A scintillating Saturday full of substance for Team GB

SO in the end it wasn't quite a quite a repeat of '˜Super Saturday' but, let's be honest, it never could have been.

Jessica Ennis-Hill grimaces as she finishes the 800m but was soon smiling after taking silver
Jessica Ennis-Hill grimaces as she finishes the 800m but was soon smiling after taking silver

That gilded day on 5 August 2012 is arguably the greatest ever in British sport and it would have taken something utterly incredible in Rio to come even close.

Those magical 45 minutes four years ago when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah delivered British athletics’ finest three quarters of an hour unfolded in a kind of unreal dream state, in front of a delirious home crowd. Back then Farah was a medal contender with question marks over his ability to deliver at the very highest level, Ennis was carrying the pressure of being the ‘Face of the Games’ and Rutherford was a bolt from the blue.

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The trio returned on the same middle Saturday yesterday and, while hopes of a ‘double triple’ proved not to be, in many ways what transpired in the Maracana Stadium as all three again made the podium could be viewed as an even finer triumph.

While the three golds at London 2012 all seemed to flow so beautifully smoothly into place, the gold, silver and bronze added to Team GB’s burgeoning total at the athletics stadium last night were even more admirable.

Rutherford has proved that 2012 was no fluke time and time again with further golds at world, European and Commonwealth level. He was clearly disappointed with bronze but played his part in one of the most compelling long jump contests witnessed at a major championship for many a year.

Farah was the stick-on banker but had to recover from a fall early in the race to add a Chariots of Fire gloss to his magnificent 10,000m success as he became Britain’s first track and field athlete to win three Olympic golds.

A year ago Farah was left “emotionally and physically drained” in the wake of allegations made against his coach Alberto Salazar in a BBC Panorama documentary.

He was emotional again last night in his post-race interview as the weight of a difficult 12 months were unloaded.

For Ennis-Hill it was not the second Olympic gold she wanted and, at the start of the day seemed on course for, but “the pride of Sheffield, the pride of Great Britain” added to her magnificent legacy with a display of grit and grace which rivalled that unforgettable heptathlon performance in London.

After returning to the sport and besting the world within a year of giving birth to her son Reggie, Ennis-Hill spoke of PPPBs (post-pregnancy personal bests). She could not hope to be the same 26-year-old athlete at her absolute peak that took the roof off the London Olympic Stadium but, with her innate determination, natural talents and battle-hardened experience had proven to herself that she could still dominate a world class heptathlon field.

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She was not the athlete of 2012 but laid down a challenge to her competitors - ‘if you want to beat me to this gold you’re going to have to prove you’re worthy of it’.

Nafissatou Thiam, the 21-year-old Belgian, certainly did that with five personal bests across the seven events. Ennis-Hill still looked on course for gold deep into the penultimate event but Thiam’s massive javelin throw speared the heart of her chances.

That left Ennis-Hill needing to beat the youngster by ten seconds in the 800m - a tall order but one the 30-year-old took on with trademark gusto. She won the race, as she always does on these occasions, but this time there was no outstretched arms of victory.

The smile was soon back, though, and a warm embrace for her successor as Olympic champion. The heavy hint in her post-event interviews was that this was her last act as an athlete. Not a victorious end, but certainly a triumphant one.

As was the case four years ago, Team GB’s middle Saturday heroics were not restricted to the athletics stadium and, with successes at the rowing lake, velodrome and swimming pool, which saw them remain third place on the medal table, it was more than super enough.

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