First there was that memorable Saturday night when Britain’s poster girl for the 2012 Games rose to meet all the lofty expectations of her and won gold in the heptathlon. Then there was the great homecoming to Sheffield when 20,000 people filled the streets to catch a glimpse of the famous local girl. Now Jessica Ennis is preparing to meet the public again, at the athletes’ parade through London.
“It’s all been overwhelming,” she says. “The support I’ve received has been immense. Never in my wildest dreams did I think, when I started out in the sport, that it would lead to this. People have been so supportive and have made me feel incredibly proud to be British. I’d love to run up to every one of them and thank them for their support and tell them how much it means to me.”
She’ll have a chance to say her thank yous on Monday when she and the other famous names from the Olympics and Paralympics ride through London on open-top buses.
“There are some days that are just wonderful, really special, and I know that will be one of them. A chance to meet the fans who have made it all worthwhile. I can’t wait.
Andy Rutherford, father of the long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford
“I jumped up to do a fist pump and actually punched myself in the face!”
“The atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium was absolutely awesome. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. It was so intense that on Greg’s first jump he actually ran through [the sandpit]. I think the crowd got to him, he lost a bit of focus when he was coming down the runway.
“On his second attempt he jumped 8.21m. I knew that was a decent jump and, I couldn’t help myself, I jumped up to do a fist pump and actually punched myself in the face! All I can say is it’s a good job Greg got his mum’s co-ordination, not his dad’s…
“When he got the gold it was an amazing feeling – a mixture of relief and being totally ecstatic at the same time. The relief came from the fact that he had been trying for so many years and, for whatever reason – either he’d had injuries or had just not been quite right within himself – it hadn’t worked out. But this time he was physically OK, and he had incredible confidence, this real self-belief. I think at the highest level of sport you’ve got to have that because when you re down on the track it’s a bit of a bearpit – everybody wants to take everyone else out. You’ve got to believe you can produce, and he did.
“My wife Tracy and I ran down the steps towards the track, but Greg was going round on his lap of honour. We kept trying to catch him but we missed him about three times. Finally we sprinted along the inside of the barrier and caught up with him. I shouted to him but there was so much crowd noise and cameras going that to start with he couldn’t hear. Then eventually he heard me, came across and jumped into the crowd and we all hugged. It was a really emotional moment – in fact, thinking about it now makes me a little bit emotional…
“We haven’t celebrated officially yet, simply because Greg still had to compete in the Diamond League. We’re going to have a family party in October: we’ve got family all over the country. They’ll all come down, we’ll hire a big hall and really go to town…”
Adrian Trott, father of the cycling double gold medallist Laura Trott
“I bought a lot of her stamps: I think I’ve got 120. They’re going on this year’s Christmas cards.”
“We didn’t dare dream that she would get a single gold medal, let alone two.
“I’m relatively calm in the stands. Laura likes to know where we’ll be, so I had laid out our flag on the outside rail. I don’t shout until there are two laps to go, but for the team pursuit final, with two laps to go they were so close to the Americans it was game over and I was already at the front. Laura came over and I remember her taking her helmet off. I just held it up and showed it to the crowd.
“We hung around the velodrome until they kicked us out, then we met Laura, and there were plenty of tears shed. The omnium was very nerve-racking. After her final race, the scoreboard seemed to take an eternity to come up with the result. My wife and I rushed to the front. Neither of us could speak. Laura had to go and do drug testing, while we retired to Westfield to drink champagne. Then we went back to GB House and Laura was met with a round of applause, which really got the emotions going. There were other athletes there and Duncan Goodhew came across to welcome her to the double-medal-winners club.
“It has sunk in now. We have battled to keep it real. It still feels odd that people want to speak to us, when we haven’t done anything. We’ve kept all our tickets and flags. We’ve got the podium flowers, although one set went to her best friend, whose birthday it was on the day of the omnium. Because that was Laura’s individual gold I bought a lot of the stamps: I think I’ve got 120. They’re going on this year’s Christmas cards.”
Andy Coogan, great-uncle of the six-time cycling gold medallist Chris Hoy
“When Chris won, I had another cup of tea and a sing-song.”
