Year after Olympics, Brits bask in sports success

LONDON (AP) — A year after Britain’s golden Olympic summer, the country is basking in yet another run of global sports success.

Whether it’s cycling, tennis, golf, rugby or cricket, athletes and teams from Britain or England have made this another summer to savor — just as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the London Games this week.

“There’ll never be another summer of sport like 2012, but 2013 is having a damn good try,” The Times of London said Monday in a wraparound supplement heralding Britain’s latest triumph — Chris Froome’s win in the Tour de France.

The sports surge started a year ago when Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour. Then came the London Games, where the host nation raked in 29 gold medals and 65 overall to finish third in the standings and piled up another 120 medals at the Paralympics.

With British sports seeming to feed off the momentum of 2012, the last few months have brought a flurry of new achievements:

—Justin Rose became the first English golfer to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

—Andy Murray won Wimbledon, finally ending Britain’s quest for its first men’s champion at the All England Club since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray also won the U.S. Open in September.

—The British & Irish Lions won their first rugby test series against Australia in 16 years.

—England has won the first two tests of the Ashes cricket series against Australia.

“The run of British success at sport did not begin at the Olympic Games, but it certainly hasn’t ended there,” The Times said. “The knock-on effect of those games keeps on knocking on.”

Sunday had offered British fans the tantalizing possibility of an improbable trifecta: victories in the Tour de France, the Ashes test and the British Open golf championship. It was close, but not to be.

Froome crossed the finish line on the Champs-Elysees in Paris with the yellow jersey as Britain’s second consecutive Tour de France champion. England crushed Australia by 347 runs at Lord’s to take a 2-0 lead in the five-test series. But England’s Lee Westwood, who started the final round of the British Open at Muirfield with a two-shot lead, couldn’t hold up his end of the bargain. He faded down the stretch as Phil Mickelson claimed the claret jug.

“Two out of three ain’t bad,” said Monday’s headline in The Independent. “A tour de force for British sport.”

British bookmakers are jumping on the bandwagon: Ladbrokes offers odds of 50-1 that England will sweep the Ashes series 5-0, Murray will successfully defend his U.S. Open title and a British golfer will win the PGA Championship.

It hasn’t all been rosy, though, particularly in England’s favorite sport of soccer. England was humiliated at the Under-21 European Championship in Israel, failing to win a single game. The national women’s team fared no better, eliminated from the European Championship without a win and losing 3-0 to France in its final group match.

The England men’s team lies second behind Montenegro in its qualifying group for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. While England is likely to qualify, it is not considered a top contender for a title it has won only once — at home in 1966. And if there is one championship that England covets above all others, it is the World Cup.

Yet, overall, there is a sense that Britain is flying high and the image of the lovable loser is over.

“There is now a greater confidence in British sport,” said Sebastian Coe, the former middle-distance champion who led London’s Olympic organizing committee. “Team GB showed other sports that Brits can be winners. Just look at what has happened this summer.”

The challenge, he said, is to keep the success going.

“We have to get out of the mindset that we are forever grabbing victories out of the jaws of defeat,” Coe said in The Independent on Sunday. “We are not any more. So we must lose this habit of thinking, ‘Oh, my god, we’ve waited 77 years for Murray to win Wimbledon and we’ll have to wait another 77 years for another to come along.’ It would be a national disaster if we wait another 10 years to get another player in the top 10.”

One of the keys to Britain’s upsurge has been money. Funding from the national lottery has poured tens of millions of dollars into elite sports programs. Sports science has also played a part. Cycling, in particular, has used high-tech training methods to turn Britain into a power on the track and on the road.

“If you have … four things — the talented athletes, the coaches, the structure, and the money — you have a very much better chance of success,” British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson told Sky TV in Paris, where he attended the finish of the Tour de France.

The burst of pride comes before a series of events marking the Olympic anniversary. A Diamond League track and field meet — featuring the return of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and British gold medalists Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis — will be held at the Olympic Stadium on Friday and Saturday, the first competition at the flagship venue since the games.

Britain hopes to recreate some of the magic of a year ago, but is determined to make sure the much talked about “legacy” is not short lived.

“You can’t make a snap judgment on the 27th of July this year,” Robertson said. “It’s going to be a three-, a five- or possibly a 10-year judgment. The building blocks are very good. I would never for a moment pretend that it is a job done or even half done. There’s an awful lot of work to do.”

Overshadowing the sporting euphoria Monday was news that Kate, the wife of Prince William, had gone into labor. But the bookies could even find a sports angle in the royal baby stakes.

“As for our future king or queen, it’s a 5,000-1 shot they play professional football, cricket or rugby for England,” Ladbrokes said. “It’s only 100-1 that the heir to the throne participates for Britain at any future Olympic Games.”

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