Britain celebrated golden news from the BMX track at the Olympic Games on Friday along with mixed results in the water, amid more strong swimming performances but only middling results at the rowing regatta.
Beth Shriever triumphed in women’s BMX racing, the 22-year-old former junior world champion from Leytonstone holding off a late charge from defending champion Mariana Pajon of Colombia down the final straight.
It was Britain’s sixth gold medal of the games, keeping Team GB in sixth place on the medals table.
At the pool, Duncan Scott claimed Team GB’s sixth swimming medal of the meet as he fell tantalisingly short of gold, coming second in the men’s 200m individual medley final.
Scott, who claimed gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay and silver in the individual version earlier this week, powered home after turning in fifth place heading into the final freestyle leg but finished just 0.28 seconds behind China’s Wang Shun.
Agonisingly, it was Scott’s fourth Olympic silver medal, following two claimed in relays in Rio in 2016, and the frustration appeared to show on the 24-year-old Scot as he turned away from the scoreboard after learning his fate.
Earlier, Luke Greenbank took bronze in the 200m backstroke behind the Russian Olympic Committee’s Evgeny Rylov and Ryan Murphy of the US, adding to Britain’s Friday medal haul alongside Kye White, who took silver in men’s BMX racing.
Britain’s swim team will be on an understandable high. Scott and Greenbank’s efforts moved Team GB to just one medal off their all-time Olympic record haul in swimming of seven, set in London in 1908.
Scott said the squad’s success was a continuation of improvements which started before Rio, as he paid tribute to team talisman Adam Peaty, who claimed Britain’s first men’s swimming gold in 24 years in the 100m breaststroke in 2016, and this week became the first British swimmer ever to retain an Olympic title.
“It’s obviously not just a one meet thing,” Scott told the BBC. “It’s been going on for quite a while.
“It probably started with (Adam) Peaty way back in 2015 when he first won the worlds. His mental drive and the way he dominates races I think rubs off on people, but on top of that there’s some excellent coaches in British Swimming.”
But the news from the Sea Forest Waterway for Britain was not as encouraging.
While the men’s eight took bronze, it completed a disappointing regatta in which the team won only two medals, following the silver taken by the men’s quadruple sculls team, and a fourth place final finish on Friday for Welsh single sculler Vicky Thornley.
Reaction was swift, with double Olympic champion James Cracknell saying on the BBC: “We got three gold, two silver in Rio. We come away from Tokyo, £27million of investment in British Rowing, with one silver and one bronze.
“At a time when the national budget is under pressure from so many different areas, is that a good return on investment?”
Sir Matthew Pinsent, two of whose four gold medals came with Cracknell, believes the inquest must focus on the governing body, saying: “We can’t escape the fact the British team haven’t performed the way that we have in the last five, six editions of the Olympic Games.
“So on one level it’s disappointing. I don’t think there are many questions to ask of the athletes. I think they have performed out of their skins. Yes there have been some mistakes.
“But I will be talking to the performance director, Brendan Purcell, before the end of the day and I’ll be interested to see how he responds to these questions as well because ultimately the performance of the British team is his job.”
However, Dame Katherine Grainger, who won rowing medals at the last five Olympic Games, did not rank the regatta as a disaster for Britain, saying on the BBC: “If you look at the medal haul, it’s very small compared to especially the last two, three, four Olympic Games, and it is disappointing on some level.
“But, at the same time, we knew after Rio there was the biggest change we have ever seen from not just athletes – I think we only had eight athletes coming to this Games who’d ever been to a Games before. We’ve never had anything like that.
“But we’ve also changed through performance directors, head coaches, so I think these Games were going to be seen as a change and building to Paris more than anything else.
The mood was ebullient in Cumbria, where Greenbank’s family yelled themselves hoarse at close to 3.00am as the 23-year-old claimed bronze in his first Olympics.
“We’re over the moon – absolutely over the moon,” father Chris, who watched with wife Martha and Luke’s younger brothers Adam and Sam, told the PA news agency.
“It was always going to be tough for him to get past Rylov and Murphy, but I thought it was a great swim from Luke. The way he dug in the last 50 was amazing.”
Mr Greenbank, a structural engineer whose own swimming highlight came with a medley third place at the 1976 Cumbria County Championships, said he was immensely proud, having followed his son’s swimming career since he joined the Cockermouth Swim Club aged nine.
“To have an Olympic bronze medallist in the family – it’s emotional, surreal,” he said.
Despite his initial frustration at another silver, Scott said he had performed at his best.
“It was always going to be tight, it was always going to be exciting,” he said. “I’m really happy with the swim. It just wasn’t quite there.”