The 4th of August 2012 AD
Some of our newspapers, perhaps inevitably, went over the top, The Observer leading with the line that it was Britain’s greatest day - the remaining veterans of D-Day and VE Day have a right to raise an eyebrow at that idea. But it was surely our greatest in sporting terms: Super Saturday, when Great Britain took six Olympic golds in a daze of action, three of them remarkably in Track and Field.
We have been mocked by sporting rivals quick to say the Brits are only good at events where competitors are sitting down. Well, yes and no: on this day the first three wins were in rowing and cycling, but the next three were very much done standing up – or even flying.
Super Saturday did begin with our men’s coxless four winning gold (for the fourth games in a row by the way – now that is dominance). This crew for the record comprised Pete Reed , Andy Triggs-Hodge , Tom James and Alex Gregory , delight at their success augmented for some of us because they edged our less-than-local but dearest sporting rivals Australia out. During the Olympics we all become instant experts on technical events we may never have tried, but watching this shut up even the worst armchair critic: the rhythmic grace of the strokes, and the evident massive upper body strength of the rowers combining hypnotically.
The waters of Eton Dorney saw the second gold of the day not long afterwards, and perhaps the most memorable one-liner of the entire London Olympics: ‘We’re going to be on a stamp tomorrow,’ as Katherine Copeland put it, one half of the women’s lightweight double skulls pairing, the other Sophie Hosking . Their win was something of a surprise, beating more fancied rivals including world champs Greece, and pulling back from an unpromising position to win well with a sprint of raw determination. And somehow they had enough energy left to celebrate with gusto on their matchstick-narrow boat, hugs, whoops and smiles wider than their faces looked able to accommodate.
Next contribution to this most memorable of sporting days came in the velodrome, the women’s pursuit trio of Dani King , Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell grabbing gold. This time the win was not unexpected, the team having set a new world record in the first round of the event. They duly shaved some more time off that, with a winning margin of more than five seconds over nearest rival USA. Magic wheels according to the French, piqued. Magic legs more like – and with all three of the women under 23 they have probably not yet peaked.
And now the venue changed to the big one, and with all due respect to the athletes competing in other sports, still the most significant one – the athletics arena. It was party time, and like all good parties as the evening wore on it accelerated in intensity – and fun.
Had Jessica Ennis not won gold it would definitely have taken the shine off things. She is hard to dislike, and it is surely not worth the effort: hers is a winning combination of friendly, bubbly, and steely. In Jessica’s event, the heptathlon, many of her rivals are Amazons, six-footers with bulging biceps. Ennis is by comparison tiny, 5’ 4”, and slender too. But then you look at the definition of her stomach muscles and know this is an athlete. The other clue of course is that she is world class at the 110m hurdles, a quality long-jumper, and pretty damn good at the rest of the events. Her 800m performance wining her race and making completely certain of gold was a joy to watch – she was not going to come second after so many disappointments, injury in Beijing not the least of them.
The next gold for Team-GB came from long jumper Greg Rutherford , an athlete plagued by injury over his career. We were made to sweat for this one. In truth it was not the best long jump competition in history, never putting records in danger. But it was a competition, with nobody in the final ever out of it. Rutherford took the lead in the second round with 8.21m, which was never bettered by the field, though he added another 10cm with his fourth round leap. So he finished a very clear 15cm in front of his nearest – yes, Australian – rival who had a best of 8.16m on the day. The ginger kid wins!
How could things possibly get better? Through Mo Farah . We knew of course that he was a fine long-distance athlete, a current world champion indeed. But the 10,000m is a strange race, sometimes tactical, sometimes an out-and-out speed trial, and often packed with elbowing, nudging and shin-slicing. There was a bit of that to be sure, but Farah never looked in real trouble. It was not the best time of his life, but surely the best race. He eased into the correct position, never lost touch, then kicked into the lead at the bell, and kicked like a mule – or a thoroughbred - again at 100m to end hopes for those in his trail. The noise which had been cacophonous already must have doubled in the last 30 or 40 strides, about 79000 of the 80000 crowd on their feet and cheering.
Ennis, Rutherford and Farah, three golds in less than an hour.
We may – should – scoff at Daley Thompson’s statement that Super Saturday made £9bn for the games seem cheap. But it transcended economics, and in terms of national pride it went beyond Wembley 1966 because that was only England. Super Saturday was across the nation. And a changed nation too – we were screaming for a man called Mohammed born in Mogadishu but as British as the rest of us; for a mixed-race superwoman from Yorkshire; for some posh and not so posh English, Scottish and Welsh types in boats; for anyone in fact in British kit. It was a day like no other.
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