It is difficult to pinpoint one defining Olympic moment, but for Great Britain especially, the Athens Olympics were extraordinary for so many reasons…
The Olympics are never short of controversy, but at the Athens Games of 2004, the usually refined sport of equestrianism was the rare centre of a world of medal chaos. The events that took place before and after the team eventing will forever be remembered by those who either witnessed, or were part of, the action.
Great Britain’s Leslie Law claimed the individual gold medal, yet nobody knew that at the time. The Brit was awarded the gold medal, promoted from silver, after German Bettina Hoy was stripped of the highest accolade following an appeal.
During the showjumping discipline, the third and final stage of the three-day eventing competition, Hoy was deemed to have crossed the starting line twice.
All riders were allowed 45 seconds after the bell had rung to start their rounds. Yet, Hoy crossed between the starting flags in this time and continued riding in a warm-up circle, unaware that the clock was ticking. 14 seconds had elapsed before she started her round. However, the clock was, incorrectly, restarted for her second pass between the flags.
In her round, she jumped clear and came in two seconds under the 90 second time limit. That was apparently enough to land Germany the team gold, and to put herself in a strong position for individual gold with one round of jumping still to go.
Later realising their mistake however, the grand jury decided to add the 14 seconds of Hoy’s first pass on to her time. This put her 12 seconds outside the allowed 90 second time limit and thus gave her 12 penalty points. She dropped down to ninth and Germany fell to fourth. Law was now seemingly the individual champion whilst France became the winners of the team event, in which Great Britain were now silver medal winners. The USA were handed the bronze medal, having originally finished outside the medals.
Most unsurprisingly, the German team appealed and were successful…at first. Hoy had her 14 seconds revoked and she and her team were reinstated into gold medal position. The medal ceremony went ahead.
Nonetheless, the American, British and French teams decided to appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). The CAS agreed with the appealing teams, making their announcement three days later, on the Saturday. Law was back in England competing in the Midlands when he was told the news.
As well as Law being awarded the gold, Britain’s team bronze medal was upgraded to silver again and Pippa Funnell, who had finished fourth in the individual competition, was given the bronze medal.
Dame Kelly Holmes famously won two gold medals the next week, following up a comfortable win in the 800 metres with a narrow victory in an unforgettable 1500 metres. She just held off Tatyana Tomashova, the world champion, in the latter and was unaware she had won upon crossing the line. Television images of her face upon realising she had completed the middle-distance double will be firmly implanted in the minds of millions across Britain.
Holmes won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2004 and shot to legendary status overnight.
The London 2012 Games begin on Friday night. Fingers are firmly crossed for more special Olympic moments.
Images courtesy of bbc.co.uk