Never go back, they say. Do not offer yourself as a hostage to fortune. Sport is about advancement, rather than sentimental regression. Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill defied the bleak logic of their profession yesterday as they paid due homage to the Olympic ideal.
Farah, 30, dominated the 3,000 metres at the Anniversary Games in Stratford without breaking David Moorcroft’s 31-year-old British record. Ennis-Hill, 27, seemed as delicate as porcelain as she tested her questionable fitness in both the long jump and 100m hurdles. Her participation in next month’s World Championships is in doubt.
Usain Bolt’s lightning lope to victory on the final leg of the sprint relay provided the exclamation point but, a year on from the cathartic experience of Super Saturday, this was another collective celebration of the power of dreams.
Disbelief was suspended by the seductive nature of reminiscence. The bulldozers will move in following today’s final session at the Olympic Stadium, but they cannot destroy memories. This was neither the time, nor the place, to reaffirm athletics’ credibility gap.
It remains a disgrace that £160 million should be spent on the restructuring of a storied venue to accommodate West Ham, a Premier League club which enshrines football’s opportunism. But that should not, must not, be allowed to matter.
It will simply be an irrelevance today when another 65,000-crowd will remind Paralympians of their capacity to inform and inspire. They will be accepted as elite performers. They will be praised rather than patronised. They will be taken on their own terms. Their legacy, at least, is intact.
Yesterday was all about a vision of who we want to be, rather than who we are. Such statements are dangerous in such cynical times, but no two athletes better represent the purity of athletic achievement than Ennis-Hill and Farah, Yorkshire lass and multi-cultural role model.
The incandescent personality of Bolt, better suited to the garish fantasy of the cartoon book than the monochromatic certainties of the record book, shone through. But it was significant that the crowd responded instinctively to the vulnerability of Ennis-Hill, who has added a surname, and several noughts to her sponsorship income, since the immortality conferred on her by the London Olympic heptathlon title.
Spectators were time travellers, replaying personal Olympic images in their mind’s eye. Grandmothers carried infants on their hip across the park’s central bridge, sleeping babies were pushed along in buggies and long queues formed at water stations. Dress code was retro: the occasional pirate hat jarred because of its incongruity amidst the recycled 2012 merchandise.
The crowd did not require cheerleaders urging them to “make some noise” or to “go absolutely bonkers”. They were ready, willing and able to oblige. There was a huge roar of empathy and expectation when Ennis-Hill appeared on giant screens, sitting on her blocks several minutes before the 100 metre hurdles.
A sheen of sweat on familiar features added to the sense of anxiety. The explosive nature of the event provided a critical examination of the Achilles tendon injury which had forced her to delay her comeback five times.
This was in fact only her third competitive appearance in the year since she became Olympic champion.
Her start was poor. She was tentative, mechanical rather than fluid. Yet she grew into what she described as a “nerve-wracking” race and finished fourth behind the Australian Olympic champion Sally Pearson in what she acknowledged was a disappointing time of 13.08 seconds.
Her doubling up, in the long jump, was designed to recreate the physical and mental stresses of the forthcoming world championships. She finished last behind a fellow Briton, Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Her longest leap of 6.16m was put into context by her personal best of 6.51m.
Ennis-Hill has nothing to prove, and her readily-acknowledged frustration led her to signal that her participation in Moscow remains in the balance. “I’m not sure if I’ll be there” she said. “I don’t want to go if I am not ready. I have more to lose than to gain.”
Farah will be there. Athletics needs his natural amiability, languid grace and killer kick. Those who suspected the Mobot would be a passing phase reckoned without his ability to register with those for whom track and field is a fleeting fancy. He spoke beforehand of “wanting that Olympic feeling again”. The noise yesterday did not quite reach the levels of that second Super Saturday when the response to his 5,000m gold medal was so intense it distorted the photo-finishing equipment, but it was still enough to make the ears sing.
His chances of breaking Moorcroft’s domestic 3,000m record were ruined by a sluggish early pace, but he simply obliterated the field over the last 500m and finished more than five and a half seconds ahead of the runner-up Ryan Hill.
“This is where I made my name,” Farah said. “Each time I race here I want to make my country proud of me.” He will now travel to St Moritz in Switzeland to resume his preparations for the World Championships as national treasure and the British record-holder over 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m and the half-marathon.
Few fans paid attention to Desiree Henry, who finished last in her 100m heat behind the double Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. She was one of seven young British athletes to light the Olympic flame last year and was ecstatic at running a personal best of 11.50 seconds. She is the future. This day of days reminded us her generation must not be betrayed.
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