It was dubbed “Super Saturday”, but no-one in the entire country could have predicted just how super it would turn out to be. From the track to the lake, from the long jump pit to the velodrome, British athletes took the crushing expectation of an entire nation utterly in their stride and produced one awe-inspiring performance after another.
Riding a wave of success and an impressive tally of six medals, three of Britain’s strongest boats took to the water in Eton Dorney to bring Team GB’s blistering rowing campaign to a close. It was a gripping battle for the Men’s Four boat, where a show-down between Beijing gold medallists, Britain and silver medallists Australia was all but inevitable. 2008 medallists Andy Triggs-Hodge and Pete Reed were joined in the boat by newcomers Tom James and Alex Gregory in a bid to keep the gold around British necks. The Australians weren’t going to make it easy and looked to be closing the gap in the dying seconds. It was a race won in the final strokes, but a race claimed in superb style by the British boat, which sped across the line just over a second in front of the Australians to claim the medal.
We thought that race was close; the men’s lightweight double sculls made us think again. Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter made, not one, but two good starts in the race, after being forced to turn back and start again after one of their seats snapped within the first 100m of the race. Mechanical faults rectified, they were off again in dominant form and looked determined to claim pole position.
…the British trio didn’t just defeat the Americans but…
But in rowing, it’s never over until it’s over. Great Britain may have looked in gold-medal form, but Denmark had other ideas. The Danes somehow managed to find a final boost of power to surge level with Purchase and Hunter just before the line. In an agonising twist of fate, the Brits failed to hold onto their lead and crossed the line just 0.61 seconds behind them. Getting Olympic silver, an achievement beyond words for most, was devastatingly disappointing for the pair. Both struggled to speak in their post-race interview, overcome by a mixture of grief and exhaustion.
Finally, it was the women’s turn to go for glory. Kat Copeland and Sophie Hosking had only begun training as a lightweight pair this year and were amoung the youngest in the squad. Come the race, you’d never have known it. Not only did they win, they won by more than 2 seconds and claimed GB’s first ever Olympic lightweight women’s gold. Kat Copeland’s look of shock provided one of the most moving moments of the Games. “We won the Olympics!” she finally managed to squeal to Hosking. “We’re going to be on stamps!”
Perhaps fellow female athletes, Dani King, Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell, also had stamps on their minds as they lined up in the velodrome to race for gold against the United States. What ensued wasn’t just a victory: it was a ruthless show of style and utter domination. Roaring around the track with unprecedented speed, the British trio didn’t just defeat the Americans but succeeded in setting their sixth world record on the trot. It added a fourth gold medal to Britain’s offensively successful cycling tally – with several more gold opportunities yet to come.
…those we’ve entrusted with our belief have excelled themselves…
Come the evening, all eyes swept to the Olympic Stadium and to one pint-size heptathlete in particular. London 2012 icon Jess Ennis had already excelled herself with tremendous performances in the hurdles and the long jump, putting herself in a phenomenal 188 lead and needing only a modest result in the final event to claim gold. Those who expected her to play it safe, however, had utterly underestimated her. As she lined up in the final heat, the roar of the stadium’s 80,000 fans reached hysterical levels. Whether it was this hysteria, the disappointment of 2008 or simply her own iron-will, something pushed Ennis to put in the performance of her life. Not only did she get the points necessary for gold, she roared around the final bend to finish the race in first place. Her face as she crossed the line was a heart-melting combination of relief, triumph and disbelief. A dream worked for over decades had finally been realised.
The weight of expectation on Ennis will have been resting just as heavily on the slender shoulders of 10,000m runner, Mo Farah. But any nerves he felt were far from obvious, as he smiled and bounced up and down on the starting line. It was a mature performance from the Londoner, who remained patient in what was at times an ill-tempered jostling race. But coming into the final lap, Farah’s ruthless streak soared to the top and he burst into his characteristic sprint for the finish. Those trailing behind him were powerless to compete, looking on helplessly as he drove over the line, swiftly followed by his American training partner, Galen Rupp. Wrapped in a British flag, he beamed at the roaring crowd, before his daughter and heavily pregnant wife rushed onto the track to congratulate him.
So the big names of cycling, rowing and athletics lived up to their reputations. But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the day came from a far less public figure. Long jumper, Greg Rutherford, may not be an Adidas pin-up or a shampoo model, but he joined the likes of Ennis and Pendleton in the ranks of Olympic champions last night, too. With a superb jump of 8.31m, he played his part in making it possibly Britain’s most successful hour in history, with an astonishing three gold medals. This is what has proved so delightful about the Games so far: those we’ve entrusted with our belief have excelled themselves in living up to the hype. But their fellow athletes who may not have shared in the same flood of publicity and acclaim have performed with equal dedication.