Great Britain’s grand Olympic dreams of a 70-medal haul are off to a shaky start — and the desperation is setting in on Fleet Street as the media and the fans look for the team’s first victory.
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Yet to claim a gold medal, the British effort flies in the face of London mayor Boris Johnson’s motivational message to athletes before the Games. “Can we beat Australia? Yes, I think we can.”

British coxless four team member Pete Reed went so far as to tell the Daily Mail that Johnson’s attempt at a pep talk fired him up.

“It really hit home with me personally. This will be the biggest race of our lives and we have a big job to do against Australia,” he said.

Reed’s contest with Australia is likely on Saturday, London time, but the hordes of reporters in Fleet Street have already grown impatient.

Great Britain’s effort thus far puts it 21st on the medal tally — behind Australia in 12th, as well as Romania, Hungary, Brazil, Holland, Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia and Lithuania, and just ahead of Colombia, Mexico and Indonesia.

Johnson told Australia’s SBS today that “natural British restraint and good manners” was behind the nation’s lack of gold.

“It would not be right for us as host nation to be monopolising that medals table, and we’re allowing others to score a few in the knowledge that we’re lulling them into a false sense of security,” Johnson said, tongue in cheek.

“Even if – which I don’t for one moment believe – even if we didn’t win a single additional medal it would still be a fantastic thing to have put on a great Olympic Games, plus last night Team GB got their first ever medal in gymnastics for 100 years and that is a stunning thing to do.”

The dearth of a British gold medallist, and the disappointment surrounding hot favourites who have failed to take the top prize, is a frustration to the host nation’s papers. Tabloid The Sun’s front page today screams: “Wanted. Gold Medal” and carries the plea: “Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts but please, can we have just one gold. Any sport. We’re not bothered. As soon as possible. Please. COME ON TEAM GB.”

The Daily Mail is attempting to assuage the disappointment of the nation by suggesting that “a gold rush will come … as early as today”. The newspaper says the nation has six strong medal contenders in rowing, cycling and swimming finals, including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.

The Telegraph is more conciliatory its athletes who finish back in the pack than Australia — it has described British gymnasts who finished sixth as “brave”.

The Guardian says British sport executives are considering lowering their expectations of the medal haul, from 70 to 60.

“I’m comfortable with where we are, absolutely. We need to be patient and we’ll see that the medals and gold medals will follow,” the British Olympic Association chairman, Lord Colin Moynihan, reportedly said. “When you look at the rowing finals, the cyclists and the sailors, we’ll begin to have that core delivery of success. We’re beginning to see, as we forecast, more medals in more sports – we delivered on the gymnastics.”

Britons expect to do well in events where medals have not yet been won, discussions in online forums suggest.

“Some in OZ and US are saying we will be the first country to do WORSE at a home games ! Classic,” wrote late8 on the UK Digital Spy forums. Others on Yahoo! Answers suggest that biding time is the best option.

Others suggested that the media over-hyped cyclist Mark Cavendish and Britain’s position was as expected.

Given that there was success for Great Britain at London’s previous hosting turns in 1908 in events no longer part of the program, 2012 organisers could have given thought to re-introducing polo, tug-of-war (in which Great Britain won all the medals), jeu de paume (tennis, not to be confused with the lawn tennis event of the same Olympiad), lacrosse, rugby union and water motorsports.

In its most recent home Olympics in 1948, Great Britain won three gold, 14 silver and six bronze to Australia’s two gold, six silver and five bronze and in 1908, swept the pool with 56 gold, 51 silver and 39 bronze to Australasia’s one gold, two silver and one bronze.

More recently, after four days of competition in 2008 in Beijing, Britain had claimed two gold medals to Australia’s three and at Athens in 2004, the score was six to zero Australia’s way.

But it’s not as though Australia’s effort this year is all that stunning. Our women’s swimming relay gold remains our only victory. There’s three silver and two bronze for a miserly six medals, behind Japan’s 13 (one gold, four silver, eight bronze) and South Africa, which has just two medals — but they are both gold.

Australia is also behind North Korea (three gold and one bronze), Kazakhstan (three gold), Germany (two gold, three silver and one bronze) and Russia (two gold, two silver and four bronze).

In 2008, then-sports minister Kate Ellis lost a bet with her British counterpart Gerry Sutcliffe that Australia’s medal tally would be bigger than Britain’s. Ms Ellis then suffered the ignominy of wearing a team Great Britain shirt to the Paralympic Games. Great Britain took home 19 gold to Australia’s 14 in Beijing.

But her predecessor, Liberal Senator Rod Kemp, warned of such a travesty two years earlier. In a speech in Melbourne in 2006, he said that “the British are getting their sporting act together” and that “the Australian success on the sporting field is under a great challenge”.

New Zealand has just one bronze medal, from equestrian, so all is not for lost Australia yet. But after four days of competition, our athletes are running out of time to better our final medal totals in Atlanta, 1996 (nine gold, nine silver, 23 bronze), Barcelona, 1992 (seven gold, nine silver, 11 bronze) or Seoul, 1988 (three gold, six silver, five bronze).

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