Sometimes if you are very lucky, there is a moment that you can keep for ever. This is a lot more than a mere affirmation of your existence. It is evidence that an awful lot of people not only know who you are but are also extremely impressed by what you have done and how you did it.
Jessica Ennis achieved such recognition here in the Olympic Stadium yesterday and it was quite astonishing in its warmth and spontaneity.
Veteran Olympic observers, including this one who started the trek in Montreal in 1976, agreed that there had never been such a start to the centrepiece of the Summer Games, the first session of track and field.
Sydney, 12 years ago, was rated by some the nearest rival but then the stadium was merely 75 per cent full. Yesterday there was also the extra dimension of not adulation but a huge outpouring of specifically aimed affection.
Ennis's name was swamped by the noise of almost 80,000 fans when she was introduced before the fifth and final heat of the 100m hurdles – her supreme event – in the heptathlon.
Her response was consistent with someone at an advanced point in that tunnel which leads to the ultimate zone of all world-class competitors. She offered a nominal wave and a somewhat taut, though, as always, engaging smile.
Then she hurdled to the fastest time of her life by a massive margin, smashing the British record and leading four of her rivals to their personal best times.
As morning stretched into afternoon the smile broadened, with just one brief clouding when she failed to nail the high jump at 1.89 metres, which would have stretched her lead over her most menacing rivals still further, but still she had good reasons to be satisfied with her declaration of intent.
Ennis had to exploit her strongest ground right at the start of the competition but she could hardly have hoped to leave the dangerous lady of great power, Russia's world champion Tatyana Chernova, trailing by 142 points with reigning Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of the Ukraine, still further behind. It was a hugely encouraging initial statement that might just be sustained all the way to the climactic running of the 800m tonight. But beyond the hopes of Britain's favourite athlete there was that other certainty that blazed as fiercely as the first brilliant morning sunshine.
This proclaimed that whatever Ennis's tally of Olympic medals – she was catastrophically and career-threateningly injured before Beijing four years ago – she can take away the meaning of that extraordinary explosion of support. For some of us who weary quite easily over the pretensions of so many instant celebrity sportsmen and women, who despair that the most favoured of all of them, the £200,000-a-week footballers, will ever grasp their good fortune and resolve to represent the national game with something more than complacent greed and minimal responsibility, the acclamation for Jessica Ennis will certainly linger strongly in the memory.
And what will it say? It will speak of the instinct of much of the public, battered and frustrated often in their own lives, struggling to pay the bills, bring up the kids in a life that makes some kind of sense, for character and performance which is exceptional – and, yes, inspiring.
Many years ago a leading sports trade unionist in America, the man who ushered baseball stars into the first rush for multi-millionaire status, said that it was absurd to expect leading sportsmen to set examples for youth. "That is the job for parents," said Marvin Miller, who added: "Baseball stars get paid for playing baseball very well, full stop. They are not paid for helping to bring up the kids."
There may be a harsh but essential truth buried in that remark. However, it was hardly the end of the argument and if anyone doubted it they should have been in the Olympic Stadium yesterday morning when the biggest gathering so far at these Olympics made absolutely clear the extraordinary place the young woman from a Sheffield side-street has found in the imagination of the nation.
That estimation seemed to have developed even more strongly in the 12.54 seconds it took her to break the heptathlon hurdling world record and take her place at the top of the points table.
Afterwards she said: "It was a wonderful reaction from the crowd. Their support was tremendous – they got me that great time." They also gave the heartbeat of the Olympics, which is of course the settling of the big track-and-field issues, a vital charge. They re-asserted the tradition that in all the lust for gold that fans out to every corner of the Olympiad, it is here in the mother stadium where the temperature can be best gauged.
In all the critical acclaim for Danny Boyle's tour de force of an opening ceremony, it still needed to be said that the lighting of the flame was less than a triumph for clarity – and now the great symbol of the Olympics is placed in rare obscurity, not so much the burning, dominating image it usually is but, relatively speaking, almost a roadside brazier.
That might have been a much more severe problem if the people had not risen up so dramatically to both recognise the meaning and summon the hopes of Jessica Ennis.
As flames go, this was one which for some, and maybe not least the heroine of an unforgettable moment, will take a lifetime to lose its heat.
Nothing can take the gloss off Hoy's fifth gold medal
Cycling, no doubt, needs to tidy up some of its rules, and its practices, when it comes to this huge stage on which its impact is reaching ever growing levels.
This has to be the reaction to the admission of Sir Chris Hoy's young team-mate Philip Hindes that, as was suspected at the time, he deliberately threw himself from his bike in a successful effort to gain a re-start after a poor opening.
That said, another point needs to be made with the greatest possible emphasis. It is that Hoy could spend much of the rest of his life examining his fifth gold medal without finding the hint of a flaw.
Whatever the reality of Hindes's conduct – and team officials are stressing that his first language is German – Hoy's effort in driving home an Olympic and two world records on his way to the podium must stand as the definitive example of the best of his work.
Whatever the strategic niceties, Hoy's fifth gold medal was mostly about his extraordinary will and competitive brilliance.
Phillips, this Olympic Games is not all about you
It could be that when Phillips Idowu finally appears at the Olympic Games next Tuesday night he will be bristling with fitness in his pursuit of gold in the triple jump. Furthermore, he may remind us that he is an extremely talented athlete rather than one of those tiresome people who are gripped with the unshakeable belief that all their little dramas occur at the dead centre of the world.
It isn't so, Phillips, and while this doesn't prevent the hope that he will add an Olympic gold medal to all the other evidence of outstanding athletic ability, it is something to remember if he continues to spin out the drama much closer to Tuesday's starting gun.
Let there be one last bulletin – and make it just one line on the start list of an event which will come and go a lot quicker than he seems to imagine.Reuse content