Nick Westby: Welcome reminder of how much we will miss our ‘golden generation’

Ed Clancy celebrates crossing the line as the Great Britain team win gold in the Men's Team Pursuit First Final. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

Ed Clancy celebrates crossing the line as the Great Britain team win gold in the Men's Team Pursuit First Final. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

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We will miss them when they are gone.

Ed Clancy, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Jessica Ennis-Hill were at it again at the Rio Olympics this weekend, producing their very best on the greatest stage, and in two of the three cases, claiming the ultimate prize their sport has to offer.

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in Rio on Saturday night. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

Great Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill in Rio on Saturday night. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

That Ennis-Hill does not ride off into the sunset as a double gold medallist in the women’s heptathlon owes more to the weekend of a lifetime from Nafissatou Thiam than it does to any shortcomings on her part.

Sheffield’s golden girl was the consumate professional, producing performances on a high level across the board.

Clancy played his part in an absolutely thrilling team pursuit final on Friday night in which Great Britain, with Sir Bradley Wiggins in their number, stormed back to pip Australia on the line.

Then, on Saturday at the rowing, Hodge was there again, his mass of blonde curls visible from the banks of The Lagoa as he helped steer the men’s eight to gold.

Great Britain's Scott Durant, Tom Ransley, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, William Satch, cox Phelan Hill, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed celebrate with their Gold Medals in the Men's Eight. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Great Britain's Scott Durant, Tom Ransley, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, William Satch, cox Phelan Hill, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed celebrate with their Gold Medals in the Men's Eight. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

They will go down in the annals as three of Yorkshire’s greatest-ever sports men and women.

In terms of hardware, Clancy – the Barnsley-born, Huddersfield-raised cyclist – has now become the most decorated Yorkshire Olympian of all time.

The gold he won as part of the team pursuit squad in the velodrome in Rio made it three in a row in that discipline alone, after Beijing and London.

To further underline his strengths, and to prove he can plough a lone furrow, the bronze he claimed in the six-event omnium in London takes him ahead of Hodge at the top of Yorkshire’s standings.

Hodge – the Hebden-raised oarsman – has, like Clancy, become a serial gold medallist.

The ninth-placed finish he was forced to endure with the men’s eight on his Olympic debut in Athens was probably the best thing that could have happened to him.

He vowed never to feel so disappointed in himself professionally again, and redoubled his efforts to be the best he could possibly be.

Gold medals in the men’s four at Beijing and London, and in the eight for the ultimate redemption in Rio, suggest he has accomplished that.

Ennis-Hill’s medal haul is the smallest of the three but she has not contested the same amount of events. A dominant gold in London, when she had all the pressure on her shoulders, and a faultless silver in Rio, two years after giving birth to her son, cements one of the greatest careers of any British sportswoman.

To put it into context, eight British women before her had won an Olympic gold medal in track and field.

None of them, for whatever reason, had ever successfully defended it.

Do not let the fact that she could not match Clancy and Hodge’s gold devalue her achievement in South America.

The birth of a child turns a parent’s world upside down. Toni Minichiello, her long-time coach, says he had to completely rewrite Ennis-Hill’s training programme because of the change in her muscles and the make-up of her body after childbirth.

She was a different athlete to the one in London four years ago, and it is only the changing of the guard that has caught up with her.

Solid and near her best in pretty much all of the seven disciplines, it took a super-human effort from Belgium’s Thiam to deny Ennis-Hill another stride onto the top step of the podium.

All three of our county stars are model professionals.

What marks them out is their work ethic. Athletes train hard but you get the impression with this trio that they stay that extra half an hour at the end of a session, working on a weakness.

What separates them further from the rest of the pack, is their ability to shut out all the outside noise and deliver when it really matters, when the biggest prizes are on the line.

Their mental strength is the equal of their physical attributes.

Clancy is the master of that art. He admits himself he struggles with motivation the year after an Olympics.

World championships and Europeans titles do not mean half as much to him as that feeling of an Olympic gold medal hanging around his neck.

His build-up to Rio has been woeful, from a public kick-up-the-backside from his performance director 18 months ago, to a serious back injury over the winter.

But when the stakes were highest he knuckled down and put in the hard graft.

Hodge and Ennis-Hill have done similar, and with those two now considering retirement, at 37 and 30 respectively, it makes you realise that we will miss them when they are gone. Four years ago, Clancy told this newspaper he wanted two more Olympics, and he has said nothing since Friday to suggest he will not go on to Tokyo.

All this and Yorkshire still gets to cheer on Alistair and Jonny Brownlee in Thursday’s triathlon and Nicola Adams in the women’s boxing this week. A golden generation indeed.

Lucas Ellis

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