Andy Murray's win at the US Open ended a 76-year men's Grand Slam wait, while Bradley Wiggins's Tour de France victory and Mo Farah's Olympic distance double were firsts for Britain.
Add historic performances from the dressage and showjumping teams at the Olympics and you have a memorable summer where Britons ended long-standing sporting droughts for their country.
But what other sporting monkeys does Britain need to get off its back, and what are our chances of claiming those elusive major wins?
EVENTS BRITAIN HASN'T WON IN A LONG, LONG TIME
Men's World Cup (last win in 1966)
The last (and only) British men's team to win the World Cup was England in 1966, as if we needed reminding. Before that, Wales and Northern Ireland both made the quarter-finals in 1958, with the Northern Irish reaching the 'second group stage' (also the last eight) in 1982. Scotland have never got out of the group stage. Post '66, England have made the quarters four times, five if you include '82. That appears to be our level, with the football cultures of Brazil, Argentina and new kings Spain boasting superior technique, while Germany and Italy have smarter tactics and organisation (and probably technique too). It's not all doom and gloom — tagged serial chokers, Spain won their first World Cup just two years ago, and have sandwiched that with back-to-back Euros triumphs. Our women, meanwhile, won the 1985 and 1988 World Cups, before FIFA got involved and continued their anti-English conspiracy (only kidding). Hurrah for girls!
What are Britain's chances of breaking the hoodoo?
Not great, but not beyond us. It all rests on England though as small talent pools and weak domestic leagues have rendered the other Home Nations also-rans at qualification. The Three Lions flopped at the last World Cup, with much of their failure attributed to extreme pressure placed on players by fans and media. However, there is a clear technical deficit due to a kick-and-rush culture, highlighted when lowered expectations helped England at the last Euros, only to be outplayed by Italy in the quarters. Until this long-term problem in development is solved, a win is unlikely, although the FA have started rectifying the issue with a new technical program.
Davis Cup (last win in 1936)
There are no two ways about it — Andy Murray is a freak. No other British male can hold a candle to the Scot, who is comfortably the best player from these isles in the post-war era. It is fitting that the last Grand Slam singles win by a British man came in 1936: Fred Perry's boys also won our ninth and last team event that year. Since then our best finish was second in 1978, with the United States and Australia picking up most post-war titles and Spain leading the way in recent years.
Chances that Murray leads us to glory?
Slim in the long-term, and none right now, as we are in the second division. It was worse a few years back though — captain Leon Smith masterminded promotion from the third tier and almost reached the top group but for a play-off defeat to Belgium. Tennis is an individual sport, but the Davis Cup is a team game and Murray cannot carry a nation whose other top players lie outside the top 100. Murray is an exception, not the rule, with Britain incapable of creating more than one decent pro per generation in recent decades — Greg Rusedski was born and trained in Canada. Spain and Serbia, who boast a Grand Slam winner apiece and a host of solid pros, should dominate for a while to come, with Russia, France and the US all sniffing around.
World Cup (last win 1972)
Given so few nations play rugby league to a good level, it seems almost inexcusable that Britain has not won a World Cup in this sport in 40 years. However, there is a reason for this — it is effectively the national sport in Australia, who have won six of the subsequent seven trophies, while rugby union's entry to the professional ranks signalled a haemorrhaging of British talent to the more popular code of the oval ball.
Despite Australian dominance and New Zealand's emergence after winning in 2008, Britain does have a chance in the future, but it will likely involve some cricket-style ANZAC-poaching. A sturdy professional system and continued popularity in the north of England mean a strong league culture still exists, while many southern hemisphere players mimic their compatriots in other fields by plying their trade in the UK. We are still some way behind the Aussies and Kiwis, while the decision to break GB into its component nations will inevitably reduce the talent pool. As such, England will be in the hunt to reach the latter stages of future World Cups, with victory only a win or two away from the current squad. It will be tough for the others.
Riders' championship (1977); Grand Prix race (1981)
Can a Briton win a MotoGP race?
Yes. While many Superbike stars have failed to master the smaller bikes, Cal Crutchlow has shown great promise after switching categories last season and is a tip for the top. The waning of Valentino Rossi's talents have made for a more open championship, with 2011 champion Casey Stoner lagging well behind Spain's Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, none of whom seem to be among the all-time greats. Despite suffering a broken ankle in June, Crutchlow is fifth in the rider standings and has six more races this season, having made the podium in his last race.
And the championship?
Not this year. A much tougher proposition for Crutchlow than a race win, but provided he gets a good machine he could be in with a chance in future seasons.
