Following on from my in-depth review of our spectacular opening ceremony, I’m now going to take an extensive look back at the big sporting moments from the London 2012 Olympics, as I continue to celebrate their 10th anniversary.
I’ve been rewatching the highlights on the BBC’s Blu-ray box set of the Games, which splits the coverage across the middle 3 discs, hosted by Sue Barker and featuring lots of other presenters and commentators from the original broadcasts. Considering they had so much to choose from, I think they did a very good job picking out a lot of the most important and memorable achievements, as it is a very extensive compilation. There will always be a few things that people are disappointed that they missed out, it would be impossible to please everyone.
The BBC’s animated title sequence, showing lots of different sports in action, is a wonderful introduction to it all, accompanied by a fantastic tune called First Steps by Elbow (with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and NovaVox Gospel Choir), that gets increasingly epic as it progresses. It was released as a charity single in aid of Children In Need & Sport Relief, and there’s an interesting video online about the making of the tune and the title sequence, which gives a nice insight into how it all came together.
Naturally the focus of the BBC’s Blu-ray set, and my personal interest, is on Team GB, who did exceptionally well. They were clearly driven on to great success by virtue of being in front of hugely supportive home crowds, which enhanced their already amazing talents. But there are several big names from other nations who get a mentionalong the way as well.
So, for this post, here are the many athletes and results that stand out for me from the first 8 days of the Games, finishing on the now legendary Super Saturday. I’ve linked to various BBC articles throughout, some of which include clips from their TV coverage (which are only available to UK viewers), along with some items of interest from other sites. I’ve also created an Olympics playlist on Youtube that’s full of highlights, including a lot of footage from the official Olympics Youtube channel with their own commentators, along with interview footage and other random but relevant clips, so feel free to look through that as well. I hope you enjoy!
The highlights start on the second disc of the Blu-ray set, with a 2-hour review of the first 6 days. It serves as a tasty starter before the delectable main course is served up on the next disc, and a filling dessert follows on the one after that.
Road cycling played a big part in the opening days, with huge crowds along the route who got to see Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the time trial on Day 5, making him the most decorated British Olympian with 7 medals (4 of them gold). And that was just 9 days after he had become the first British winner of the Tour de France, making him the first man to win that event and Olympic gold in the same year.
Great Britain’s first medal of any colour in these Games, however, came with a silver for Lizzie Armitstead in the women’s cycling road race on Day 2. You can watch Lizzie talking about training as well, and she also spoke out about inequality in the sport after winning her silver.
The honour of our first gold medal went to Helen Glover & Heather Stanning on Day 5 before Bradley Wiggins, with a huge lead in the women’s pair rowing event at Eton Dorney. It also meant they were the first to appear on a special series of Royal Mail stamps that were produced to celebrate all our gold medal winners. The Royal Mail also painted a gold postbox in the hometown of every Olympic & Paralympic gold medal winner, which was a wonderful gesture..
We also got silver in the men’s lightweight four and bronze in the men’s eight. And in other boating news, we had 2 medals in the same canoe slalom event, with Tim Baillie & Etienne Stott getting gold, and David Florence & Richard Hounslow picking up the silver.
Staying in the water and, in swimming, America’s superstar Michael Phelps was beaten to 4th by Ryan Lochtie in the 400m individual medley (his first failure to get an Olympic medal since 2000), was part of the USA team who came second in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, and was also beaten to 2nd by Chad Le Clos in the 200m butterfly. The Blu-ray includes the great interview with Chad’s enthusiastic & emotional father Bert, who Claire Balding and her BBC team had spotted going mad in the crowd and invited him on air.
However, Phelps made up for that by sharing a team gold in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay and got revenge on Ryan to win an individual gold in the 200m medley, at that point making him the greatest Olympian in history with 20 medals (16 Gold, 2 Silver & 2 Bronze). And he wasn’t done yet, as we’ll see later.
As for Team GB in the pool in these early days, there was a bronze for Rebecca Adlington in the 400m freestyle & a silver for Michael Jamieson in the 200m breaststroke. Not a bad start.
- The Blu-ray has extensive highlights of the very dramatic men’s team gymnastics competition, with literal twists and turns. Team GB were initially awarded silver, but were bumped down to bronze after Japan appealed. It was still a huge achievement though, being Britain’s first team gymnastics medal for a century!
- In the team eventing, there was a silver for the British equestrian team, including the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, with cross country and showjumping. The horses are such beautiful animals to watch in action, though it sometimes feels quite tense watching them jumping and clipping the different fences, especially when even the slightest score deduction can make all the difference between winning or losing a medal.
- Gemma Gibbons won silver for Great Britain, becoming our first judo medallist for 12 years. She was beaten by Kayla Harrison from the USA. But the moment that was most memorable and special for Gemma actually came at the end of her previous semi-final match. After beating world champion Audrey Tcheumeo and thus guaranteeing herself at least a silver medal, she tearfully looked up to the sky and mouthed “I love you Mum”. Her mother Jeanette had encouraged Gemma to take up judo at the age of 6, but passed away in 2004 from leukaemia, so never got to see Gemma’s rise to stardom. Gemma’s emotional tribute soon became one of the most used clips in highlights montages of the Games, perfectly illustrating how personal and emotional Olympic success can be.
