Olympic heroes from Cheshire and North Wales played a big part in London 2012
PUBLISHED: 19:50 28 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:48 20 February 2013
From a gloriously eccentric opening ceremony to the inspiration of Super Saturday, images of the Greatest Show on Earth showcased a country united in the joy of sport. And sporting heroes from Cheshire and North Wales played a big part.
From a gloriously eccentric opening ceremony to the inspiration of Super Saturday, images of the Greatest Show on Earth showcased a country united in the joy of sport. And sporting heroes from Cheshire and North Wales played a big part. Woirds by Steve Gibbs
For two wonderful weeks, athletic pursuits became the most important and thrilling spectacle in the world. Every emotion was played out in the faces of Team GBs heroes, from the ecstasy of gold to the physical and mental anguish of injury and Cheshires finest more than played their part.
Ben Ainslie: Sailing
Like a nautical Incredible Hulk, the worlds sailors discovered the hard way that they didnt like Ben Ainslie when he got angry. Over 14 years and five Olympic Games, Macclesfield-born Ainslie is now the most successful sailor of modern times, with four gold medals in a row, but even by his own standards this was a dramatic finish.
Making his trademark shaky start, Ainslie was riled by what he viewed as underhand tactics from two rivals and warned: Theyve made a big mistake. Theyve made me angry and you dont want to make me angry.
Naturally he still won gold on home water at Weymouth, pulling level with Dane Jonas Hogh Cristensen one of those who had angered him in the penultimate race and then holding his nerve to edge ahead for the first time in the regatta during the decisive medal race.
Ainslie is unlikely to return to Olympic waters in 2016, admitting after an injury-hit year that sailing is killing my body, but his place in the pantheon of sporting greats is undoubted.
Tom James: Rowing
Where Redgrave and Pinsent led, so Coedpoeth rower Tom James has followed, in equally impressive style. James ensured that Team GBs Mens Four crew retained their Olympic title, first won in Sydney in 2000, for the fourth time.
In beating Australia in both semi-final and final, with two relaxed and ruthless performances, they exacted revenge on their greatest rivals for defeat in the 2012 World Championships. In typically British conditions, James along with Alex Gregory, Pete Reed and Andy Triggs Hodge battled through wind and rain to repeat his Beijing success.
Jade Jones: Taekwondo
The Flint featherweight who rejoices in the nickname of The Headhunter took on the traditional powerhouses of this ancient martial art and thoroughly deserved her thrilling gold medal victory, which earned Britain its first ever taekwondo medal.
Having cruised through the first two rounds by a combined total of 28-4, she won a tense semi-final 10-6 against world number one Tseng Li-Cheng from Chinese Teipei.
The final was even more nervy for everyone except Jones, who ground two-time World Champion Hou Yuzhuo into exhausted submission to secure a 6-4 win. However unlikely it may have seemed, the 19 year-olds aim had been gold, and she delivered in stunning fashion.
Beth Tweddle: Artistic Gymnastics
A magnificent Olympics for the resurgent British gymnastics team culminated in Beth Tweddle, from Bunbury, taking a bittersweet bronze medal to cap a glittering career. Having qualified in first place for the Uneven Bars Final, Tweddle achieved her ultimate ambition of simply winning a medal but it could so easily have been gold.
A stunning new routine was remarkable even by her own exalted standards, but a faltering landing perhaps cost her two places. Frustratingly, a repeat of her score in the qualifying round, 16.133, would have matched Aliya Mustafinas gold medal-winning routine, but Tweddles familiar, infectious smile remained.
Womens Team: Artistic Gymnastics
Team Cheshire led by Tweddle, alongside Stalybridges Rebecca Tunney, Macclesfields Jenni Pinches and Stockports Hannah Whelan showed resilience and panache to recover to a sixth-place finish in the Womens Team competition, having pushed Britain into their first womens gymnastics final since 1984.
British champion Tunney, both youngest and smallest member of Team GB at just 15 years old and 4ft 9 tall, also finished 13th in the individual competition. Pinches and Whelan both had costly falls in the team event, on beam and vault respectively, but regained composure well to end on a high.
A second medal proved beyond Tweddle, but the fact that her sport is in arguably its healthiest position ever is testament to what she, and her adopted home county, has achieved.
