London 2012 Days 8 & 9: Saturday Night’s Alright for GB (Sunday’s Decent Too)

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Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, and Greg Rutherford – Britain’s three gold medallists from the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night

In case you’ve been living in a cave, or perhaps Antarctica, here’s what happened in East London this weekend for Team GB.

Growing up as a British sports fan, you get used to disappointment. You become accustomed to the press hanging a gold medal around someone’s neck, which swiftly turns into a noose. England have won the World Cup usually before it even starts, irrespective of the sport or whether they’ve qualified or not. It was with this in mind that I went into the pub on Saturday evening, fully expecting at least one of Mo Farah and Jess Ennis to crumble under the crushing expectation of the British public and press. We had already had our fair share of success for the day – Dani King, Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell had taken gold in the women’s team pursuit, smashing the world record (again) and continuing GB’s rich vein of success at the velodrome, while the men’s four and women’s lightweight double sculls finals had also been won by Brits at Eton Dorney, with Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter picking up a silver in their final.

It seemed greedy to want more, especially given Jennis, as she is known on Twitter, has been on every poster and advert for the last 2 years. However, Jess had already performed well on the first day of her heptathlon, leading overnight, and her weaker second day had seen her post more personal bests; she went into the 800m needing only to avoid falling to complete a phenomenal victory. She managed it, leading from the front of the heat with calmness and confidence, but admitted afterwards that right until the finishline she was thinking exactly as we all were, worrying about falling, or pulling a muscle, or suffering some sort of Devon Loch- style mishap. I will remember her smile of relief and delight, which she is still wearing, for many a year. On the back of that, 80,000 people roared Mo Farah round the track 25 times, as he ran the perfect race to take another gold for Team GB, and fulfill yet another lifelong dream.

Both of these overshadowed what I believe to be the greatest triumph of the evening.

Over at the long jump pit, two British athletes had a shot at a medal. The rangy Chris Tomlinson and the compact, lightening-fast Greg Rutherford jointly hold the British record of 8.35m, and Rutherford took the lead in the competition with a second round leap of 8.21m, 15 centimetres ahead of his team-mate, and even further ahead of everyone else. It looked like Greg might hang on for a medal as the others found their form. Oh, but wait, he’s got more? In the fourth round, he hit the board perfectly and jumped out to 8.31m, throwing both arms in the air at the measurement, with a confidence which we hadn’t seen before from the calm, affable Englishman. He was right to celebrate. No-one came close. He had the two longest jumps of the final, when Mitchell Watt, who took silver in the final round with a mere 8.16m, has jumped 8.54m this year. They were difficult conditions, but Rutherford battled through, and in doing so he helped create Britain’s “greatest sporting night ever”, according to Seb Coe. Overshadowed that evening though he was, it says a lot about the team as a whole that he was delighted, standing by the side of the track, Union Flag draped over his shoulders, when Mo Farah crossed the line. He almost seemed happier about that than his own success, which I suspect may still not have sunk in.

After that day of red, white, blue, and gold success, Sunday was never going to be quite as good. It started badly, in a way, as sailing’s Iain Percy and  Andrew Simpson threw away their lead in the medal race of men’s Star to take silver, which of course is an achievement, but the disappointment was clear. Any blues on the Weymouth banks among the GB team was swiftly wiped away by Ben “You Wont Like Me When I’m Angry” Ainslie produced a fantastic tactical race against the much-fancied Dane, Hoge-Christensen, to secure his fourth consecutive gold medal. If you ever thought sailing was boring, watch that race. The wind is ever-changing, and Ainslie’s constant tinkering and reactions to the changing conditions is truly wonderful to watch.

In the afternoon, Ed Clancy secured a bronze medal in the omnium, the all-round cycling competition, and Britain’s Louis Smith and Max Whitlock competed in the men’s pommel horse. In a sport where GB are not traditionally strong, it says a lot about the feeling in the team that there was palpable disappointment when the two men took silver and bronze, and not a gold for Smith. To be fair, he finished with the exact same score as the champion, Kristian Berki, and lost because the Hungarian’s execution score was higher, while Smith’s difficulty was higher. That probably hurts, especially after the bronze-to-silver-to-bronze experience of the team

In amongst all the Olympic sports, there was some tennis being played. Andy Murray vs Roger Federer, at Wimbledon, in the final. I don’t think anyone really thought he would beat Roger, certainly not in straight sets, and absolutely not as easily as he did. Federer lost 8 straight games from the middle of the first set, and Murray served better than I have ever seen him do so. He showed no sign of nerves at the end, serving out with three consecutive unreturnable serves to take Olympic gold. This is, in his own words, his “greatest ever win”. IT might be the start of greater things. You can even forgive him for the losing the mixed doubles final with Laura Robson an hour later, since he was playing on almost pure adrenaline.

Of course, there was then the small matter of the men’s 100m final, which took place after Christine Ohurougu failed to defend her Beijing title, but did take the silver. Bolt, Gay, Blake. They were the three names on everyone’s lips. Usain Bolt, already beaten twice this year by his training partner and world champion Yohan “The Beast” Blake, was out of form, although his dancing was still pretty good. He had naturally strolled through the heats, while former drug cheat Justin Gaitlin sent out a message by qualifying fastest. The race was stunning. Bolt was the slowest out of the blocks, while Gaitlin roared away. Asafa Powell, with some gold carpet on his chin in celebration of the event, pulled up after 65m, but by that point, he was already out of it. Bolt had begun to wind up the gears, running through Gaitlin and the fast-finishing Blake, as the defending champion’s speed endurance told. He won by a clear metre, in an Olympic record of 9.63, with Blake in second and Gaitlin grabbing a surprise bronze. 9.63 is the second fastest run of all-time. Bolt is now surely the greatest ever. Imagine if he’d got a good start.

The 200m starts on Tuesday, with the final on Thursday. He could produce something very, very special.

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