- Peter Wilson won gold for Britain in the men’s double trap shooting.
- And in the velodrome in the Olympic Park, the British women were relegated from their team sprint due to an incorrect changeover, but the men stormed to victory in the team sprint, breaking their own world record, in a group that included Sir Chris Hoy.
On the third Blu-ray disc there are 3 hours of highlights covering the next 4 days, because the action really picks up and there’s a lot more to talk about. 40 minutes are devoted to Day 7 for a start, during which:
- The athletics events began in the stadium, with poster girl of the games Jessica Ennis embarking on her quest for the heptathlon title. She was beaten by Austra Skujytė in the high jump and shot put field events, but made up for it by winning the 100m hurdles and 200m races on the track, meaning she was in the lead overall by the end of her first day, with 3 more events to come.
- In the rowing, Katherine Grainger had won 3 silvers in the last 3 Olympics, and was 6 times world champion, but finally got an Olympic gold medal around her neck at these Games, after winning the women’s double sculls with Anna Watkins.
- The USA continued to dominate in the swimming pool, as Missy Franklin won the women’s 200m backstroke with a world record, and Michael Phelps won his 17th gold in the men’s 100m butterfly (a day after President Obama had called to wish him luck). America’s Katie Ledecky won the women’s 800m freestyle in her first Olympics, with defending champion Rebecca Adlington clinching her second bronze of the Games for Team GB. It wasn’t the result Rebecca wanted, but she was quite rightly very proud of it nonetheless, and the crowd loved her and chanted her name, so she got very emotional when being interviewed. She had 2 gold medals from previous Games anyway, so she was already a champion, and adding 2 bronzes meant that she could retire from competitive swimming as Britain’s most decorated swimmer.
- Great Britain competed in the women’s football for the first time at these Olympics. They successfully got through their group games without conceding a single goal, but lost to Canada 2-0 in the quarter-final. It was still a great effort though. And as we’ve seen, the sport has continued to evolve and flourish, leading to England’s recent historic win in the Euros that I mentioned in my July 2022 Favourites post.
- We got another judo medal, as Karina Bryant won bronze in the women’s heavyweight match at her 4th Games.
- And there was more success in the velodrome for Great Britain, as our men won the team pursuit with another world record, and Victoria Pendleton beat world champion Anna Meares in a great keirin race, the first time the women’s keirin had been held in the Olympics. It’s an unusual event really, starting with slow but gradually increasing speed as they follow closely behind the pacing derny bike, before it goes off the track so the competitors can race to the end, like winding up a spring and letting it go. It’s quite an effective way of building up the tension before the big finish.
Day 8 (Super Saturday)
50 minutes on Disc 3 are devoted to the now legendary middle Saturday of these Games. It was Britain’s greatest day in Olympic history for 104 years, with 6 gold medals that enabled us to retain our position of 3rd in the medal table, and we were actually top in terms of medal to population ratio.
It began in the morning, when Team GB completed their most successful rowing regatta ever. Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James & Andrew Triggs Hodge grabbed gold in the men’s four first of all, and that was swiftly followed by another gold in the women’s lightweight double sculls. The look of shock on Katherine Copeland’s and Sophie Hosking’s faces, before it dawns on them and they hug each other with sheer delight, was such a beautiful and moving moment. They were completely bewildered by it all for a while afterwards, and cried for joy while the national anthem was played.
We also did well by getting silver in the men’s lightweight double sculls, after being beaten by Denmark. But Mark Hunter & Zac Purchase had really wanted to defend their title, and were very upset and apologetic in their post-race interview, with compassionate presenter John Inverdale trying to reassure them that they hadn’t let anyone down, while struggling to contain his own emotions. Super Saturday really did take us through all the emotions, it wasn’t all joyous. But that’s important, because it shows just how much winning an Olympic title means to people of this calibre, who have worked so hard for so long to try and get it. It makes the victories all the sweeter when they happen.
Over in the velodrome, the women’s team pursuit was held for the first time in Olympics history, and we won that in style with another world record, thanks to Dani King, Laura Trott & Joanna Rowsell working so well together. Paul McCartney was seen celebrating in the crowd along with everyone else too.
Elsewhere, to digress for a moment, Michael Phelps secured his 18th Olympic gold in the men’s 4 x 100m medley relay. And all of those golds are supplemented by the 2 silvers and 2 bronzes he’s also won. He was given a trophy by Fina, the world’s governing body for the sport, in honour of his incredible success.
