x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

How 44 golden minutes put the Great back into Britain

Three British athletes winning three gold medals in the Olympic Stadium in a delirious 44-minute spell produced the signature moment of the London Games.

Fans wave Union Jacks during an equestrian individual dressage event in Greenwich Park.
Fans wave Union Jacks during an equestrian individual dressage event in Greenwich Park.

LONDON // In one unforgettable night for a nation, the Olympic Games and their host, Britain, were the best they can be.

Three British athletes winning three gold medals in the Olympic Stadium in a delirious 44-minute spell produced the signature moment of the London Games.

Barring catastrophe in the final week, Saturday's night of fever and fervour made sure the London Olympics will be remembered as a roaring success.

It was a night when the prefix "Great" before "Britain" suddenly seemed to make a lot more sense. It ended, so appropriately, with the massive crowd in the 80,000-seat stadium awash in the colours of the Union flag's red, white and blue and belting out God Save the Queen to celebrate sporting success beyond their wildest expectations.

And at the midpoint of the 2012 games, London on Saturday had British athletes Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah winning one after another, whipping to a froth the stadium crowd that proved to be a star, too, by lifting their champions to undreamt-of heights.

Before these games, Britons lamented that they had become a nation of gold-medal gripers. Olympic critics moaned about the £9.3 billion (53.43bn) bill for the Games, the feared disruption for two weeks of London's way of life and its traffic network, the privileges accorded to Olympic organisers, visitors and sponsors.

But all that was buried by the spellbinding drama from 8.02pm, London time when Ennis clinched heptathlon gold, to 8.46, when Farah won the 10,000 and clasped his head in a disbelief. In between, Rutherford won gold with his leap of 8.31 metres into the long-jump pit.

When added to two more golds from the rowers and another from women's track cycling on Saturday, Britain's haul for the day was six. In total, only China, with 53 medals, and the United States, the leader with 54, had more.

"Team GB's gluttonous desire for gold shows no sign of being sated," said Boris Johnson. "Their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country, if not the planet."

For once, London's famously verbose mayor did not seem to be exaggerating.

This was the day when Britain delivered - in all senses of the word: in sporting success and in generously shared joy. The sometimes prickly defensiveness that comes from being an island on the edge of Europe with only history books to record how it once ruled much of the world gave way to unbridled national pride.

In the stadium, the focus for it all, the pride came without arrogance. The warm, fuzzy feeling was perhaps best expressed in the way the crowd, swaying from side to side and waving small flags on sticks, sang along to the Beatles' All You Need Is Love that played over the loudspeakers. To make the picture perfect, Paul McCartney happened to be in the stadium, and he celebrated, too, by waving a Union flag above his head. David Bowie's song Heroes was played, and replayed, and replayed. The London Olympics have swung continually to British pop and rock classics.

Prince William and his wife, Kate, and the prime minister, David Cameron, were also there. Mr Cameron called the atmosphere "electric" and tweeted: "Awe inspiring win for Jessica Ennis. Proud to be cheering her on with the home crowd."