Olympic Track Results 2012: Jessica Ennis and Britain's Amazing Day of Gold

Noah JampolFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2012

Olympic Track Results 2012: Jessica Ennis and Britain's Amazing Day of Gold

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    The Olympic stadium in London was packed, the excitement was palpable and the anticipation of what was to come was reaching sky-high levels for the partisan crowd of 80,000.

    The action that ensued blew that all away.

    In a stunning succession of events, the British track and field team took home three gold medals in front of an unbelieving crowd. 

    The roars came early, as expected, with British Heptathlete Jessica Ennis fulfilling her role as the golden girl of the Olympics.

    The jubilation turned to madness when long jumper Greg Rutherford nailed two big jumps to separate himself from the field and give the fans a surprise second gold.

    Finally, the stage was set for Mo Farah, himself maybe the most visible British track runner on the planet. Facing a "gold medal or bust" proposition, Farah kicked brilliantly to a rousing and emotional win in the 10,000-meter run.

    The moments were made even more special by the stories behind these three athletes and the nature of their performances. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at each of Great Britain's golds that formed the greatest night in British athletics history.

Long Jump: The Storyline

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    Coming into this year, few would have foreseen the 48-year British drought in the long jump coming to an end.

    Greg Rutherford, while a talented athlete, had never finished better than fifth in the event at a global championship.

    His promise was apparent at the age of 18, when he jumped out to 26 feet, 8½ inches to win the World Junior Championships title.

    Ever since then, though, he struggled to survive a barrage of injuries.

    After suffering a devastating one last season at the World Championships in Daegu, Rutherford sought fit to adjust his form and emulate that of Olympics legend Carl Lewis. The adjustment were made to take pressure off his balky hamstrings.

    The tweaks paid off, as Rutherford turned in an injury-free season and jumped out to a lifetime best of 27' 4¾" in May.

    Still, there were many reasons to doubt him being the one to end the drought.

    The most prominent was fear of him suffering another injury. Coupled with his lack of a championship pedigree and the presence of last year's silver medalist Mitchell Watt, there was good reason few were putting him in the driver's seat to win gold.

Long Jump: The Finish

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    It was not the farthest distance anyone had soared to in an Olympics. Honestly, it wasn't even close. The winning jump was the shortest distance to win the event in some 40 years.

    That goes back to a time almost as far back as the British drought. That's all immaterial.

    That's because Greg Rutherford's winning jump of 27' 3¼" was more than good enough to put him on the top step of the podium.

    The swirling winds, undoubtedly, had something to do with the almost pedestrian distance of the winning jump.

    The absence of many-time champion Dwight Phillips, as well as last year's bronze medalist, Ngonidzashe Makusha, also thinned the field and opened the door.

    Still, it was up to Rutherford, the self-styled "Ginger Wizard," to produce at his best with the pressure and, yes, rousing support of a maniacal crowd.

    In the long jump, it is only necessary to strike with magic once, but Rutherford did it twice to control the competition.

    He hit 26' 11¼" in his second jump to put the onus firmly on the rest of the field. That was a good result, and one that shook the crowd quite a bit.

    However, by his fourth attempt it was clear that this would not be a big-jump night, and Rutherford sent the crowd into hysterics there with his championship jump that looked unbeatable at the time.

    As Watt struggled to stay on the board and no one else posed a serious threat, Rutherford was able to soak it all in for his sixth and final jump. 

    With victory assured, he barely took it and exerted more energy attempting to shake hands with every single fan in the stands as he found his way to his parents watching trackside.

    Gold medal in hand, there was but one thing to do: watch his teammate, Mo Farah, make his own bid for glory.

10,000 Meters: The Storyline

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    Few athletes have faced the scrutiny and pressure that British long-distance star Mo Farah faced in the buildup to the London Games.

    He was there with the express purpose to become the first British athlete to ever win gold in the 10,000-meter run.

    After winning a gold in the 5,000 and a silver in the 10,000 at the 2011 World Championship, expectations settled at insane levels for his performance in his home country.

    Moreover, there was no other male in his country's middle-distance and distance arsenal who figured to have much of a chance. The burden was squarely on his slim shoulders.

    To Brits, it's also apparent that middle-distance and distance running are accorded a respect and devotion that is absent in most places outside of East Africa.

