When Great Britain learned that the Olympic baton was going to be passed their way from the triumphant Chinese at the end of the Beijing Games, it was vital that they received it on a high. Nobody in the London 2012 hierarchy could have envisaged how high they would climb, however.
Even the most patriotic of Union Jack wavers would admit to being shocked by the amount of gold being carried on the specially engraved Jumbo Jet bound for Heathrow Airport yesterday. Even Queen Elizabeth II was moved to send a congratulatory message. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, needless to say, followed suit. Forty seven medals had to find a way through the metal detectors blocking the way to the Beijing departure lounge towards flight BA 38 which now has a repainted golden nose. Nineteen of those prizes, remarkably, for a nation accustomed to making up the numbers at major global jamborees, were the most cherished of the three colours on offer.
A best Olympic haul for a whole century gives Britain a tremendous platform to put on a show to be proud of in four years' time, not just in terms of organisation, which will be hard pushed to get within a country mile of the excellent Chinese who did not have to worry about embarrassing, morale-sapping stories about going over budget. Under-achieving in the flagship Olympic sport of athletics, the British team more than atoned in the swimming pool, at the velodrome, on the high seas and calm lake to suggest that the chest thumping declaration that they can plunder even more precious metal as hosts is no idle boast.
Britain can consider themselves winner of the medal table for non-super powers, having finished fourth behind China, United States and Russia, a wonderful achievement considering the Olympic performances in recent years of nations such as Australia and Germany. They are aiming to go one better, presumably at Russia's expense, when they have home advantage in 2012, and though it is tempting to suggest they will collectively implode under the pressure of trying to surpass their Beijing brilliance, there is no obvious reason why they cannot exceed expectations a second time.
The cyclists, led by the flying Scotsman Chris Hoy, who was given the honour of carrying the flag at Sunday's handover ceremony in recognition of his golden treble, look like being the standard bearers. They were responsible for eight of the team's 19 golds and managed another six podium finishes. Sailors and rowers, two of Britain's traditionally strong Olympic sports contributed six of the golds but the most eye-catching performance of the British team was that of the freestyle swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who at the tender age of 19 was supposedly in Beijing to gain experience for a serious crack at gold in four years' time.
Instead, the bubbly blonde is preparing to defend titles at both the 400m and 800m in London and is now a celebrity in her home town of Mansfield, where a local hostelry has been renamed the Adlington Arms. Another new title, Dame Rebecca, will surely follow to mark her achievement of emulating the now Dame Kelly Holmes in Athens four years ago. A British woman winning one gold medal in the pool is a rarity - Anita Lonsborough was the nation's previous heroine way back in 1960 - winning two borders on the sensational.
The only blot on a British copybook was in the Bird's Nest Stadium where a comparatively paltry four medals were won. Only Christine Ohuruogu struck gold and even that was tarnished by the 400m runner serving a 12-month suspension for missing three drugs tests two years ago. Ohuruogu insisted after becoming Britain's 50th gold medallist in track and field that she does not care what people think or say. She should care and ensure that her reputation is never damaged again.
If Britain can maintain their level of success in the sports that were rewarding in Beijing, and re-establish themselves as an athletics nation, then the hosts of 2012 can expect to be as overjoyed as the hosts of 2008 who injected so much more time and money into their Olympiad of domination. email@example.com