Seventh heaven for Jessica Ennis

Ennis leads Farah and Rutherford in a run of three golds in 45 minutes on record day for British athletes

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Typical! You wait 104 years for a British track and field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal on home ground and three come along in the space of 45 minutes. It was not so much the golden hour as the golden three-quarters of an hour.

There was always the chance that "Super Saturday", the first big night of action in the showpiece 2012 arena, could turn into a Super Duper Saturday for the best of Britain's runners and jumpers. After all, Jessica Ennis did lead the world heptathlon rankings going into the Games, Mo Farah went into the 10,000m as the marginal favourite, and Greg Rutherford was joint top of the global long jump rankings.

Still, few could have imagined that the reality would turn out to be quite such a dream come true, with all three striking gold, and in such style. It was the night of nights for Britain's athletes – their greatest ever in the history of the Olympics – and all here to savour on home soil. The noise from the 80,000 crowd was deafening as the golds rained down, the most Britain has ever won in one day in the principal Olympic sport.

Fittingly, it was Ennis who led the way, raising her arms aloft in triumph as she crossed the line just after 9pm to complete her heptathlon mission with a victory in the seventh and final event, the 800m. The Sheffield woman drank in every drop of the euphoria, closing her eyes and fighting to hold back the tears as she dropped to the track and clasped her hands to her head.

Four years ago, Ennis was a broken woman, missing the Beijing Olympics with a triple stress fracture of the foot. Last night she was crowned Olympic champion, completing her mission in style with a British record points tally of 6,955 and a commanding margin of victory. The German Lilli Schwarzkopf finished 306 points behind in the silver medal position, with Tatyana Chernova, the Russian who relieved her of her world title last summer, taking bronze.

For the record, it was the first British track and field success in a home Olympics since Wyndham Halswelle won the 400m at the London Olympics on 25 July 1908 – there were no golden girls or boys at the 1948 Games in London.

"I can't believe that I've had the opportunity to come to my first Games in London and won an Olympic gold medal here," Ennis reflected. "It's a massive relief. To come into this event with all that pressure and everyone saying 'You're going to win gold' and me knowing how hard it was going to be… I can't believe I've done it."

Ennis's coach, Toni Minichiello, praised his charge for her mental strength, adding: "Four years ago we were sat on her sofa nursing a broken foot and watching the Olympics and hoping that this would be over very quickly so we can start the next four years.

"I don't know whether she embraced the moment or the crowd embraced her. I think it's probably their medal, maybe slightly more than Jessica's, but she might argue differently!"

It was a tour de force of a performance from Ennis. She threw down the gauntlet from the off on Friday. Any fears that she might have buckled under the weight of home expectation were blown to smithereens in just 12.54sec.

It was a British record in the 100m hurdles, the fastest ever time in a heptathlon, and would have been good enough to win all bar two individual Olympic finals in the event. It was followed by two relatively below-par performances, in the high jump and shot, but Ennis finished the first day on another big high, blasting to a lifetime best of 22.83sec in the 200m.

The big remaining hope for her rivals was a slip-up in the first event yesterday. Ennis has struggled all summer to hit the take-off board. A foul or two would have put the pressure on and possibly left the door ajar.

Instead, it was the woman who relieved Ennis of the world indoor pentathlon title in Istanbul in March who wilted. Nataliya Dobrynska has endured the most torrid of times since that triumph in Turkey, which she achieved with a world-record score. Just two weeks later, her husband and coach, Dmitriy Polyakov, died of cancer.

Somehow, the 30-year-old Ukrainian summoned the will to defend the Olympic crown she had unexpectedly claimed in Beijing. It was clear from the start, though, that Dobrynska was far from her best and her defence came to an end after she fouled her first two attempts in the long jump and messed up on the third, breaking the sand at a paltry 3.70m.

She departed in tears, withdrawing from the field before the final two events. Ennis, in contrast, sailed on serenely, jumping 6.48m, just 3cm short of her personal best.

She was even better in the sixth event. It was in the javelin at the World Championships in Daegu last summer that she fouled up big time, failing to break 40m and effectively handing her title to Chernova.

It was a different story this time. Ennis threw 47.49m, another personal best. She said she felt really emotional after that ."I just wanted to make sure that I didn't get too carried away and made sure that I finished the job off properly." That she did, the golden girl turning the 800m into a two-lap coronation that she completed in suitably victorious style.

Jessic Ennis: Heptathalon record

1. 100m hurdles

12.54sec. 1,195pts. Personal best (previous best 12.79sec)

For three years, ever since she won the world title in Berlin, everyone has been wondering how the Sheffield woman would cope with the pressure of being the poster girl and home favourite in the showpiece track and field arena at London 2012. The answer came in stunning fashion. The spine-tingling reception from the crowd was channelled into a British record hurdles time that would have won individual gold in that event in all bar two Olympic finals.

1.86m. 1,054pts. PB: 1.95m

The secret of success in multi-events is to limit your losses in the rounds that are not your bankers. Ennis is joint holder of the British high jump record of 1.95m but has failed to hit the heights in the event for some time now, and struggled to find consistency. A clearance of 1.86m was certainly a disappointment but it was one centimetre better than Ennis managed at the Hypo-Meeting at Gotzis in Austria in May, en route to breaking Denise Lewis's British heptathlon record.

14.28m. 813pts. PB: 14.79m

At a slender 5ft 5in, Ennis is not the biggest heptathlete but she does not lack power or strength. She has found a measure of consistency in the shot put — so much so that her 14.28m effort here came as bit of a disappointment along with her performance in the high jump. It was below par, half a metre down on her lifetime best, but in the overall scheme of things, it proved good enough. It was another loss but another limited one and it didn't allow her rivals to make up any real ground.

22.83sec. 1,096pts. A personal best (previous best 22.88sec)

Ennis' burgeoning area of improvement this year has been her basic speed. It is why her hurdles time is now elite world class. At Gotzis in May she broke through the 23-second barrier for the first time, improving her personal best by 0.23sec. In the final event on day one here she improved by another 0.05sec. After two below-par events, it struck a major psychological blow to her rivals and established a healthy overnight lead for her going into day two.

6.48m. 1,001pts. PB: 6.51m

Ennis has struggled in the long jump all year — ironically because of her improving speed. She has consistently been too fast, overstepping the take-off board. When it mattered most, though, she managed to avoid any fouls. Her rivals would have been praying for a slip here, in the opening event of day two, but they were to be disappointed.

47.49m. 812pts. A personal best (previous best: 47.11m)

The penultimate event was Ennis' Achilles heel at the World Championships in Daegu last year, when she lost her title to the Russian, Tatyana Chernova. She has spent 12 months ironing out her technique with Mick Hill, the 1993 World Championship javelin bronze medallist, and it has paid rich dividends. In Daegu, she failed to hurl the spear beyond 40m. Yesterday all three of her efforts were beyond 45m.

2min 8.65sec PB: 2min 7.81sec

Ennis has run faster over two laps but not by much. The gold medal was already effectively in the bag when she took to the Olympic Stadium track for the final event last night but there was always the possibility of a fall. To lessen the risk of that, she hit the front from the start. She proceeded to show her true competitive spirit when two of her rivals went past, steeling herself for a grandstand finish in the home straight – and a victory.