Roy hadn’t earned a day of sloth. He knew this only too well. But he was helpless.
Ennis started poorly in the long jump. Roy’s default pessimism stirred, but Ennis leapt again and her smile confirmed the joy of six metres 40, a big points score. Half an hour later she found eight centimetres more, a flash of blue, her momentum throwing her forwards into the sand. And now it could be said: the Face of the Games was on course for gold.
More rowing, and victory for a team of men: Andy, Alex, Peter, Tom, foursquare names, solid in triumph. Then another pair of women won, Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland, funny and half daft with disbelief, they brought a tear to Roy’s eye, they’d be on a stamp tomorrow, it was too weird. Copeland, stunned, thanked her dad and mum, she said there’d been some ups and downs with all the rowing. Each of the three pairs of golden rower women had been like a different sort of double act giving unguarded glimpses of their lives off stage.
Two British guys were next, their seat broke, there was a restart after some screwdriver work, but they were pipped at the post by the Danes. Roy saw too well that silver meant nothing to them other than second best, the weight of disappointment literally hung round their necks. He fled from their pain back to Ennis, throwing the javelin, a personal best, she was miles ahead, only injury in the evening’s 800 metres could stop her now. She switched on, she switched off. She waved at the camera as if on her holidays. Roy watched, amazed, transfixed: she was all steel; she was all girl.
In the tennis Williams crushed Sharapova. Evening came. In the velodrome, Rowsell, King and Trott won the women’s team pursuit gold. In the stadium, British long jumper Greg Rutherford took the lead. Then it was Ennis again, two laps of the track. She led. Three others overtook her down the back straight and she looked suddenly small, like a kid in a grown-ups’ race. But as the final bend approached she burst through a gap, attacked, and was a clear first across the line, arms raised. She lay flat on her back, hands covering her face. Rutherford extended his long jump lead. Mo Farah emerged to warm up for the 10,000 metres, to cheers.
At the starting line, Farah bounced on the spot. Roy appraised the other runners: Kenyans, a Saudi, Eritreans, Ethiopians including two Bekeles, brothers, one of them twice gold medallist before; Americans, including Farah’s training partner Rupp. Off they set for twenty-five long laps. Will Claye, an American, in bronze position for the long jump, now the only man who could overtake Rutherford, got nowhere near. The cameras found Rutherford standing, one arm, one finger raised. In the pit, Claye too pointed to the sky, put his hands together, spoke to God.
Lap six in the 10k, two Eritreans put on some speed. A Kenyan fell, got up, hurried to catch up. Farah stayed steady around tenth. There was some shuttling at the front, Kenyans pushing up. Seven laps to go, and Farah pared back the space that separated him from the leader. Tension gathered in Roy’s gut.
Halfway, they were breathing hard although the pace was slow, Farah staying wide, just off the leading group. There was some barging, he pushed a guy away.
Five to go, Farah moved up to third, looking tough, a shoulder shake. There was a breakaway pack of twelve.
Four to go, Farah edged up to the leader’s shoulder. Rupp was third.
Three to go, Farah third or fourth, an Ethiopian leading, a lot of watching each other, who’s gambling, who’s strong?
Two to go, bunching, Farah on the leader’s hip. Into the straight, to the bell, he hit the front, stepped it up, eyes going left, right, left. The final lap and stretching out, he was sprinting and they were chasing, he was devouring the ground. Eighty metres left and he found another burst and was away, Rupp chasing hard but too far behind. Farah gold.
Roy was standing on the sofa, roaring, all alone.
Farah knelt and kissed the ground, thanking Allah. He rolled over, almost rolled into Rupp’s phlegm spat on the ground. The American helped him to his feet, they embraced. Farah’s daughter ran to her father from the crowd to hug him. Then, the interview:
“I just can’t believe it, the crowd got so much behind me, it was getting louder and louder, I just, I’ve never experienced something like this, this is just…it doesn’t come round often and to have it right on your doorstep, have people supporting you, shouting out your name. It’s never going to get better than this, this is the best moment of my life, it’s just something that you’ve got to work so hard for, and it’s just the grinding and hard work and 120 miles a week, week in, week out, you know, long distance is a lonely event, so it’s just you, what you put into it, is what you get out. I want to thank everyone who’s supported me from my childhood until now.”
Long distance loneliness. Roy wept.
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