievements led to her local council renaming the road to Christchurch windsurfing club in her honour.

And afterwards Wilson said: “My mum has been a big influence but there are so many other people too, my coaches and my training partners. This medal is not just for me but for everyone else.”

Elsewhere, Karriss Artingstall, a gunner in the British army, collected Team GB’s first confirmed boxing medal with bronze in the women’s featherweight division, having lost to Japan’s Sena Irie on a split decision.

Pat McCormack, Ben Whittaker and Lauren Price are already guaranteed Olympic medals with other boxers also looking to earn places on the podium.

Looking back on a breathless seventh day of action, Robertson gave particular praise to the new mixed-relay formats saying: “I think today is everything that is great about the Olympics Games. It’s a mixed event with male and female athletes contributing equally, and fantastic results for Team GB.”

“I’m delighted that the sport has taken over, and that the athletes have shown themselves in such a positive light.”

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