It was like Super Saturday all over again as Britain became the masters of the continent for only the third time in European Championships history with a record haul of 12 golds and 23 medals in all.
Events were strangely reminiscent of that hazy August night inside the Olympic Stadium two years ago as two of the GB participants that evening, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford, won gold again. One can only assume the third musketeer, Jess Ennis-Hill, was watching at home with baby Reggie.
For Farah, it was another double – the first athlete to win that particular double at Olympic, world and European level; for Rutherford a triple, as he added European gold to his Olympic and Commonwealth titles, once and for all silencing the doubters who suggested his Olympic triumph was a one-off.
Britain had begun Sunday here in Zurich behind France in the medal standings but ended it clear by virtue of 12 golds to France’s nine. On the day itself, it was a record five golds and two bronzes for GB as the relay line-ups shone and Andy Vernon picked up his second medal here behind Farah.
Farah’s wins only appear to come in pairs and he will not have been fussed that this was the slowest he had run at a major championships since the European Under-23s nine years ago.
Afterwards, he admitted he was happy simply to be here and competitive after the health scare that had seen him airlifted to hospital and forced his coach Alberto Salazar to make the decision for him to miss the Commonwealth Games, a move well and truly justified yesterday.
“This means a lot to me with everything I went through this year, the marathon and getting ill,” he said. “If you’d asked me two weeks ago I was so down and didn’t know where I was. My coach Alberto Salazar has been there and done it. He said, ‘you’re good to go and this is what you did last year’. He made me more believing than anyone.”
The athlete had talked of a fragility on the start line for Wednesday’s 10,000m but that first gold erased any doubts four days on.
In the 5,000m, his 15 rivals treated him reverentially, the Londoner able to dictate the pace. Only one athlete, Hayle Ibrahimov, could go with him. Briefly the Azerbaijini threatened at the 600m mark but Farah responded and, by the time he entered the home straight, there was daylight between them.
It’s a shame for Vernon that Farah should be so prolific, the Londoner’s exploits overshadowing those of the 28-year-old, who added a bronze to his 10,000m silver in what have been the championships of his life.
The record attendance at the Letzigrund Stadion was 75,000 for Celine Dior’s Falling Into You Tour. In front of barely a third of that crowd, Farah’s rivals did just that, Italian Marouane Razine tripping him with seven laps to go and Germany’s Richard Ringer shoving him later in the race. A tumble to the track was the only way the form book was going to be upset.
Rutherford’s long-jump final could hardly have been more comfortable. His leading rival, Germany’s Christian Reif, looked to be in good shape with a big opening jump, which was red flagged. Reif, a 8.49m jumper this year, never again threatened.
Rutherford then had things his own way from his second-round effort of 8.27. That in itself would have been enough to win gold but he furthered the mark with a fourth effort of 8.29 before declining to jump the last two rounds following a tightening in his hamstring.
The favourite at the start of the competition said: “If I’d come away with any other medal it would have been disaster upon disaster. I never would have lived it down.
“It’s great to go out there and put out a couple of half-decent jumps and have another title. The whole year started off incredibly well and I’m just disappointed I didn’t manage to get back to the sort of way I was jumping at the start of the year.”
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is proving to be the Marmite of athletics but, love him or loathe him, he certainly knows how to grab the limelight.
The Frenchman, who had been stripped of his 3000m steeplechase gold after he whipped off his racing vest down the home straight, had not been expected to win the 1500m but defied those expectations for gold.
The top stayed on in this second victory but he was so clear he had time to gee up the crowd before crossing the line. “Today I wrote athletics history,” he said. “Not many athletes are capable of doing what I just did. Winning today was the best thing I could do after the 3000m steeplechase. I ran with rage.”
Britain’s Chris Grice fell in a melée of bodies at the lap-to-go bell while team-mate Chris O’Hare won bronze. “I think I could have challenged Mekhissi-Bennabad if I’d have been closer to him in the final 200m,” he said.