08/08/2012 01:03 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Column: British athletes sit down so they can stand tall on the Olympic medals podium

LONDON - Have a seat, Britain. You might not like what you're about to hear.

Those 22 gold medals at the Olympics so far?

More than two-thirds were won sitting down. And that's not counting a 17th collected by not moving at all (shooting).

So what about the 48 total, the best haul by a British team since the 1908 London Games?

Well, by the close of play Tuesday night, 29 of those — or 62 per cent — were won while your athletes, like the audience looking on from the sofa, were glued to their seats.

So maybe it's a good thing the International Olympic Committee limits the national anthems played during the medal ceremonies to 80 seconds. Otherwise, almost none of the locals would still be on their feet by the end of all those renditions of "God Save The Queen."

It sounded like a joke when a 2009 study found that one in six Britons were so lazy, they'd continue watching a show they weren't interested in rather than get up and search for the remote. But maybe they were simply in training for the London Games.

Canoeing, rowing and sailing — Britannia still rules the waves in those Olympic pursuits (see chart below), holding the outright medal lead in the last two and tied in the first.

But put a pair of wheels under the seat and the home team zooms away from the rest of the world. Britain has eight golds and 12 medals total in cycling; no other country has more than five. In fact, the only sitting-down sport the British haven't dominated is equestrian, where they have the same number of gold medals — two — but one fewer than the Germans' total of four.

Through Aug. 7


Canoe Slalom 1102

Cycling Road 1113

Cycling Track 7119

Equestrian 2103

Rowing 4239

Sailing 1203

Total 168529

Saturday night provided the moment the nation only dared dream of when London was awarded these games seven years ago. In a 44-minute span beginning at 9:02 p.m. local time inside a packed Olympic Stadium, three track and field stalwarts — heptathlete Jessica Ennis, long jumper Greg Rutherford and distance runner Mo Farah — won half the day's dizzying take of six golds.

"Team GB's gluttonous desire for gold shows no sign of being sated," London Mayor Boris Johnson said. "Their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country, if not the planet."

But instead of swaying side to side while singing along to the Beatles "All You Need is Love" in celebration, the 80,000 or so fans inside should have remained rooted to their seats. What better way, after all, to pay tribute to the three golds won earlier the same day by their compatriots in cycling (women's team pursuit) and rowing (women's lightweight double sculls and men's fours).

And by the time "Super Saturday" gave way to "Terrific Tuesday," it was Britain's not-entirely-sedentary sportsmen meriting most of the standing ovations. Of the eight medals collected on the day, they claimed five: two golds and a silver in cycling, a third gold in equestrian; and another silver in sailing.

None was more cherished than the sixth gold won by cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, which gave him one more than rower Sir Steve Redgrave. Whether Hoy will similarly supplant him as the nation's most cherished Olympian is another story. Redgrave was much admired for his work ethic and stoic demeanour, which helped him persevere during some of Britain's leanest Olympic years, including the 1996 Atlanta Games.

There, Redgrave partnered with Matthew Pinsent in coxless pairs to win his fourth and Britain's only gold medal, then famously announced his retirement this way: "I hereby give permission to anybody who catches me in a boat again to shoot me."

Of course, Redgrave changed his mind four months later, competed in Sydney and won his fifth.

Like most of his countryman, apparently, he was loathe to give up a good seat.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at