The Green Green Grass of Home

Saturday, August 4, 2012

There are some nights that reinforce your faith in sports. Then there are the Olympics, which seem to do it at every turn. And then there is tonight – an incredible experience, and certainly the greatest night I have ever seen or felt in a track and field stadium, thereby eclipsing the night Michael Johnson shattered the world 200 meter record in 1996.

Within one hour of each other, three British athletes both fed and rode a wave of home support to add to the growing British gold medal count, but they also brought magic to these Games. You didn’t have to be British to get caught up in the emotional apogee of these Olympics so far.

Image Source: flickrHeptathlete Jessica Ennis is a magnificent, dynamic and stylish athlete who had the support of the home nation but also a massive amount of pressure on her, being a poster girl for these Games. And it was how she won that was so impressive. She had a comfortable lead in points going into the last event of the seven making up the heptahlon – the 800 meters. She came around the final turn in perhaps 3rd position, where she could have stayed and comfortably won the heptathlon. Instead, she dug deep and blazed ahead of the other competitors in the final 100 meters. I had never before heard such a deafening noise in a track stadium – it drowned out even the excited utterances of the track announcer. For me, it was the moment of the Games up until then. Kudos to Jessica Ennis for giving herself, the stadium crowd, and her country that moment. The gold medal would have been the same had she coasted home, but the revelation of the spirit in that athlete and in that stadium somehow made it even more golden.

Image Source: twitterLong jumper Greg Rutherford, who looks more like a special teams player in the NFL, outclassed the rest of the field for gold in the long jump – not a pre-ordained result by any means and one that the home crowd can take some responsibility for.

Image Source: flickrAnd then there is Mo Farah. The beauty of a 10,000 meter race is that there is time for the drama to build – roughly 27 minutes. And build it did. Jessica Ennis pushed the decibel meter to 10, but when Farah hit the after burners (the “after” being after 6 miles) to run a 53 second final lap, the decibel level went to a Spinal Tap-ish 11. It was both the cake and the icing on the cake.

I walked into the stadium tonight excited about seeing the women’s 100 meter race – a marquee event with an accomplished group of sprinters. That became almost an afterthought – though it was a great race won by Jamaica’s double-hyphened Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. And across the way in the Aquatics Centre, Michael Phelps won his 22nd and last Olympic medal and his 18th gold. But those events were eclipsed by the three golds earned by the home team in Olympic Stadium, punctuated by a stirring version of “God Save the Queen” for Jessica Ennis at the awards ceremony for the heptathlon.

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