Britain enjoyed its greatest day of athletics on Saturday as Mo Farah in the 10,000m, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and heptathlete Jessica Ennis delivered an extraordinary hat-trick of Olympic gold medals on a truly unforgettable night.
It was the first time Britain had won three athletics golds in one day and the occasion will live long in the memories of the 80,000 fans who played their part by creating an atmosphere of spine-tingling intensity and astonishing noise.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce retained the Olympic women’s 100m title in 10.75 seconds, but what should have been the premier race of the program was reduced to something of an anti-climax coming so soon after Farah had drained the crowd of every drop of emotion.
Farah’s perfectly executed 10,000m run earned the hugely popular Somalia-born 29-year-old Britain’s first Olympic distance gold.
A steadily-run race was exactly what he wanted, though everyone in the stadium was wary of the threat from Kenenisa Bekele, bidding for an unprecedented third 10,000m title.
Farah was in complete control, though, and he stamped his authority on the race at the bell as a remarkable rolling wall of noise brought him home in a time of 27 minutes, 30.42 seconds.
Fast-finishing Galen Rupp finished a surprise second for the US’ first medal in the event in 48 years, with Bekele’s brother Tariku grabbing bronze.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Farah, who could yet double up in the 5,000m. “It’s the best moment of my life, something I’ve worked so hard for. Long distance is a lonely event and what you put into it, you get out of it.”
Ennis has been the face of the Olympics virtually since London was awarded the Games seven years ago and, having missed the 2008 Games with a foot injury and then losing her world title last year, the pressure was on to deliver.
She did so in style as an all-time heptathlon best 100m hurdles and further personal bests in the 200m and javelin gave her a mammoth lead heading into the final event, the 800m.
Needing only a safe finish in the pack, Ennis fed off the crowd and roared home to win her heat and secure a crushing overall victory.
Her 6,955 points tally was a monster 306 clear of Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany, who was initially disqualified for a lane infringement, but then reinstated.
Russia’s Tatyana Chernova finished third for the second Games in a row.
“I honestly can’t believe it after all the hard work and after the disappointment in Beijing. I am just so happy,” Ennis said.
Rutherford, who has had a wretched time with hamstrings seemingly forged from tissue paper, came into the Games as the world leader this season, but he was barely mentioned as a gold-medal hope.
His 8.21m leap gave him the early initiative that would not be enough for a medal, let alone gold, in most major competitions, but it would have done the job on Saturday. Just to make sure, though, he improved it with a leap of 8.31m and nobody could get close, even though it was still the shortest leap to win gold in 40 years.
Australia’s Mitchell Watt grabbed a silver with a last jump of 8.16m, while Will Claye of the US took bronze with a leap of 8.12m.
“I don’t think many people expected me to win that, and maybe me and my team were the only ones who did,” Rutherford said.
The women’s 100m might not have been able to compete with the home hat-trick for noise, but it did deliver a great race, with six women clocking under 11 seconds for the first time in the Olympic final.
Fraser-Pryce kept herself a vest-width in front from start to finish, with the second-fastest Olympic winning time after Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.54 seconds in 1988.
The Jamaican, who served a six-month doping ban in 2010, also became the third woman to retain the title after Americans Gail Devers in 1996 and Wyomia Tyus in 1968.
World champion Carmelita Jeter of the US took silver in 10.78 seconds, while Veronica Campbell-Brown claimed bronze in 10.81 seconds as Jamaica took the early lead in what is expected to be another great sprint battle with the US.
That was set to reach a crescendo in the men’s 100m final, with both nations packed with sub-10 second talent.
Earlier on Saturday, Usain Bolt made his long-awaited bow, easing through to the 100m semi-finals with minimum fuss.
After a slight stumble out of the blocks, the Jamaican defending champion steadied himself and cruised through in no more than second gear to finish in 10.09 seconds.
Assuming he really is fully recovered from his hamstring problems, he will go a great deal faster in the semi-final and final as the new London track is definitely a fast one.
Americans Ryan Bailey and Justin Gatlin clocked the fastest ever times in the first round at an Olympics — 9.88 seconds and 9.97 seconds respectively.
“It was good,” Bolt said. “I’m happy, my legs are feeling good, so I’m happy.”
What matters, of course, is how he feels when he bids to become the first man to retain the 100m title.