London 2012 Olympics: Mo Farah helps British athletics celebrate its most successful night in history
IT WAS the perfect, ecstatic end to the most triumphant evening in the history of British athletics. The track-and-field equivalent of football’s traditional hat-trick – one goal with the left foot, another with the right and a third with the head.
Jessica Ennis had set the ball rolling with a multi-event gold. Greg Rutherford had taken it on with field-event gold. All that was left was for Mo Farah to complete the set with gold on the track – and he duly delivered, burning off his opponents in a ferocious final lap of the 10,000 metres.
It was only 16 years ago that Great Britain won just a single gold medal at a whole Olympic Games. That’s the whole Games: not just athletics, every sport. Now here we were watching treble that tally won in a single evening.
Charles van Commenee, UK Athletics’ head coach, is renowned as a hard taskmaster; someone who is never knowingly undersold when it comes to demanding the best of his athletes – and dressing them down very publicly if they fail to comply. And yet it was the bluff Dutchman who confirmed just a few days ago that his official medal target for the Games was eight in total, including just one gold.
Looking back through the mists of time all the way to last Wednesday, it came across as a reasonable, carefully judged forecast. Yes, with Ennis, Farah and Dai Greene all seeming genuine title contenders, there may have been a bit of bet-hedging over that single gold medal, but you know how these things go. You win some, you lose some.
But last night Great Britain won some, and won some more.
There has been a lot of talk about home advantage, and how it can sometimes turn into negative pressure. But Farah looked under no pressure whatsoever as he lined up on the starting line last night, grinning broadly as if he was about to set off on a playful one-lap chase to end a training session. The term “fun runner” is usually applied to someone who manages a mile or two at a very modest speed. We may have to change the definition, because who makes running look more fun than Farah?
When the gun went off to start the 25-lap race, the crowd of 80,000 had barely had time to calm down after witnessing Ennis’s victory in the heptathlon. They had seen heptathlon gold for Britain, and they were on the verge of seeing Rutherford confirmed as long-jump champion. Could they also see track victory for Britain?
Farah, showing just how relaxed he was, ambled into second place behind Kenenisa Bekele, the world record-holder and defending Olympic champion. A reasonably quick start saw the field string out over the first lap and a half, but it then bunched back together for a while as the leaders opted for caution.
Six laps in, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea initiated a breakaway. Bekele responded, getting back on terms after a few hundred metres, but Farah chose to sit back, and lay only tenth at the end of nine laps. Intent on conserving energy – mental as well as physical – the 29-year-old Briton kept only a weather eye on subsequent fluctuations up front, simply ensuring that he remained in striking distance should any more threatening break materialise.
With five laps to go there were still a dozen runners in the leading pack, but some were doing no more than hang in. Farah by that time had edged his way up to third, behind Moses Masai and Tedese. With four to go he moved ahead of both momentarily.
Masai responded, so did Bekele, and the race was really heating up. Bekele, 30, was going for a third successive Olympic win, having also taken gold in Athens eight years ago. He was not going to give up without the fiercest of fights, and he showed that as Farah increased the pace again, two laps out.
For almost all of that closing 800m, it looked like a one-two between those two athletes, but coming into the final straight Farah made the decisive break, showing off that astonishing burst of speed. And it was not the Ethiopian who went with him, but his training partner, Galen Rupp of the United States.
Bekele finished out of the medals, and in fact was not even the first Bekele home. That honour went to his younger brother Tariku, who inched ahead of him down the closing 50m or so and finished a second ahead.
Farah’s winning time was 27mins 30.42sec, with Rupp second in 27:30.90 and Bekele half a second further back. Not that anyone was too bothered by the time, for once he crossed the line it was all about the celebrations.
House of Fun by Madness was played on the PA system, and the stadium rocked along as Farah stood and celebrated. He was joined out on the track first by his daughter, and then by his wife, who is expecting twins.
Then, once the hysteria had died down a little, they played All You Need Is Love, and the crowd sang along. This was not just about celebrating a sporting victory any more. And it was not even a celebration of national victory. It was more a reprise of the mood of the opening ceremony eight days earlier, a mood of unity, of solidarity.
“I can’t believe it,” Farah said of the audience reaction during his run. “The crowd was getting louder and louder. My legs were getting tired, the crowd gave me a boost.
“These [home Games] don’t come round often. It’s the best moment of my life.”
There must have been thousands more thinking that as they left the Olympic Stadium last night.
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