    The legacy of Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's epic confrontations, as well as the rich history of distance running that goes back into the middle of the 20th century fueled the hype and the hope for Farah to deliver to a long-suffering group of distance running fans.

    Farah's every move and race were hyper-analyzed. A slight injury was the end of the world. A defeat, even if in a secondary event like the 3,000, was treated like a gigantic setback.

    In this climate, Farah understandably opted to train with Alberto Salazar in Eugene, Oregon.

    Across the sea from the ruthless British tabloids, he continued a progression that saw him rise from a promising youngster to his status as the best distance runner in the world.

    As he toed the line Saturday night, the crowd, which had already seen so much greatness from its own athletes, greedily sought more. The moment was there for him to grab gold—nothing else on this night would suffice.

10,000 Meters: The Finish

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    The race played out as many 10,000-meter championships ones do—it started out slow. The early pace was non-threatening.

    It wasn't until about 2,000 meters in that Eritrean Zersenay Tadese set the race in motion and started pushing the tempo slightly.

    Still, the pace never reached a truly punishing level. The leaders alternated, but the feeling stayed the same. Nobody was going to get away, and nobody would be pushed out of contention.

    In this climate, there was one question running through everyone's mind in the packed stadium: "When will Mo make his imprint on this race?"

    As it turned out, the answer would come late.

    Farah ran like a savvy veteran. He didn't get involved at the front until it was necessary. He moved up to the shoulder of the leader with about a mile remaining.

    From that point on, he assured his position but waited until the time was right to make one bold, unbeatable move.

    At just before 400 to go with the pace finally winding up, it was his time. To a thunderous howl, he seized the lead and began his run for home.

    It could not have gone any better. His move was decisive, and his superiority to everyone else unmistakable. 

    With a blazing 53.48-second last 400 meters, Farah had lived up to the wildest dreams of everyone in attendance and his entire country. 

Heptathlon: The Storyline

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    Mo Farah, surely, faced an astounding amount of pressure, but is difficult to imagine anyone facing more than Jessica Ennis.

    While Farah was perhaps the men's runner with the most riding on him, it was apparent that Ennis was likely the No. 1 athlete on the entire British team—all sports included.

    She had the billboards, the fame and the rabid following in England.

    The depiction of her as Great Britain's "golden girl" might have become cliche by now, but it certainly represented the heights of her popularity.

    Her road to this Olympics was filled with ups and downs. She had gone into the Beijing Olympics with a great deal of hope, but instead had been forced to withdraw due to injury.

    Her absence there was bitterly disappointing for the British public and her. She responded with two good showings at the World Championships with a gold in 2009 and a silver in 2011.

    The stage was set for her to cement herself in front of an adoring legion of fans. Still, even this year there was controversy.

    A bizarre one played out when an anonymous senior British Track and Field official depicted her as "fat."

    More typical parts of her roller-coaster ride were fears that her weaker events could doom her, as she sometimes struggled with her consistency in the throws.

    Amongst all of the public clamor, she set herself up magnificently with three personal bests in the first six events of the meet. With one of her best events up next, the 800-meter run, it was time for her to cap it all off.

Heptathlon: The Finish

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    With an insurmountable lead going into the 800, Ennis' mere appearance in the stadium set off celebrations. 

    What followed next only intensified the crowd's joy. No doubt with the most adrenaline she had ever felt, Ennis shot out to the lead, working the crowd into a frenzy.

    It might not have been the most sensible strategy, as most 800-meter runners can attest, but nobody in the world could blame her for going after the moment.

    On the second lap, the rest of the field began to swallow her up, and I heard the British announcers on my feed reiterating that the winner of the race was secondary with Ennis holding the overall title in her grasp.

    That sort of hedging proved to be completely unnecessary.

    Ennis had more than enough in reserve, even after six grueling events and three lifetime bests, to surge once again. She motored once again to the delight of all watching, and fittingly took victory in the final event.

    Her triumph was a comprehensive victory. Ennis won by 306 points in the heptathlon, a simply staggering margin. She answered everything asked of her and more. 

    She could barely control her tears of joy in her post-competition interview. There was nothing that needed to be said. Over two days, she had made her statement on the track.

    She was the best women's athlete in the world, and had established herself as Britain's star of these Olympics.