Never in the history of Olympic has the nation ever had it so good and the feat is being held in high esteem across the nation. Celebration is holding already the country.
Even the most pessimistic opposition groups who had opposed the idea of staging the Sports in the land are joining in the nationwide celebration as the country stands shoulder high with United States and China.
Has there ever been an hour of British sport like it? First Jessica Ennis.
Then Greg Rutherford. Then Mo Farah. A week is along time in Olympics.
Sitting in the main stadium yesterday the five days in which Britain had
once waited for its first gold medal seemed part of a different gloomy,
sepia life altogether.
How had we ever coped? Now Team GB couldn’t seem to collect medals fast enough. All through the day every piece of news apparently carried tidings of triumph. By the time of Farah’s extraordinary sprint down the home straight to gold, you wondered if it there might be an argument for spreading the excitement out a little, over the next twenty years, maybe.
At the beginning of the day we had eight golds. It was quickly nine – victory for the stellar men’s rowing four at Eton Dorney – and then 10 – the women’s sculls pair of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking cruising home to what threatened to be a new catchphrase, “Britain is half a length up on the world”; then, Jason Kenny had broken Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic sprint record in the velodrome; then we had eclipsed that doughty Olympic nation South Korea and moved into third place in the medals table (only the USA and China to go).
When the women’s team pursuit cyclists not only broke the world record but also almost caught up with their American challengers for gold number 11, roar chased after roar at the park, as if part of some world record attempt at a Mexican wave (and who, on current form, would have bet against us pulling it off?).
All of this was before Ennis’s one-woman show, Rutherford’s leap into history and Farah’s emotional last-act victory over his Ethiopian and Kenyan rivals in the 10,000m. On a day of particular triumph for the women, the only title that had seemed under threat for Ennis was the unofficial one of “Britain’s golden girl” – never has there been such a congested field. Ennis was more than a match even for that challenge, however. All day she had proved herself to be not just the greatest all-round female athlete in the world, but also a Simon Rattle-class conductor, leading the 70,000 crowd to last night of the proms frenzy every time she wandered in the vaguest vicinity of the long jump run up or the javelin line. Having effectively secured her gold medal before lunch, she orchestrated her two stunning hope and glory victory laps in the evening 800m.
Just occasionally, of course, the British crowd was reminded that 203 other nations were also competing for medals, and a few times even winning them. It had become magnanimous enough not to mind too much.
This also provided the most indelible image of the Games so far. Not the picture of the pair crossing the line at precisely the same moment in a cartoonish and elongated blur, but that of the Swede, Norden, receiving – with the best grace imaginable – an unjust silver medal.
Having swum 1500m in the Serpentine, cycled 43km round Hyde Park in a wet cossie and run till she dropped for 10km, she had been denied a share of gold by what seemed like a dodgy art critic’s appraisal of that photo-finish.
The term Super Saturday seemed a little prosaic for all this at times. As the athletics came to life in the morning you could imagine one of those Victorian playbills for the greatest show on earth, P T Barnum circus typefaces competing for attention.
Be amazed at the fastest human in history! Witness the incredible blade runner! Marvel at the reformed drug cheat! …
The South African Oscar Pistorius made history early on by running a lap of the track as a double amputee in the heats of the men’s 400m, and coming in second, easing down.
You can argue what you like about Pistorius’s inclusion in this event, but watching him round the top bend running like the wind with his fibreglass lower legs, it was impossible not to cheer him home.
The facts still sound like a film pitch: here was a man who’d had both his legs amputated at the age of 18 months, and here he was running his heart out in the Olympic Games.
Even Pistorius was quickly upstaged. Before we were reminded that the Olympics has stories everywhere you look – in the judo and the fencingand the archery – it was assumed that the headline narrative of these Games would be written by the success or failure of Usain Bolt.
There had been reported sightings of Bolt before: in the Olympic village, where he brought the canteen of national superstars to a standstill; watching the new Batman film at the Jamaican training camp in Birmingham. But here, unquestionably, was the semi-mythological figure himself. He came out into the stadium quietly in his black hoodie, for the fourth heat of the men’s 100m to initially muted applause.
In preparation for his event Bolt does everything exaggeratedly slowly, peeling off his tracksuit bottoms and top languidly, as if to further mark the contrast with the speed he is capable of. He is one of those athletes – Muhammad Ali and John McEnroe were others – whose body language always seems designed to articulate some nuance of his state of mind. Lining up near his blocks for this first outing in London he is nodding his head up and down vigorously as if in answer to a question only he can hear, but one to which there can only be a yes. He rubs the top of his head violently when the roar reaches Ennis levels, as if to signal it’s not justified, not yet, and then puts a finger to his lips and points toward the finish line out of respect to his competitors. The commentator in the stadium says “finally the talking is over and the sprinting starts” but if anything Bolt begins with a stutter, clears his throat for a few strides, only gets in to his fluent running for 20m and ends comfortably ahead. Others look far more assured in their qualifying – but it’s not about the heats.
There is an honesty to sprinting – you either have it on the day or not – and none more so in this sense than in the last action of Saturday morning, the final-heat victory of the recent drug pariah of Team GBDwain Chambers. The British champion used to run with what looked like rage, but now he’s chasing redemption, coming clean, as he says. Chambers came close to a surprising personal best, but afterwards he just looked simply thrilled to be here at all on this special Saturday. He was far from alone.