Olympics sparkle at height of magical British summer

Thu Dec 27, 2012 9:08pm EST
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By John Mehaffey

LONDON (Reuters) - London defied Britain's wettest summer for 100 years, potential transport and security chaos and a depressed economy to stage a marvelous 2012 Olympics during a magical year for British sport.

Over the past century Britons have become resigned to watching the rest of the world beat them at games they had either invented or codified at the height of the island nation's imperial splendor.

This year, to their fans' surprise and delight, British teams and athletes surpassed themselves across a range of sports, including third place in the Olympic medals' table behind the world's two great economic powers the United States and China.

Englishman Bradley Wiggins, who looks like a throwback to the English beat groups of the swinging sixties with his mop of hair and straggling sideburns, became the first Briton to win the Tour de France prior to taking a fourth Olympic gold medal.

After finishing runner-up in four grand slam finals during a vintage era for men's tennis, Scotland's Andy Murray finally made the breakthrough as the first British male in 76 years to win one of the big four titles with victory over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open.

And Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, winner of four PGA titles including the PGA championship by a record eight strokes, was awarded the annual Jack Nicklaus award for player-of-the-year. At the age of 23 he was the youngest recipient since Tiger Woods in 1997.

At the heart of the year's sporting action, London staged the summer Olympics for the third time to unanimous acclaim throughout the world.

Under the assured stewardship of organizing committee chairman Seb Coe, as adroit in the convoluted realm of sports politics as he had been on the track while winning two Olympic 1,500 meters titles, the London organization was impeccable.   Continued...

Athletes stand together on the Queen Victoria Memorial during a parade of British Olympic and Paralympic athletes in front of Buckingham Palace in central London September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Shaun Botterill/Pool