Monday mornings get a particularly bad rap in Britain. Songs by The Bangles and Boomtown Rats fixed them in our psyche as a requiem for the weekend, the grey dawn of reality.
Not this one. From 3.13am to 8.25am in Japan, Britain farmed three gold medals before the Monday commute was over. Breakfast presenters fiddled with their clipboards and struggled to stay composed as Team GB took flight after a relatively slow start to the Tokyo Games. No more, in Bob Geldof’s words, will we want to “shoot the whole day down”.
Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke, Tom Daley and Matty Lee in diving and Tom Pidcock on his mountain bike. This quartet jolted Britain’s Olympic campaign to life and put jubilation on the breakfast menu. Peaty made the breakthrough at stupid o’clock for a British audience, then Daley was rewarded for 13 years of glorious perseverance, alongside a superbly cool rookie diving partner, Lee. Daley was 14 years old when he first tried to win a medal, at Beijing in 2008.
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The cumulative effect of three golds in five hours was Super Saturday grade excitement. Then, at London 2012, three bullseyes were struck in track and field in a single venue. Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah were the authors of the finest hour in British Olympic history. But this Monday mania runs it close, even with an eight-hour time lag. It had everything, from Peaty’s invincibility to Daley’s vindication and Pidcock’s emergence at 21 as the new star of off-road cycling.
Daley was marked down by pundits everywhere as a podium prospect. He always is. Bronze medals in London and Rio seemed an accurate measure of his place in a brutally tough hierarchy. He was the Tim Henman of diving. Which is not to disparage him. Daley was always in that category of Olympian who is good but not quite good enough to deal with even better opponents. Life, and sport, can be like that. The gallant never quite get their reward. And here again, Daley and Lee were confronted by the supposedly unshiftable talent of Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen, who were stunned to see the British pair open a lead they couldn’t peg back, even with a sublime final dive.

'It's finally come true!' - Daley and Lee emotional on podium with gold medals

It feels as if we’ve been watching Daley try to win gold all our lives. So much has happened to him between his Olympic debut at 14 and the consummation of all his work and dedication. As a married gay man with a child through surrogacy, he assumed a trailblazer’s profile long before it was common for athletes to discuss the most personal aspects of their lives. He had lived out his life in public without ever hunting down the Olympic gold that would reward him for his infectious positivity and persistence.
Peaty’s win and an outrageously entertaining men’s synchronised 10m platform final already had Britain in raptures before attention turned to Pidcock, who broke his collarbone in training two months ago, powering his way round the 28.25km Izu Mountain Bike Course. When Pidcock crossed the line in front and saw his life change forever the British Monday nine-to-five was still at the coffee-fetching and yawning stage.

'He joins the greats!' - Pidcock celebrates gold with mountain bike heroics

With each win, there was reason to feel the elation the Olympic Games are meant to bestow. This is why they exist: to provide shared experience, to shift the national mood, and allow us to see in the examples of individual athletes and teams universal principles applicable to the rest of life. We overstate the value of fleeting, joyous spectacles, but these three won’t be forgotten. It took five days for Britain to win their first gold in London. This time it’s taken three.
In five hours we saw the invincible champ (Peaty), the loveable Stoic (Daley), the star debutant (Lee) and the injury-defying new kid on the block (Pidcock). Most of the basic plots of Olympic sport were taken care of right there, while TV and radio news did the familiar rounds of Covid stats, red list countries and political dishonesty.

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In Britain, interest in these Games had been slow-burning. The ghostly feel of the venues and the mass distractions in daily life meant the country had only one eye on Tokyo. The Lottery-funded Olympic bonanza was perhaps sitting this one out. Britain needed a spark to revive the sense of what Team GB has become: a reliable, functioning, (expensive) public asset. Sceptics were right to dial back expectations but wrong to think Britain’s campaign just wouldn’t take off. Pidcock’s importance was to show that fresh talent is breaking through: the production line still functions.
Death, taxes and Adam Peaty winning the 100m breaststroke are among life’s few certainties. But Daley seemed doomed to be the nearly-man. And when he and Lee took command with a series of sublime dives in the second half of the competition you could feel the most magical validation moving in his direction. The shot of tears rolling down his cheeks and into his face mask as the national anthem played will never leave the Olympic photo gallery. It spoke of Covid’s lethal intrusion into life, the Games trying to defy it, 20 years of effort and four Olympic missions for Daley, who’s no longer the child of 2008 but the man of 2021. The proud man. The Olympic champion.
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