We launch a new series featuring AW content from years gone by with a focus on the gold rush by Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah at the 2012 Olympics
Edition: August 9, 2012
It has been described as the greatest night in the history of British athletics, probably even British Olympic sport. In a magical 45 minutes at the London Games on what is destined to enter sporting folklore as “Super Saturday”, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah each won gold for the host nation in delightful style. It was so surreal, the next day most people felt they had been dreaming.
I was lucky enough to be in Sydney 12 years ago for “Magic Monday” and the roar of the crowd and the sight of thousands of flashbulbs capturing the moment Cathy Freeman won the 400m still burns clearly in my memory. I also am a huge fan of Sir Roger Bannister’s sub- four-minute mile. Yet last Saturday in the Olympic Stadium matches those events and it was a privilege to be among 80,000 spectators to watch the drama unfold.
Such success is more than the sport could ever have hoped for. Question is, can it now build on this? Will the million or so fans who have been into the Olympic Stadium this week, plus the millions following on TV, have any lasting interest in the sport after the closing ceremony? When we hit the autumn, will we see lots of new faces lacing up spikes to hit the same domestic cross-country circuit that Farah cut his teeth on? If Rutherford competes indoors next January and February, will fans travel to watch him? Are teenagers desperate to be the next Ennis going to flood Britain’s athletics clubs in late August and September? Time will tell.
There are certainly enough big events to keep the interest rolling – the 2013 European Team Championships in Gateshead, 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. These are exciting times.
UKA and the home nations governing bodies are also prepared to handle the influx. It has always been their hope that Olympic success would help create a new army of athletes.
Let’s pray it happens. After all, who could fail not to be inspired by Super Saturday and the general feel-good factor of these Games?
Jason Henderson, Editor
August 4, 2012
9.02pm: Ennis-Hill secures heptathlon gold
9.24pm: Rutherford is confirmed as the long jump champion a few minutes after the 10,000m final begins
9.46pm: Farah completes a golden evening for Great Britain in London’s Olympic Stadium by winning the 10,000m title
Ennis in heaven
Never before has a British athlete faced such pressure going into an event. Jessica Ennis was the face of London 2012; the poster girl of these Games. Her image was everywhere – on television, billboards and the front covers of a thousand magazines.
Yet not only did she handle the pressure; she absorbed it, channelled it and spat it back out on the track and in the field with two days of pure heptathlon genius. She is the ultimate role model for young athletes, but her performance in these Olympics was a triumph of mental as much as physical ability.
How did she do it? “Myself and Andy (her fiancé) just made a joke of it in the run-up to the Games,”she said, explaining how playing it down and smiling it off was the best way to dampen the pressure that millions of fans and journalists were putting on her.
Then, in the stadium, while her British team-mates Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Louise Hazel broke into huge grins and looked overwhelmed when their names were introduced to an 80,000 crowd gripped with Olympic fever, Ennis instead maintained her poker face and allowed herself only a brief smile and polite wave before she got down to business.
With a score of 6955, she smashed her British record by 49 points. Her nearest rival, Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany was a massive 306 points behind with 6649. World champion Tatyana Chernova of Russia was left languishing 327 points behind Ennis with 6628.
Natalya Dobrynska, the reigning Olympic champion from Ukraine, failed to complete the seven events as she didn’t register a mark in the long jump. Ennis had been the favourite going into the championships after her Gotzis victory earlier this year, but few people thought it would be so comprehensive.
Inspired by their leader and urged on by a partisan home crowd, Johnson-Thompson smashed her own UK junior heptathlon record with 6267 for 15th place.
Hazel, the Commonwealth champion, also revelled in the spotlight and scored 5856 to finish 27th.
Rio beckons for Johnson-Thompson especially, although it was unclear this week whether Ennis will go on to defend her title. Instead, she has considered specialising in one event such as the 100m hurdles. Saying that, she admits that where she once considered the 7000 barrier as beyond her, she is now tempted to have a crack at breaking it.
