Greatest moments of the decade: London 2012 Olympics Super Saturday

Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford

Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford, along with Jessica Ennis, won Great Britain’s three athletics golds on Super Saturday

To mark the end of the decade, BBC Sport will be looking back at some of the biggest moments of the past 10 years through the eyes of the journalists that were there. On 4 August, 2012, the middle Saturday of the London Olympics, Great Britain won six gold medals, including three in athletics in the space of 48 minutes. Chief sports writer Tom Fordyce was there.

There was already a beautiful momentum to the 2012 Olympics as Super Saturday came round. Except of course it was just Saturday when you woke up. Home golds had been coming and you hoped others might be on their way but no-one really guessed quite how supercharged those coming daylight and evening hours might become.

To be there was to be lucky. To not be there was to be caught up in a glorious communal game of Chinese whispers.

You walk to the station to get the train into Stratford. A stranger looking at their phone lets out a quiet woo-hoo, glances up and gives you a massive smile.

You look at your own phone. News from Dorney Lake, out in the flatlands west of the city. Gold for the GB men’s four? You give a little fist-clench of your own.

Onto the train heading to the east. A woman on the seat opposite asks why you’re smiling. You tell her. She starts grinning too. “It’s the rowing,” she says to someone a few seats along.

A few stations going by. A man gets on and asks us if we’ve heard about the rowing. Yes, brilliant, wasn’t it? The boys brought it home.

He looks confused. No, it’s Copeland and Hosking. Women’s double sculls.

No-one was quite sure what to believe and when because no-one had experienced a day like this.

  • Archive: Ennis, Farah and Rutherford win gold
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Into the Olympic park, grey clouds overhead but dry for once that summer. People sat out among the wildflowers by the river and canals and ate picnics and looked thrilled just to be close to it.

You could see the Copper Box one way and the velodrome to the north and then the great bowl of the Olympic stadium at the southern end. All that waiting for the Games, all the rows about budgets and logos and security, and the whole point of it all was suddenly making sense.

More news, coming from radios, from headphones and from text alerts. Murray and Robson into the mixed doubles final over on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Cheers breaking out and high-fives. Murray already into the men’s singles final against Roger Federer on Sunday, a month on from being beaten by the same man at Wimbledon himself. At least he’s guaranteed a silver, you thought.

I walked up to the velodrome. It had been cooking there for a couple of days already, Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Phil Hindes winning team sprint gold on the Thursday, the men’s team pursuit and Victoria Pendleton in the keirin adding two more golds on Friday.

All the seats were full and most of the spaces in between. There was supposed to be an empty concourse running between the two tiers but that was packed too with anyone who had the accreditation to stand there and plenty more who didn’t.

The unlikely was becoming commonplace, which was why the sight of Paul McCartney conducting the crowd in a massed singalong to Hey Jude seemed almost normal.

The final of the women’s team pursuit. You knew Dani King, Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell were unstoppable. The collective energy across the capital and country was pouring into that little couple of square miles around the park and sucking everything along with it.


Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell won team pursuit gold on Super Saturday

What struck you was the contrast between the three racing and the aftermath. Red helmets, mirrored visors, hidden faces, a synchronicity in their tucks on the bars and the rhythm of their legs. The roar going up, helmets being ripped off, three young women exploding with smiles and tears and embraces.

You were lucky if you were there and you had to keep your head down if you had a pass that could get you into the grand finale too.

Time seemed to be accelerating that day. So many astonishing things were happening that you wanted to put the world on pause and savour it all before the next sweet wonder caught you round the chops.

I remember running across the park on the pale brown paths towards the Olympic stadium, the triangular floodlights now bright against the evening sky. Through the ticket checks and into the seats, all that purple branding everywhere, the same expression on British faces: I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe I’m watching this.

You pretty much knew Jess Ennis was going to win heptathlon gold. The damage had been done in the morning’s long jump and the javelin. She was almost there.

But the 800 metres started and the noise was as if she had to win that too to take gold. Leading through the bell, bedlam all around. Overtaken with 200m to go first by Lilli Schwarzkopf and then Tatiana Chernova, almost a horrified hush falling all around.

In the next couple of seconds you saw all that Ennis was. A refusal to let it happen. Not now. Not here.

When she kicked on and away there was so much noise it distorted in your ears. Arms out wide as she crossed the line, head thrown back in exhaustion. An ordinary girl from Sheffield capable of the remarkable under the most extraordinary pressure.


The men’s four of Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James, Andrew Triggs Hodge won Great Britain’s first gold of Super Saturday

That would have been enough. To be sitting there on that night, in that atmosphere, watching the flames dance on the copper petals of Thomas Heatherwick’s beguiling cauldron, knowing you were at the heart of it all.

And it was still building, still snowballing.

Greg Rutherford across beyond the back straight, yellow spikes, navy shorts, white and blue sweatband halfway up his right arm.

When you’re watching long jump live you can very rarely guess from the jump itself what it might mean for the medals. It’s the reaction all around that tells the story.

8.31m in the fourth round and Rutherford was up out of the sand like a man on a trampoline. The crowd in that stand were up with him too, screaming back at him, clouting each other round the shoulders.

Celebrations breaking out over there and then another vast rumble of noise as Mo Farah jogged out for the final of the 10,000m. Rutherford talking to reporters and speaking inadvertently for everyone watching: “I’m in my home country and I just won the Olympics!”

The roars chased Farah round the track, rolling down from the stands. 27 minutes on fast-forward, Rutherford leaning across on his lap of honour to bellow his own support, Farah with his own stubborn kick as his rivals threatened to swamp him on the final bend. Slapping his head with disbelief as he came through the finish line, wild celebrations and cavorting and head-clutching all around.

Three athletics golds in 26 minutes. Britain’s best Olympic day in 104 years.

Olympic Games, they always say, need a gold medal for the host nation in the main stadium. They need one definitive moment that encapsulates everything that was great about them.

As you looked around the Olympic Stadium just before 10pm on that Saturday in August, the realisation hit: this is it.

This is the moment. This is the unforgettable night, and day, and hour.