Four years on, all three will again be competing on the same night, hoping to defend their Olympic titles in Rio 2016. How ready should we be for a repeat performance?
20.57 GOLD – Jessica Ennis-Hill
The motto of London 2012 was “Inspire a Generation”. And when Jessica Ennis left the Olympic Stadium late on Super Saturday, youngsters across the UK began dreaming of one day being able to run, jump and throw in the style of a goddess.
But one 19-year-old was closer than most to the unfolding drama. Katarina Johnson-Thompson finished 15th in the heptathlon and recalls competing pressure-free with few expectations, all the time paying close attention to how Ennis conducted herself, in and out of the arena.
The lessons have proved invaluable. Four years on, the prospects are looking good for Britain’s first athletics one-two since Sebastian Coe outpaced Steve Cram in the closing stages of the men’s 1500 metres in Los Angeles in 1984.
Now married, Ennis-Hill gave birth to her son, Reggie, in July 2014 and has since dumbfounded physiologists by returning to a level of form close to her best. In Beijing last August, she won world championship gold for the second time — endorsing her ability to play her best hand when the stakes are highest.
In the same competition, Johnson-Thompson suffered the kind of setback only the strongest minds overcome. Overnight, she stood in second place behind Ennis-Hill but failed to record a legal mark in the long jump, ruining her medal chances.
Returning to London’s Olympic Stadium, at the recent Anniversary Games, both women produced performances to buoy themselves and their supporters. Ennis-Hill, at 30, is vastly more experienced at championship level.
Knowing this is her last Olympics will add another layer to her much-admired desire and resilience, as will the presence of Johnson-Thompson.
The challenge for athletes who fulfil a lifetime’s ambition is daunting. For those who reach the mountain-top at a home Olympic Games, even more so.
It’s a measure of the competitive spirit running through Greg Rutherford that he heads to Rio in defence of the men’s long jump title with his reputation, and his record, greatly enhanced.
In 2014, he completed a gold medal double in quick succession at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the European Championships in Zurich. Last year, in Beijing, he added the world championship title to his haul and he now belongs to an elite group of five Brits — with Linford Christie, Jonathan Edwards, Sally Gunnell and Daley Thompson — who’ve won the athletics “Grand Slam”.
And yet, after winning GB’s first Olympic medal for almost 50 years in the long jump, his success was the least celebrated of the golden treble. As Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah became brand names, Rutherford failed to secure an ongoing contract with his sportswear sponsors the next year.
There was sympathy, but not in floods. “He was labelled a difficult athlete to get along with,“ said Rutherford’s American coach Dan Pfaff, who linked up with Rutherford prior to London 2012.
“But when you stand on the long jump runway in front of 80,000 people going nuts and you’ve got a chance to win the gold medal, you better have some ego.”
Four years on, Rutherford is father to a son, Milo, now almost two, and has built a long jump pit in his own back garden at home in Bletchley. “I realise it’s a huge luxury, but if that’s what is going to help me become Olympic champion again, it’s a worthwhile investment.”
Rio 2016 gives Mo Farah the chance to add the most astonishing chapter to an already remarkable story. The long-distance double would place him alongside the Finn Lasse Viren — the only man to have achieved the feat at successive Olympics.
Tonight’s 10,000m is part one, with — fingers crossed — the 5,000m final next Saturday. At London 2012, such was the elation at Farah’s triumph that Usain Bolt himself adopted the Mobot celebration, hands perched on top of his head, as the athletics drew to a close a week after Super Saturday.
Bolt and Jamaica had dominated the men’s sprint relay but the race being talked about on the tube trains leaving Stratford was Farah’s.
The roars of the 80,000-strong crowd caused the photo-finish apparatus to malfunction as Farah crossed, and Great Britain had a new hero as a Muslim immigrant from Somalia via Djibouti carved a special niche in Olympic history.
Farah dedicated a gold medal apiece to his twin daughters Aisha and Amani, born two weeks later. Heading to Brazil, he aims to satisfy the rest of his offspring, promising a medal each for his daughter Rhianna, 11, and son Hussein, born last year.
The form-book suggests there will be no cause for sibling jealousy post-Rio. Since London, Farah has done the double at the world championships in 2013 and 2015.
A success all the more laudable given the stress of months away from his young family, and allegations about the practices of his coach Alberto Salazar. Farah himself is ready: “I won’t have all those Brits cheering me,” he says, “but, on the other hand, I don’t have the pressure I had in London.”