“I always said 7000 is ridiculous, I can’t get anywhere near that but now it’s definitely within reach,” she said, of a mark that has been beaten by only three heptathletes – Jackie Joyner-Kersee (7291), Carolina Kluft (7032) and Larisa Turchinskaya (7007).
The discussions in coming weeks between herself and the coach who has masterminded her career, Toni Minichiello, will be fascinating.
Report by Jason Henderson
Click here to read how the events unfolded.
Golden boy Greg
Life is about to change for Greg Rutherford and not even after a sleepless night following his Olympic victory could he come to terms with it.
Unlike the other two British winners during a memorable hour on Saturday night, the Milton Keynes AC athlete was not a household name.
That all changed when his fourth-round jump of 8.31m held up as the winning leap inside a charged-up Olympic Stadium.
By the next afternoon his number of Twitter followers had gone from 6000 to 53,000. He was getting recognised – even by US hurdler Lolo Jones, he remarked.
Speaking just before his medal ceremony was due to kick off Sunday night’s events, the 25-year-old had not had any sleep. Following media commitments he had got to bed well after midnight and took an insomnia-induced walk around the Olympic Village at 5.30am.
He had a lot to think about, even though the confident, talented but injury-prone athlete always believed he could achieve this.
“I always said to you guys (the press) I could do it, but I’m not sure many people really believed it,” he said. “I think they thought if I had a very good night and everyone else a terrible night then it could happen.”
It was a complete contrast to four years ago in Beijing when, after qualifying for the final as the third best, he was only 10th in the final standings. With the injuries that kept bothering him, he had considered quitting.
But the ability that he first showcased when winning the national championships as a teenager and adding the European junior title and national under-20 record in July 2005 – the month that London won the bid to host these Games – won out.
And now he wants more. He said: “I’ve only just won one title, admittedly it’s the biggest of my life, but I want to go and win the Worlds and have a crack at another Olympic title if I can and then after that see how it goes.”
He was returning to training this week to attack the rest of his competitions this season.
“I might be the world leader at the moment (with 8.35m), but I still want to jump further. I know it’s fantastic to be Olympic champion, but I still want to jump further. If I’d jumped 8.70m and won I might have been thinking, ‘I’ve completed what I need to do this year. I don’t need to jump again.’ But I still believe there is more in me and I’d like to get 8.40m-8.50m at least. That would top the year off.”
Speaking the afternoon following his win, he had not had a congratulatory call yet from Carl Lewis, on whose style his technique has recently been successfully modelled. “He was probably saying how rubbish I was,” he joked after his best jump was the weakest winning mark at Olympic level since 1972.
“There were some great jumpers out there,” he rightly pointed out. “It’s not like it was a poor field. They were struggling with the conditions but they did not bother me as much as they bothered the others.”
After messing up his run-up on his first jump, Rutherford went into the lead in the second round with 8.21m, taking the lead from fellow Brit Chris Tomlinson’s 8.06m. In a year when standards have been relatively low, it looked like a medal-winning jump at least and put pressure on the rest. American Will Claye then took over in second from Tomlinson with 8.07m.
Tomlinson was pushed down into fifth during a fourth round in which several athletes produced their bests. That was when Rutherford took his gold medal-winning leap, landing at 8.31m after facing a 0.4m/sec headwind – four centimetres short of the UK record he shares with Tomlinson.
Australia’s world silver medallist Mitchell Watt, who had had three fouls and a 7.97m, finally found something in round five, the pre-event favourite going out to 8.13m, pushing Tomlinson into sixth, which is where he finished.
In the final round, Rutherford was jumping last and watched as Watt improved to 8.16m. When Claye, the penultimate jumper, overshot the board, the crowd roared to greet Rutherford’s Olympic win.
He took his time walking on to the track taking in the applause and also grabbed a souvenir handful of sand that he intends to keep as a memento of becoming the first Brit since Lynn Davies in 1964 to win Olympic long jump gold.
Rutherford said: “Whenever anyone talks about British long jumping it’s always about Lynn as he was Olympic champion and held the British record for such a long time. I think that might change now.”