Richard Egington and Matthew Langridge: Rowing
Two key members of a relatively inexperienced Mens Eight boat added a bronze medal to the silver they won in Beijing, yet, for Northwichs Matt Langridge, London 2012 felt like more of a victory. The crew led for periods of a fiercely-competitive final and came closer to winning than they had four years earlier, but eventually succumbed to late surges from World Champions Germany and reigning Olympic Champions Canada.
Egington, who learnt to row at Warrington School, announced his retirement immediately after the race, at the age of 33. He had previously come close to quitting in the aftermath of Beijing, due to the intensity of the training schedule, but hard work paid off as GB cruised through the repechage and into the final, after finishing second in a heat which featured all three podium finishers.
Kate Walsh: Hockey
If one moment of London 2012 encapsulated the desire and sacrifice of an elite athlete that fabled Olympic spirit it was Stockports Kate Walshs return to action just six days after breaking her jaw. Team GBs captain was struck by a stray stick in the final minutes of their comfortable 4-0 win over Japan, only to return, following surgery to insert a titanium plate into her face, to guide her side to a bronze medal. Three wins to start the tournament were followed by three disappointing defeats, including semi-final frustration against fierce rivals Argentina, but they rediscovered their vibrancy to beat New Zealand 3-1. Despite her injury, Walsh remained a defensive rock and her fine penalty corner delivery even set-up two goals as the team secured its first Olympic medal in 20 years.
Chris Bartley: Rowing
A controversial finish to the Mens Lightweight Four final highlighted both the pain of Olympic competition and the fine margins which define success and failure. For the British crew, featuring Chesters Chris Bartley in the stroke position, a silver medal was initially scant consolation for the injustice they felt over Eton Dorneys wind, which made the unseeded lane draws something of a lottery.
While 2010 World Champion Bartley was being physically sick from the exertion of overcoming a poor start to finish just a quarter of a second behind the South African boat, Team GBs appeals fell on deaf ears. Once hed recovered, though, and the disappointment had faded, Bartley rightly declared himself over the moon.
Kerri-Anne Payne: Swimming
Starting the 10,000 metres open water marathon around the Serpentine as a warm favourite, the Stockport swimmer led from the gun but wasnt able to escape a tenacious chasing pack. The current World Champion remained in contention until the final sprint but, after almost two hours, missed out on bronze by a matter of inches.
James Goddard: Swimming
Goddard announced his retirement from swimming after a disappointing seventh place in the 200 metre Individual Medley final. It was no disgrace, though, as Stockports three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist trailed behind the prodigious rivalry of legendary Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Andrew Baddeley:1500 metres
Wirrals Baddeley paid for a tactical error and missed out on a second successive Olympic 1500 metres final. A slow first semi-final gave the three-time British champion a great opportunity of qualifying, but with a time well below his best failed to make it through as one of the fastest losers.
Olivia Whitlam: Rowing
Daresburys former under-23 World Champion, taking the bow seat in arguably the best ever British Womens Eight crew, couldnt end the dominance of the all-conquering USA boat but could still be pleased with their fifth-place finish in a tightly-contested final.
Francesca Halsall: Swimming
Halsalls frustration in not challenging for a medal in any of her five events, in butterfly, freestyle and medley relay, proved a microcosm of the entire British swimming squads disappointing Olympics. Having swum slower than in Marchs Olympic trials, Halsall, from Northwich, admitted I dont think Ill ever fully get over it.
Shanaze Reade: BMX
Reade, from Crewe, cruised through to the BMX final, albeit in typically hyper-active style, but couldnt add Olympic success to her three World Championship titles. She paid for a poor start and trailed in a disappointing sixth, and is now considering a return to track cycling where she was 2007 Team Pursuit World Champion alongside Victoria Pendleton.
James Fair: Hockey
Fairs crucial save against Spain preserved Great Britains unbeaten record in the pool stage, but thereafter the quest for a medal unravelled in spectacular fashion. A crushing 9-2 semi-final defeat by the Netherlands was followed by bronze medal play-off despair against Australia, despite another fine performance from the goalkeeper.
Paula Radcliffe: Marathon
Providing an all-too-familiar counterpoint to the collective joy of Team GB, Paulas Olympic misery is now complete. A persistent foot injury resurfaced just two weeks before the Games, compounding what she called the bitter disappointments of the illness and injury which prevented her from challenging for a medal in both Athens and Beijing.