The British cyclist Bradley Wiggins has found different uses for his gold medals since winning two of them on the track at the Beijing Olympic Games. The medals have seen strangers accost him in the street, have been used as playthings by his two children and have even helped him escape a spot of bother with the Chinese authorities.
Wiggins was out celebrating his triumphs with a night out in the Chinese capital when things did not go entirely to plan. "I'd had a few drinks and came out of this nightclub in Beijing and thought it'd be a good idea to roll over a few car bonnets, Dukes of Hazzard style," he said. "I thought it was a great crack but sadly the Chinese authorities didn't agree. "No one would have batted an eyelid if it'd been in London [where Wiggins was born and brought up] but this Beijing police officer wasn't so keen. Thankfully, I took out my gold medals - I was carrying them with me as I was catching an early-morning flight back home - and he let me off."
The 28-year-old cyclist has been repeatedly asked to get his medals out since his return home for a welcome that he described as being "in a different league to four years ago" when he returned from the Athens Olympics with a gold, silver and bronze. "People barely registered me four years ago," he said, "but now it's all a bit mental. The recognition's been great and varied. I've had some people shout 'legend' at me in the street and I sort of embarrassingly wave back and say 'thanks'.
With all this adulation, however, one thing has taken a massive back seat - his cycling. Since going for his third gold in the madison in Beijing on Aug 19 - he and British teammate Mark Cavendish ended up a disappointing eighth - Wiggins has not even ridden his bike. And he readily admits that is not exactly perfect preparation for the Tour of Britain where he will be the undoubted star attraction.
"I'm not going to be in the best shape," he said. "All the celebrating has taken its toll a bit. But to be perfectly honest the Tour of Britain isn't a massive bike race for me. Most importantly, it's a chance to thank all the fans who supported me en route to winning the golds in Beijing." Team GB's success on the track was one of the stories of the Games, although their seven gold medals ended up being one shy of swimmer Michael Phelps's eight-gold tally.
Wiggins himself had gone into the Olympics with the object of winning three golds - in the individual and team pursuits, and the madison. And despite winning two golds, he said he had returned home with a tinge of disappointment. "The strongest feeling I've had since Beijing is a sense of relief. I'd been the man to beat in the individual pursuit and us Brits were No 1 in the team pursuit, so those were our golds to lose. Thankfully that didn't happen.
"The other sense though was of disappointment. I'd wanted three golds but I didn't quite get that." Wiggins has already committed to the individual and team pursuit at the 2012 Games in London and could even make the 2016 Olympics, by which time he'll be 36. "Before too long, all my focus will be working on going for gold in front of my home crowd in London in four years time," he said. For now, he intends to spend time with his wife and children and enjoy his post-Beijing celebrations.
"Hopefully I'll be forgiven for a little celebrating," he said. "Before this, I can't remember the last time I let my hair down. As professional cyclists, we don't have normal birthdays and Christmases where we can eat, drink and have fun. Everything's always closely monitored and for now that's not the case, and I'm enjoying it." firstname.lastname@example.org