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The greatest night in the history of British sport

For those of us born and raised in Great Britain sporting disappointment is something all too familiar. Too often we let ourselves buy into the media hype and get carried away only to feel that well-known sense of utter deflation when we come up short. However, for one magical night on the 4th August 2012, our tiny island of 60 million people took on the world… and won!

The stadium announcer in London called it ‘the greatest hour in the history of British athletics,’ while the BBC’s Brendan Foster opted for ‘the most exciting day in British athletics history.’ I would go one step further and say that it was the greatest chapter in the history of British sport full stop as three of our athletes won gold medals in front of a home crowd in the world’s biggest sporting event.

Superstar heptathlete Jessica Ennis (who The Sunday Times’ Chief Sports Writer David Walsh today accurately describes as ‘the nation’s favourite woman’) started the gold rush when she produced a barnstorming 800 metres to win her race and the gold medal by a whopping 306 point margin. Nobody has had to deal with more pressure in the run up to the games than Ennis. Her status as an elite performer in her sport, combined with her affable personality and photogenic appearance, meant that she became the face of the London games and carried the nation’s hopes on her slight shoulders. In short, Ennis was expected to win gold.

Jessica Ennis: The nation’s golden girl (This image is the property of AP)

She handled the pressure brilliantly, setting personal bests and entertaining the adoring crowd across two days of intense competition. She can now call herself the Olympic champion and the nation could not be happier for any athlete. She is surely a shoe-in for Sports Personality of the Year and may yet compete for gold in the 100m hurdles. Her time in the hurdles event of the heptathlon would have won gold in Beijing four years ago, so if she does decide to go for double glory, don’t write off her chances.

While Ennis was preparing to start her 800 metres race, Milton Keynes’s Greg Rutherford was about to take his fourth round jump in the final of the long jump. He was leading the competition with a distance of 8.21m but his fourth round jump saw him go out to 8.31m, just 4 cm short of his British record. Jumper after jumper went without threatening Rutherford’s mark and just minutes after the nation’s golden girl was crowned Olympic champion, Britain had won a second gold.

Rutherford’s gold was much more of a surprise than Ennis’s and sent the crowd in to an even greater frenzy (and me watching in my living room). TeamGB was on fire. Next up: Mo Farah in the 10,000m.

Farah has always been seen as something of a nearly man but his 5000m gold in last year’s World Championships in Daegu gave us all hope that he might win a gold on home soil. There was stiff competition in the form of Ethiopia’s Bekele brothers and the pressure was on to follow Ennis and Rutherford. Could the Londoner deliver?

It was certainly one of the strangest 10,000m races I can ever remember watching and in commentary Brendan Foster described it as ‘a race without a plan.’ The lap times were all over the place and nobody seemed to want to take it on. With 600 metres to go the race was anyone’s and that is when Farah started to make his move. He lengthened his stride, upped his leg churn and went. The Kenyan Masai attempted to go with him as did the Ethiopians, but Mo would not be denied as he streaked down the home straight to glory and a place in British sporting history.

Three gold medals in an exhilarating 47 minutes in the Olympic Stadium: what a night to be British.

Categories: Athletics
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