“I saw Chris’s victories on TV at home in Carnoustie with my family and a nice cup of tea. I was nervous but I knew that Chris and the team had worked harder than you and I can imagine – that takes away your nerves a wee bit. When Chris won, I had another cup of tea and a sing-song, it was so nice to celebrate with my family.
“The most important thing about the Olympics and Paralympics is to get old and young folk into sport, and it seems to be working. Find a sport you enjoy and work at it. Good coaching is important so that you know you’re doing it right.
“Sport and training athletes have given me a lot of pleasure over the years, and keeping fit saved my life and the lives of my pals in the prison camps during the war. I admire anyone who does sport at any level.”
Andy Coogan’s autobiography, Tomorrow You Die, is available now.
Penny Copeland, mother of the double sculls gold medallist
“I screamed for seven minutes and ended up physically rowing the race with her, rocking back and forth.”
“For people who are new to rowing, the fact that Katherine and Sophie Hosking did so well in the heats and semi-finals might suggest that they were on course to win. But people don’t realise that every race is different, and so much can go wrong. Other crews could be holding a bit back, so you can’t just say one crew were the fastest qualifiers and so they’ll win.
“My husband, Derek, was very calm but I was the complete opposite. I screamed for seven minutes and ended up physically rowing the race with her, rocking back and forth. By the end I was completely hoarse and deaf.
“When they won, I turned to my husband. We didn’t need to say anything. It was just a look. It still hasn’t sunk in properly. The past few weeks have been full-on. Sometimes you need a few quiet minutes to think about what happened.
“The main thing Katherine was excited about was meeting Gary Lineker. She went off to do the drug testing, and then to London, and we went back to our hotel. My husband and I had a minor fall-out because I was online buying memorabilia and he wanted to get going to the rowing drinks!
“On the BBC Katherine was presented with a big cardboard version of her commemorative stamp, and when we went to meet her later, we took it for her as she was moving into the Olympic village the next morning. When I woke up and saw the stamp leaning against the wall of my hotel room, it hit me and I just started sobbing.
“The next day, on the way home, we called in at a post office to buy some of the real stamps. They asked my husband how many he wanted, and he asked how many they had. He bought their entire stock – 60 of them.”
Simon Bailey, brother of the Paralympic gold medallist Sarah Storey – at swimming (Atlanta) and cycling (Beijing, London 2012)
“It’s the quiet, more reflective moments when it really sinks in.”
“It’s a great honour to see your sister competing. It’s so exciting it’s hard to put it into words. The sense of pride is incredible. There’s the great moment after the finish line, the euphoria, but it’s the quiet, more reflective moments when it really sinks in.
“After Sarah won her second medal in Beijing, the ceremony was out on a reservoir north of Beijing. You had a lovely pagoda in the middle of the lake and the flags were going up in front of this gorgeous scenery and you’re thinking, ‘Is this actually happening?’ That sort of day seems like a bit of a dream…”
Jayne Ferguson, mother of the taekwondo gold medallist Jade Jones
“A man turned round and took a picture of me. He said I was the happiest person he’d ever seen!”
“When she got to the Excel Arena in the morning we knew she could do it, but we also knew how hard it would be. We were just willing her to do her best. She was going for gold, but any medal would have been good. We were just so proud.
“The crowd was going crazy every time they heard Jade’s name on the loudspeaker. It was buzzing.
“As the day wore on, we kept going through the same cycle. We were excited after she won a fight, but then nervous again about her next opponent. It was an emotional rollercoaster.
“I knew when she got to the final that she’d give it her all. I didn’t think she’d lose. As the time ran out, my vision went blurry and my legs went wobbly. I was just screaming and shouting. A man turned round and took a picture of me. He said I was the happiest person he’d ever seen!
“We got to see her for five minutes afterwards, before she went off for drug testing. All she could say was that she couldn’t believe it. She’d wanted to be the first British athlete to win a taekwondo gold: it was her dream.
“We live in a small town, and everyone comes into the butcher’s where I work and says how proud they are of her. It still feels surreal. We’ve been in Hello! magazine, and we see her picture in the papers. I recorded the whole day on Sky+ and I’ve watched it back about 20 times. I just love seeing her little face after she won.
“We haven’t seen much of her since, but we’re all going on holiday together to Ibiza for a week. We won’t be partying though, it will finally be a time to relax.”