Michael Brown: Wiggins kickstarts London Olympics

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Cyclist Bradley Wiggins has worn yellow for much of the past fortnight and it's a colour not to dissimilar to the one many Brits expect to see over the next fortnight at the Olympic Games.

Wiggo, as he is affectionately known in a country where cycling is becoming increasingly popular, has done something most Olympic marketers couldn't hope to achieve. His win in the Tour de France, the first Brit to achieve the feat in the race's 109-year history, has sparked an incredible wave of patriotism that will carry into the Games.

Prime Minister David Cameron has labelled it one of Britain's greatest sporting achievements and many are calling for Wiggins not only to be knighted but to also light the Olympic flame.

We were even told rather breathlessly today in the lead story on the BBC TV morning news that Wiggins was returning to Blighty to get "back on his bike at a secret location" to prepare for Sunday's (NZT) Olympic road race.

He's not likely to win that race, working instead for Mark Cavendish, but is among the favourites for the time trial four days later.

Cycling is expected to deliver a number of the 48 medals Great Britain are targeting in London.

They are the dominant cycling nation alongside Australia led, of course, by four-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy who will carry the British flag at the opening ceremony.

Britain won 47 medals in Beijing, which placed them fourth behind China, the US and Russia, and they want to be among the top four again in their home Olympics. Our Greatest Team, they are being labelled this time.

It's a lofty slogan for lofty ambitions but it's not hyperbole. There has been a considerable cost, however.

More than 300 million pounds of lottery funding has been pumped into Olympic sports since 2008 in the hope of delivering medals and funding has increased exponentially since Britain won only one gold by rowers Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

It would help make the Games if the home team are successful. Londoners can be prickly at times but they are, on the whole, starting to embrace these Olympics.

Many are being ridiculously friendly in an unnerving sort of way - travellers here will know a very different place - with offers of help and welcome never far away.

The arrival of the sun after a dreadfully wet summer has helped immeasurably and Wiggins has also helped that sunny disposition.

It doesn't mean there aren't gripes, a national pastime here. Many resent the Olympics terribly because of the cost and the fact it is nothing more than a big-corporate money spinner that is anathema to the Olympic ideals, and many more are angry after missing out on tickets to events.

One of the latest outrages is over the fact thousands of army personnel have been drafted in to help with security after the contracted company failed to recruit enough staff and it also doesn't help that border officials plan to strike on Thursday.

But achievements like the one by Wiggins will transcend all that. He has the common touch.

"We're just gonna draw the raffle now," he said as he opened his winner's speech on the Champs Elysees with chants of "Wiggo, Wiggo" in the background.

"Have a safe journey home. Don't get too drunk," he said as he signed off.

Most Brits plan to swill plentifully from their expected success over the next fortnight.

APNZ mb lb


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