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What chronic winners, those Brits

November 4, 2008 |  7:15 pm

Andy Murray

Across recent decades, British pundits and citizens have perfected the noble art of self-mockery. They've revealed a thick national skin and a tough national hide as they observed chronic defeat from their sports figures and teams and lavished praise upon gallantry-in-setback. It became routine to view the nation as sporting losers, harmless, possibly even lovable.

Look now.

They ratcheted their Olympic medal haul from 30 in Athens 2004 to 47 in Beijing 2008, and in the big picture, their gold haul from one in Atlanta 1996 to 19 in Beijing 2008.

They have produced a Scottish-born, English-residing tennis powerhouse in Andy Murray, who stands No. 4 in the world even as savants prepare to watch him nibble toward No. 3 Novak Djokovic at an Australian Open where Djokovic must defend champion's points while Murray can leap from a 2008 first-round loss. It's perfectly uncrazy to suggest that next year or the next or the next, Murray will cease their long male hopelessness at their very own Wimbledon, which would count among those proverbial Things You Never Thought You'd See In Your Lifetime.

Joe Calzaghe, their Welsh boxer whose father-and-trainer pillories the losing-is-OK British sports mind-set, remained a titan by beating Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas in the spring.

And now, it's clear they've produced quite possibly the best driver on the planet, with Lewis Hamilton winning Formula One at age 23 -- youngest ever -- by coolly slipping from the heartbreak of sixth place to a title-winning fifth around the last two corners in an epic finish in Brazil.

Not only that, but seeing as how the national passion, the soccer team, hasn't reached a World Cup final match since 1966 and has graced only one World Cup semifinal since that title year, and seeing as how needling the national club became a national pastime, it's almost bizarre how clearheadedly they're playing these days under first-year Manager Fabio Capello. The whole upswing almost makes you think that in South Africa in 2010 . . .

Well . . .


-- Chuck Culpepper

Photo: Andy Murray reacts during his quarterfinal match at the Paris Tennis Masters tournament against David Nalbandian of Argentina on Oct. 31. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press Photo