WIMBLEDON, England – About 400 miles north of London, a pretty little town with a tragic past celebrated the finest hour of its favorite son on Sunday.
Andy Murray's magnificent victory over Roger Federer to clinch the Olympic men's tennis gold medal is the highlight of a career that is so far devoid of a Grand Slam title but is now adorned with something that might mean even more to him.
And while Murray climbed up into the stands to celebrate with his coaching staff and family, the town of Dunblane was – in the best possible way – going absolutely nuts.
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"It has been unbelievable," bartender John Marr, who was working a shift at the popular Village Inn pub, told Yahoo! Sports by phone. "People have been singing and dancing and celebrating like you wouldn't believe. Everyone is proud of him; it is a magical moment."
Murray has a dry yet infectious sense of humor and is one of the more popular players on the ATP tour. Yet he harbors the pain of an awful past, one that, while not a secret, is a subject he is loath to discuss. Dunblane was changed forever on the morning of March 13, 1996, when 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton burst into the local primary school with four handguns and opened fire into several classrooms packed with children aged between 5 and 11.
Murray, then 8 years old, and his brother Jamie were both students at the school and hid in the gymnasium with other children as Hamilton went on a rampage. The carnage ended with Hamilton's suicide, but not before he had claimed the lives of 16 children and a female teacher. The horror shocked the entire nation and is sometimes called "Britain's Columbine."
Apart from mentioning in his autobiography that he attended a youth group run by Hamilton, and that his mother Judy had offered the man lifts in her car, Murray rarely discusses the topic. However, it is believed by many that when Murray looks to the skies after the most significant of his victories he is remembering the victims.
"I think deep within him he did want to do something to put Dunblane on the map for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons," Murray's grandmother Shelley Erskine said. "Here was a village that was famous for its deaths. Gradually we have become famous for something else."
Dunblane has waited for Murray to find glory ever since he burst through into tennis's top ranks as a teenager. Four Grand Slam final defeats, three of them to Federer, were as painful for them as they were for the 25-year-old. The most recent, at Wimbledon 28 days ago, saw the emotion spill out as Murray shed tears while he was interviewed on Centre Court.
Yet on Sunday he was back, returning to the same arena against the same opponent, and rewrote the story.
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Federer was a little off, perhaps drained somewhat from his remarkable semifinal against Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Novak Djokovic to clinch the bronze medal on Sunday. The Swiss master had to dig deep to pull out his semifinal victory with a 19-17 third set. Forty-eight hours later, he lacked the usual sap in his legs and sting on his shots.
It may not have made any difference, though. Murray played the match of his life in front of a crowd the likes of which Wimbledon has never seen before. Forget the typically genteel environment in this quaint part of west London. On this afternoon, the revelers resembled a soccer crowd instead of an afternoon tea party.
Murray hit Federer like a sledgehammer, bursting into an early lead and never letting his stranglehold on the match slip. He tore through the opening set, winning it 6-2, with Federer struggling to find an answer to his crushing ground strokes.
When Federer let slip a swath of break points early in the second set, it gave Murray even more confidence. He cruised to a 6-1 victory and moved within touching distance of the gold medal. The third set was closer. Federer was tired, but there was no way a man who had won a Grand Slam on these hallowed lawns on seven different occasions was going to give in without a fight. The critical moment came when Murray broke Federer then served out the contest with impressive composure.
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"I played a really good match," said Murray, who was attempting to go for a second gold less than an hour later when he partnered with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles final. "That is No.1 for me, the biggest win of my life. It is a sweet feeling, incredible.
"This was a lot of fun. It is a lot better winning a final than losing one. I didn't expect this at the start of the week, though I knew I had a chance to go deep. I felt so fresh, I didn't feel nervous really. It was worth it. I've had a lot of tough losses in my career, but this is the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final."
Whatever this means for Murray's career remains to be seen, but this was an afternoon that will never be forgotten. Not by him, nor the jubilant British public – and especially not by the town that rejoices in this glorious victory, 16 years after its darkest hour.
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