The Boys are Back in TownBefore last week it had been 88 years since Great Britain had had a team qualify to the men's Team Final and 100 years since their last team medal. The hopes of the nation were high as the British boys had already taken Gold at the European Championships and were looking stronger by the day. Could Louis Smith, Kristian Thomas, Daniel Purvis, Max Whitlock and Sam Oldham take on the rest of the world and come away with a medal?
I think I have probably watched more men's gymnastics in the past two weeks than I have in the whole of the past two years - and boy was it worth it! All of the men's competitions have been superb, but it was the Brits that I had my eye on. There was no doubt a great deal of pressure on these five men as they went into qualifying. They had only secured a full team place at the London 2012 Test Event in January, missing out on a top eight place at the 2011 World Championships and therefore missing out on automatic qualification. Could this team then prove to the world and the home crowd that they deserved to be one of the top eight teams going through to the final? Team GB were in the first of three subdivisions of qualifying and by the end of their subdivision they were in first place, higher than Korea, France and reigning World and Olympic Champions, China. It was a fantastic start. With two subdivisions to follow, it was going to be along wait to find out where they had placed, but being in the lead at the start gave them an excellent chance of making the finals. After Subdivision 2, only USA had manged to top the score posted by the British boys. This meant that they were guaranteed a place in the final as there were already more than four teams that had qualified below them. After the last subdivision and the end of the men's qualifying, not only had the British boys made the Team Final for the first time in 88 years, they had qualified in third place!
Of course it was not only the Team Final to which the boys were trying qualify. There were also places in the All Around Final and the Apparatus Finals up for grabs. Kristian Thomas and Daniel Purvis had competed brilliantly on all six pieces of apparatus to qualify to the All Around Final in 5th and 10th respectively. Louis Smith had (as expected) qualified to the pommel horse final but so had Max Whitlock after a brilliant routine in qualification. Kristian Thomas also made an individual final, qualifying 5th for vault. An incredibly successful day.
Having made it to the Team Final and made it in 3rd place there was a glimmer of hope that we might be getting our first medal for 100 years. It certainly would not be easy though. Both China and Japan had excellent gymnasts and had underperformed by everybody's standards in qualification. With both of those top teams expected to perform much better in the final, would that leave room on the podium for GB? With the support of the home crowd the GB boys raised their game and raised the roof. They performed routine after routine with confidence and precision, delighting everyone, especially the home crowd in the North Greenwich Arena. They gave their all and performed better than anyone could have hoped for. After the final routines the scoreboard said 2nd - had GB really just won a Silver medal? Unfortunately it was not to be - an inquiry into the score of the last Japanese routine showed that it had been underscored by 0.700, a small amount but one which pushed Britain down into 3rd. Although Silver would have been incredible and beyond all expectations nobody could be disappointed for long. Great Britain had won a team Bronze medal! For a sport where no team had made the final for 88 years that was some achievement and one which was celebrated with pride. It is amazing to see just how far this sport has come on in Britain over the last few years and I fervently hope that it continues to do so.
A Bronze medal for the team - and the medals did not stop there. The pommel horse was the final with the most British interest and expectation, with not one but two members of GB represented. Could Louis Smith improve on his Bronze from Beijing in 2008 and how would 19 year old Max Whitlock cope with his first Olympic final? I have to admit to knowing very little about the pommel horse (sorry Louis and Max!) but I was certainly impressed with the routines from both the British boys. Max gave a really confident performance, looking calm and at ease throughout. Louis, one of the favourites to take the title, must have been nervous as he walked up to the horse but he gave the performance of his life. Clean and confident throughout and with a flourish on his dismount we were all desperately hoping it would be enough to beat the current leader and pommel horse expert, Krisztian Berki. The score came in and was exactly the same as Berki's score but under the tie breaking rules of execution over difficulty, Berki got the Gold and Louis got the Silver. This meant that not only had Louis improved on his Bronze medal of four years ago, Max Whitlock finished just behind him to take 3rd place - Silver and Bronze for GB!
This really has been an amazing Olympics for the GB team. To make the team finals and take a Bronze medal, to have two gymnasts in the all around final, to have three gymnasts in apparatus finals and to take a Silver and a Bronze medal on the pommel horse is such a massive achievement. I could not be more proud of the team right now, they have done so much not only for themselves but for the future of the sport. I hope they continue to go from strength to strength - and I promise to keep watching!