Team GB’s trailblazing performance in Tokyo has been hailed as “the greatest achievement in British Olympic history” after the young team matched the tally of medals from London 2012 on the final day.
With Jason Kenny successfully defending his keirin title to become the first Briton to win seven Olympic gold medals, and boxer Lauren Price also winning middleweight gold, the British team ended fourth in the medal table with 65 overall – 22 of them gold.
While that was behind the United States, who finished top with 39 gold medals, with China on 38 and Japan on 27, Team GB’s chef de mission, Mark England, said it still amounted to Britain’s finest hour given the problems caused by the Covid pandemic and the inexperience of the team.
“Against all odds, it is, I think, the greatest achievement in British Olympic history,” he said. “It has been the miracle of Tokyo.”
England also revealed that Team GB had faced numerous challenges, including four false Covid positives during the Games. One of those was in a team sport and would have forced the whole squad to self-isolate given the strict rules surrounding close contacts.
“For this team to deliver 65 medals is absolutely extraordinary,” he added. “The team has made history on the back of the most complex, challenging and most difficult environments that we will ever face, certainly in my lifetime. And I can say that because I’ve been involved in five or six summer Games.”
The UK Sport chair, Katherine Grainger, also praised GB’s “team of trailblazers” for forging new ground on and off the field of play.
“I really think they have just set new standards in so many different ways, and they have truly burned their name into Olympic history in ways that we didn’t expect,” said Grainger, a five-time medallist and one of the most well-regarded figures in British sport.
“We had Jason Kenny, our most decorated Olympian. Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Kenny as our most decorated female Olympians as well. We’ve had our most successful swimming team ever. We’ve had our most successful boxing team in a century. We have just had these incredible moments.
“But beyond that, we’ve got a lot of firsts,” she added. “We’ve had our first medals in skateboarding, BMX and female weightlifting. We have had a lot of debutantes in these Games and there’s always a question of ‘can you deliver in your first games?’ and they have. And we’ve also had seasoned campaigners, such as Laura Muir and Tom Daley, who have finally made their dreams come true for themselves.”
Grainger also said how proud she had been of Team GB athletes for speaking out about mental health, or trying to do more for the environment, and said they were role models that should not only be thought about once every four years during an Olympics.
“This team is actually trailblazing as they’ve gone above and beyond their own sport in so many ways,” she said. “We’ve got the most memorable role models who speak out on issues that are very close to their heart, who are powerful on the field of play, but equally powerfully off the field of play.
“We have Adam Peaty speaking out about mental health. We’ve got Tom Daley speaking about LGBTQ issues. We’ve Alice Dearing in the water, talking about inclusion and diversity. And Hannah Mills talking about sustainability. These athletes are more than just athletes, they’re wonderful people who are incredible examples to the rest of us. And I think that’s why they’ll trailblaze in all different ways and will continue to do so for a long time.”
Boris Johnson said Team GB “have shown us the very best of this country – demonstrating our sportsmanship, hard work and determination”. His words were echoed by the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who told the Olympians: “We cannot thank you enough for all the joy the last 17 days of sport have brought us through the darkness of the last 17 months.”
England pointed out that not only was this the second-most successful overseas Olympics after Rio 2016, but Team GB also won medals across 18 sports – more than any other country.
Once again it was the Kennys who were the centre of attention on the final day of action in Tokyo, with Jason sprinting clear with three laps remaining to claim victory in the kierin and his ninth Olympic medal overall. His wife, Laura, finished sixth in her bid for a third successive omnium title. She leaves the Games as the only British woman to have won golds in three successive Olympics, having stormed to gold in the madison on Friday alongside Katie Archibald. Jason and Laura also each won silvers in team events earlier in the week.
Britain’s final medal of these Games was won by Price, who outclassed Li Qian to win middleweight gold with a unanimous decision.
England said Team GB would only get better for the Paris Olympics in three years’ time. “We have had 16 fourth places in Tokyo,” he said. “This is a very young team. It’s a very talented team. And it’s a team that I’m absolutely confident will go to Paris in less than three years and do exceptionally well.”