History beckons on Beijing’s Super Saturday

Tomorrow – already dubbed “Super Saturday”, just as the middle day at the Sydney and then Athens Games became known – has the potential to be the greatest single day in British Olympic history, according to PHILIP BARKER

The flagship rowing four (Andy Hodge, Peter Reed, Steve Williams and Tom James) could be one of three medals at the regatta, together with Matt Wells and Steve Rowbottom in the double sculls and Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington’s women’s double sculls.

At the Velodrome, watch out for Olympic rowing medallist Rebecca Romero, now riding a bike in the women’s pursuit, while Bradley Wiggins defends the men’s pursuit title.

It is 100 years since Britain managed to win five Olympic golds in one day – October 27, 1908, at the Northampton Institute in Clerkenwell, , when Britain won all five boxing weights, which wasn’t really suprising as most of the competitors were British and the official report noted, “For the most part our foreign visitors were not of a sufficiently high class to have a real sporting chance of victory.”

That could not be said of Australia’s “Snowy” Baker, who fought his way through to the middleweight final. A stuntman and sports promoter, Baker was also a top-class rugby player. In his Olympic final he had the misfortune to meet another fine all-rounder JWHT Douglas, later an Ashes-winning England cricket captain. The Australians called him “‘Johnny Won’t Hit Today'” on account of his initials, but that day in 1908, he did and took the gold medal.

The other British boxers who wrote their names in the record book that day were East End tailor Richard Gunn, who won the featherweight title at almost 38 years of age, the oldest boxer to win an Olympic gold. The official report described his “Striking example of style and science over more youthful ambition.”

Heavyweight champion and City of London policeman Albert Oldman spent less than a round in the ring. The victory of lightweight champion Fred Grace was a turn up for the books. He’d never won a major title and was short of training, but boxed impressively to win gold.

Birmingham’s Harry Thomas was the only reigning ABA champion to go on to claim Olympic gold but there was only one foreign entry in the bantamweight division, so the Olympic event was almost a re-run of the domestic competition. His victory over countryman John Condon was described at the time as “a capital bout that roused hearty applause”.

The boxing cleansweep was just part of Britain’s most successful Olympics in 1908. Over 50 gold medals from a team which numbered more than 700 but with so many events packed with British competitors, they were often little more than glorified national championships.

If Britain can win five golds here in Beijing tomorrow against the best of the world, the achievement will be immeasurably greater.

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