Report by Paul Halford
Mo’s magic moment
“It is still a little weird seeing Great Britain and the United States in the medals standings in a distance race,” said Galen Rupp as he sat next to new Olympic champion Mo Farah and Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele at the post-race press conference.
Indeed, not since Italy’s Alberto Cova won the men’s 10,000m in 1984 had a non- African taken the Olympic title and over the past four Games no athlete from outside the continent had been on the podium. The last time out, in Beijing, Rupp had been the top athlete born outside Africa, but he was 35 seconds down on winner Kenenisa Bekele and in 13th place.
However, perhaps the tide is turning. At the very least, Farah and silver medallist Rupp are two who are showing Western- based athletes can beat the East Africans and they did so here in a sensationally exciting race.
Farah’s gold was the third of the night for the host nation on so-called “Super Saturday”. An 80,000-strong crowd of mainly home spectators had been raising the roof to cheer on anyone in a British vest and fully expected Farah to add Olympic gold to his world 5000m title from last year.
The slow early pace was expected but less predictable was Kenenisa Bekele doing some of the leading in the first couple of laps. Farah was not far behind too, rather than assuming his customary early position near the back. However, it was another Briton, Chris Thompson, who was at the back.
Kenyans then took over with Wilson Kiprop trying to move things along after five laps.
Six laps in saw the first notable move as Eritrea’s half- marathon specialist, Zersenay Tadese – no doubt concerned with his lack of speed – went to the front and four others followed, forming a slight gap. It was on that lap that Kiprop fell and one of his spikes came off and, though he put it back on and eventually rejoined the group, he later pulled out.
Despite the move, the second kilometre was even slower than the first, taking 5:59.
However, Tadese continued to push on, including a 61-second lap, the quickest up to that point. Kenenisa and his younger brother, Tariku, were up in the first four after nine laps.
With halfway passed in 14:05.79, Tadese regained the lead he had relinquished as Farah took closer order for the first time in a while.
Masai then did a lot of the leading as the positions constantly changed behind and, despite a 2:40 seventh kilometre, it was not testing Farah.
With five laps to go Farah moved up to third behind Masai and Tariku, with Rupp and Kenenisa just behind.
Half a lap further on and Farah had his first of many glances around, making sure not to be caught unawares by a sudden burst. However, it would not come for a while, not even when Farah briefly moved into the lead with three to go with Masai on his shoulder.
In the final mile it was building up ready for one almighty explosion, everyone looking around for the killer move just like competitors in the sprint cycle race. The places changed frequently but not the pace which stayed the same.
Farah accelerated into the lead with 500m to go but had 10 athletes for company at the bell, representing a massive lead group for that stage in the race at a championships. Tariku gave chase as Farah put in a 53- second lap, while Rupp moved into the silver medal position with 40 metres remaining. Intriguingly, a delighted Rupp’s last 400m was almost the same as Farah’s, but he was in fourth at the bell.
Farah, who was greeted on the track afterwards by wife Tania and daughter Rihanna, said: “Today was the best feeling in my life. It doesn’t get better than this. If it wasn’t for the support of the crowd, I don’t think I’d have won that because it was a very close race.
“With 200m to go I still didn’t have a big enough gap so I had to push again and work hard.”
The sight of Kenyans and Ethiopians working as a team in races is common, but on this occasion they failed to conspire against Farah’s finish. Instead it was the two Alberto Salazar-coached medallists who were working together.
“We were always going to work together if anything happened and then on the last few laps it’s every man for himself,” said Farah, who usurped 1984 silver medallist Mike McLeod as Britain’s highest place Olympic finisher in this event.
Rupp admitted that Farah had been talking to him mid-race, prompting him to “relax” and “save everything for the finish” when athletes were making a move at the front.
He added: “I owe a lot to Mo. I’ve definitely been more the beneficiary of the relationship. I’m able to train with the best distance runner in the world and really learn from him.”
Defending champion Kenenisa Bekele, who had shown signs this year of getting back to his best, was found to be still wanting in fourth.
He dominated the world of distance running in the late Noughties, but it’s a dominion that appears to have found a new king – and the 5000m now awaits for a possible double.
Report by Paul Halford