LONDON – It was a glorious night for British athletics.
The 80,000 spectators at Olympic Stadium and millions watching around the nation will never forget what they saw.
Within a remarkable hour of competition, Greg Rutherford captured Great Britain’s first Olympic men’s long jump medal since Lynn Davies won the gold at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Jessica Ennis won the women’s heptathlon and Somali-born Mo Farah brought the crowd to its feet with a sensational closing to take home the gold in the men’s 10,000-meter race.
“What a night for British athletics, three gold medals out of a possible three,” declared Rutherford, who had a top jump of 8.31 meters on his fourth attempt in the final round.
Overall, Britain had six gold medals for its best Olympic day in more than 100 years.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in properly,” added Rutherford. “I knew I wanted to be an athlete and I knew I wanted to be an Olympic champion.
“I might wake up in a minute.”
He would’ve had no chance to catch a few moments of shut eye while sitting in the crowd. The crowd was incredibly loud and excited.
Farah defeated a star-studded cast of distance runners in the 10,000, dethroning two-time Olympic champ Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who placed fourth in 27 minutes, 32.44 seconds, while Tariku Bekele, his younger brother, secured the bronze for the East African nation in 27:31.43.
In a pulse-rising finish for the ages, the race for the 10,000 title came down to Farah and Galen Rupp, his training partner in Oregon.
Farah made his move on the final stretch and in the final 200 meters outran Rupp, the Bekele brothers, fifth-place finisher Bedan Karoki Muchiri of Kenya and Eritreans Zersenay Tadese and Teklemariam Medhin. It was a tactically smart decision, and sparked a rising tide of cheers as the finish line grew closer.
When it was over, the 29-year-old Farah, physically drained and covered in sweat, collapsed to the track and kissed it. He got up a few seconds later and embraced Rupp, who finished in 27:30.90.
“I can’t believe it,” said Farah, who posed for photographs with his young daughter, Rhianna, and his pregnant wife, Tania, who is expecting twins. “The crowd was getting louder and louder.”
“These Olympics don’t come (around) often,” he added. “It’s the best moment of my life. Thanks everyone for their support from my childhood. It means so much me to me.”
The 10,000, 25 laps in total, is a race that requires great will, skill and patience. The great ones cement their status at the end of races. The final lap is the true mark of greatness.
Tadese, Eritrea’s top finisher, was in front at the 3,000-, 4,000-, 5,000- and 6,000-meter marks. Kenya’s Moses Ndiema Masai, who finished 12th overall, was the leader at 7,000 (19:32.58) and 8,000 (22:15.49).
Farah’s fabulous finish was not unexpected.
“We knew that he always runs with the same pace up to the last lap,” Tariku Bekele said. “We knew that he has a strong finishing ability, so there was nothing surprising there. He did what he normally does.
“It was because of the failure of our plan and tactic that we didn’t win the race.”
“To run up to 5,000 meters as slow as possible,” the bronze medalist said, “and make it fast in the second phase of the race.”
Farah has speed to burn, but used it wisely — and at the right time.
“I stayed patient and worked my way through (the pack),” he said. “Then I made my move and came home strong.”
While some athletes struggle in the spotlight, others shine before a home crowd.
“People say there’s pressure being in a home Olympics, but I don’t think there’s pressure,” said Farah, who has also trained in Kenya. “They (the crowd) give you a big lift, that buzz. You have to use that crowd and that made the difference for sure.”
“To be Olympic champion right on your doorstep is the best moment of my life and to see my wife and daughter on the track was incredible.”
A broken foot kept Ennis, the pride of Sheffield, England, out of the 2008 Beijing Games. This time, she dominated in impressive fashion to triumph in the ultimate test of women’s track and field — seven running, jumping and throwing events over two days.
In Friday’s competition, she had the fastest time in the 100-meter hurdles (12.54 seconds), the fifth-best mark in the high jump (1.86 meters), the eight-best shot put throw (14.28 meters) and the second-quickest time in the 200 (22.83 seconds). That put her in the lead with 4,158 total points.
On Saturday, she was second in the long jump (6.48 meters) and 10th in the javelin throw (47.49 meters), and led by 188 points entering the final event. A strong finish over Russian Tatyana Chernova to close out the last lap carried her to a victory in the 800 (2:08.65) and the elusive gold medal in the process.
Ennis amassed 6,955 points. Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf took the silver after initially being disqualified in the 800, but an appeal over a lane violation changed the results. She had 6,649 points.
“Unbelievable. L. Schwarzkopf has a medal after all. The officials confused her (with another runner) and mistakenly disqualified her,” a German Olympic Committee official wrote on Twitter, according to German media reports. Chernova claimed the bronze in 6,628. Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Yosypenko was relegated from third place to 14th when Schwarzkopf was issued the bronze.
For Ennis, the night had a surreal quality to it.
“I am so shocked I can’t believe it,” said the photogenic Ennis, who has major endorsement deals associated with the Olympics. “After javelin, I didn’t let myself believe it. After all the hard work and disappointment of Beijing, everyone has supported me so much. They said ‘go for another four years.’ I’ve done that.”
“I’m going to savor the moment.”
British tabloid headlines screamed with “Girl Power” headlines or similar themes throughout the week, and Ennis was the subject of dozens of big stories here. Those will surely increase.
Also Saturday, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was in control for the entire women’s 100 en route to her second straight Olympic gold in the event.
Fraser-Pryce was clocked in 10.75, followed by American Carmelita Jeter, the 2011 world champion, in a season-best 10.78, and Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown in 10.81. Allyson Felix of the United States, who opted for the 100-200 combination in London after competing in the 200 and 400 in Beijing, placed fifth in 10.89
“It’s completely different to Beijing because there I was inexperienced, I was young and I never believed I could win” said Fraser-Pryce, the third woman to win the 100 in back-to-back Olympics after Wyomia Tus (1964 and ’68) and Gail Devers (1992 and ’96), describing her feelings about the victory.
The Jamaican champ now sets her sights on the 200.
“I came here on a mission and it hasn’t been completed yet. Let’s see what will happen,” Fraser-Pryce said.
Said Jeter: “It was a power-filled final. . . . It was a tough race. I gave it my all. I got a medal at the Olympics. It feels so good. The crowd was live and my family are all here. It means a lot to me.”
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic won the women’s discus with a top throw of 69.11 meters, a national record.