Men's All-England Open Championship (1939)
The annual English Open badminton event was dominated by English and Irish men until it was halted for the Second World War. Since play resumed in 1947 Britain has not even had a finalist. It has been dominated by South East Asian athletes, mostly Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian, with Danes and Indians putting in decent showings. That has reflected the nature of the men's sport — the male doubles boasts a similar drought and similar Asian dominance — although Britain has had women's singles and doubles champions up to 1981, while the mixed doubles (2005) saw our most recent badminton success thanks to the famous duo of Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson.
Can Britain break the Chinese spell?
Almost certainly not — badminton is following table tennis in becoming an Asian-dominated sport, with clubs and participation at record highs in Chinese territories. Small-scale racquet sports are national pastimes, much like golf on the British Isles, and it shows no sign of changing.
EVENTS BRITAIN HASN'T WON — EVER
One Day International World Cup
Probably the most surprising British drought, considering England have won numerous Ashes and are ranked number one in the ODI format after drawing the latest series with South Africa. Why have we not won an ODI World Cup? Well, Australia are historically just better at one-day cricket than anyone else, while the Asian subcontinent sides also enjoy smashing it about, not to mention toying with English batsmen on their funny wickets. England have traditionally focused on Test cricket, although the emergence of the spectator-friendly (and cash-rich) T20 format of the game has changed that somewhat — England won that World Cup event two years ago, and converted that form to the one-day game. Best finishes have been runners-up in 1979, 1987 and 1992.
Can our boys bring home the bacon?
Not on current form, but the talent certainly exists provided the team is suitably shaken-up following the debacle of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss. There is a touch of randomness about the one-day format, and England do not appear to take it as seriously as Test or the highly marketable T20 versions, but if they get their house in order they have as good a chance as any for the 2015 World Cup and the 2019 edition, which will be hosted by England and Wales (who have a combined cricket board). Scotland have no chance, alas.
Britain is an island nation with a history of fantastic sailors, most recently shown at the last Olympics, and of course the all-time great Ben Ainslie (more on him later). The America's Cup, however, is more about money than match racing. This may seem like a controversial statement, but — unlike sailing in its purest form — it is a yachting event, with huge multi-million dollar boats and multinational teams that often feature playboy financiers and the odd celeb alongside hardened sportsmen and women. Qualification is also difficult — the defending champions race against a sole challenger, which is decided after the gruelling Louis Vuitton Cup of qualifying races. There have been British sailors aboard winning boats, and a few unsuccessful British challenger projects, but this event has been dominated by Americans since they won the opening edition in the 19th century, with Swiss, Australian, Kiwi and Italian-financed boats also faring well.
Can Britain convert Olympic dominance to this event?
No British men's side has ever won the Euros. Given it is widely-regarded as a tougher competition than the World Cup due to the lack of weaker teams from Oceania, Asia, North America and Africa, it's not hard to see why. England have flown the flag for Britain for the most part — Scotland have only qualified twice, going out in the group stages both times, while Wales and Northern Ireland have never made the finals. England's Euros record is similar to their World Cup record as, while they have never won it, they have reached the semi-finals twice, coming third in 1968 and 1996. This championship has been dominated by Germany and, more recently, Spain, while France, Italy, the Czechs and the former Soviet Union have put in good showings. As with the World Cup, the women have fared better, beaten finalists in 2009.
What are our chances?
Not as improbable as people would like to think: even though the standard of teams is higher than a World Cup, history suggests it is possible to cause an upset. The tournament has seen some shock victors in the past, most notably wildcards Denmark in 1992. A jobbing team with a solid defence and a few stars in good form can go on a magical run and, with some luck in the penalty shoot-outs, anything is possible. England are hampered by their failure to deal with pressure, congenital weakness at spot-kicks, and a general lack of skill, but Greece were far weaker and they did alright in 2004! The current Spain team shows no sign of weakening, as the academies of Barcelona and Real Madrid feed ready-made internationals into the senior set-up, but they are beatable, as even England have shown. Also, there are no Brazil or Argentina to worry about.
World Cup (men and women)
Much like football, the modern form of field hockey was developed in England yet Britain underachieve on a global scale. However, similar games have existed in other countries for millennia and — despite a hockey culture in certain schools and regions of the country — we have never been a consistent major force in the world game, partly because we compete as the four individual Home Nations. Our best finishes have been by England's men and women, who have come second and third respectively in 1986 and 2010. Those relative successes were amplified by United GB teams at subsequent Olympics, with Britain's men winning a shock gold at Seoul in 1988 and the women doing well to claim bronze in London. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are weak sides on their own, while England are currently semi-final contenders at best.
Can England improve and win a World Cup?
- Sports & Recreation