By Chris Longo and Colin Brown
LONDON, UK — Just a few months ago, Bradley Wiggins was known almost exclusively within cycling circles. Andy Murray was already well known outside of tennis circles.
At the London Olympics, however, the roles have reversed – at least for now.
After a historic Tour De France victory two weeks ago, Wiggins became the first Brit to win the world’s most famous cycling race. Wiggins turned Great Britain’s growing cycling craze into full blown hysteria Wednesday by taking gold in the Men’s Time Trial race. The 44K course was completed in 50 minutes and 39 seconds, good for Wiggins 7th Olympic medal, the most ever for a British athlete. Wiggins’ victory in London has cemented his legacy as one of the country’s most decorated Olympians ever and could potentially be the defining moment of the games for the home country.
“That was the best British athletic performance of all-time,” said Gerry Bruton of London. Since the Tour De France finished a week before the Olympics, many fans have merged the two events as one shining athletic achievement.
Just a few weeks before, a teary-eyed Andy Murray was faced with the burden of trying to become the first Brit since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon. He had to address a packed Centre Court crowd after he bowed out in finals to Roger Federer.
“There are mixed emotions,” said Murray. “Most of them are negative. The reaction from the crowd was great. I felt like I was playing for the nation and I couldn’t quite do it.”
Murray, born in Scotland, has been criticized in Great Britain since he made anti-England football comments a few years back. A magical run to the finals at Wimbledon, coupled with Murray’s emotional post-match interview has revived his image, but when it comes to national heroes, Wiggins still takes the crown.“[After winning gold] Wiggins cycled back down to greet the real fans, not the wealthy at the finish line,” said cycling fan Jenny Roe. “He has the common touch. [Wiggins] is a London boy so he’s like a local hero.”
For Murray, a guy who has been on the brink of greatness so many times, a chance at beating Federer for a gold medal at Wimbledon could define his career. The Olympics aren’t a Grand Slam and nobody pretends it is. On a stage where Murray has faced as much adversity and scrutiny as any tennis player has ever had to endure, a victory at the All-England Club would be a second chance at redemption.
Murray will get another crack at a title on grass and on Sunday he’ll make a case for the best moment of the 2012 games for Great Britain, but for now it’s Wiggins — a pioneer for the sport of cycling in his home country — who stands alone as the late-summer hero.