It was believed at that point to be the end of Michael’s competitive swimming career, as he announced his retirement at the time. But he couldn’t resist the lure of the water and started competing again in 2014, before going to the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he won a further 5 gold and 1 silver, taking his record-breaking Olympics tally to 23 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze! It also made him the most successful athlete at 4 Olympics in a row. He is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.
And then there was the athletics…
As ever, there was a packed schedule in the stadium throughout the day – including an appearance by Oscar Pistorius that was historically important at the time, but now makes for rather uncomfortable viewing given the tragic events of the following year. Falls from grace don’t come much bigger than that. But that’s not why the athletics was memorable that day anyway, as thoughts about his presence were firmly pushed aside by what came later.
On the evening of Saturday 4th August 2012, the incredibly lucky 80,000 spectators in the stadium, and millions of viewers at home, witnessed the greatest night in the history of British athletics, which has since been voted Britain’s greatest Olympics moment in polls by the BBC and Team GB.
Never before had Britain won 3 gold medals in a single session of Olympic athletics, yet that’s exactly what we did in the space of just 45 glorious minutes. I never get tired of watching the footage back, as not only are the athletes amazing, but the crowd also generate an incredible atmosphere, while the always excellent and very excited BBC commentators perfectly convey the importance, pressure and joyful pride of these historic moments.
First we had Jessica Ennis winning the 800m to secure her heptathlon gold, and the race is shown in full on the Blu-ray. She had built up such a lead on the scoreboard from the previous 6 events, including the long jump and javelin during the morning of her second busy day, that she didn’t need to come first in the final race. So it wasn’t a concern when a couple of people overtook her on the second lap. But she took the lead again on the final straight, driven forwards by the crowd and timing her sprint perfectly. Paul Dickinson commentated on the race with Denise Lewis, where Paul paid tribute to Jessica’s athletics club at Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, and he had such intense pride in his voice as she crossed the line. All of her hard work had paid off magnificently.
Then, feeding off the energy in the minutes after that, Greg Rutherford won the men’s long jump with his 4th round effort of 8.31 metres. When it was time for him to make the final jump in the 6th round, he was already the winner, so he just ran through the sand without a care, standing tall and proud at the far end of the pit. We had never won the long jump since Lynn Davies in Tokyo in 1964, so it was a big deal. Jonathan Edwards commentated on Greg’s event, and was as happily surprised as everyone else by how the evening was going.
And to top it all off, Mo Farah became the first British athlete to win the men’s 10,000m since the event was introduced to the Games 100 years previously. Mo executed his run to perfection, biding his time until the final lap, when he took the lead and stayed there, pulling away even further from the field as the electricity from the crowd gave him an extra spark of energy. Steve Cram and Brendan Foster commentated on this, with Steve getting increasingly proud and excited as Mo rounded the final bend and flew down the home straight. You could tell how much it meant for Steve to witness that. There’s also a brilliant clip of Sebastian Coe celebrating amongst the crowd.
After the race there’s a beautiful moment where Mo’s daughter Rihanna runs on to the track to congratulate him, while his wife Tania – who was impressively calm despite the excitement and being pregnant with twins – walks out much more carefully to hug him. We also see him do his famous Mobot celebration, which Clare Balding & James Corden had invented for him a couple of months earlier on the TV comedy show A League Of Their Own. It even spawned a charity single and dance to raise money for his foundation.
On the Blu-ray, this evening of excellence is trimmed down to 23 minutes, but it’s still thorough, showing all the key moments. After a little bit of build-up we see the entire 2 laps of Jess’s race, the important jumps from Greg’s event, and the final 2 laps of Mo’s race, with the ensuing celebrations and emotional interviews in each case. Greg’s on cloud nine in his interview, Jess is in breathless and emotional shock in hers, and Mo is calm and composed while it all sinks in. Plus we get Jessica’s very moving medal ceremony, where the crowd sing the national anthem loudly and proudly. So it’s a decent recap of the night.
Super Saturday Extras
While there aren’t any extras for Super Saturday on the Blu-ray set, I did capture a few of my own using a combination hard drive & DVD recorder that I had connected to my TV back then. I created several discs relating to the Olympics in that way, and they contain a few features directly connected to this big night that I’ve also enjoyed rewatching.
Super Saturday 2012 Coverage
Given its popularity and historical importance, the BBC broadcast an uncut repeat of the Super Saturday athletics session on their red button service at a later date. So I grabbed a copy of it and edited it down to focus purely on the British athletes, resulting in 90 minutes of footage. I still love having the shorter edit on the Blu-ray set, that gives us all the best bits in much higher definition, but it’s also great to be able to watch the evening back more fully too, as even now you can still feel the excitement of it all.
My extended recording includes junior athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s final 800m in the heptathlon, setting a new British junior record in her first experience of senior competition, coming off the back of a World Junior Title. There’s also longer coverage of Mo’s race, and the full build-up to Jessica’s medal ceremony, with Chariots Of Fire playing while the medals are being handed out before the anthem. That same tune then plays again during the closing headlines about the gold medals won during the day. And over a closing montage of the gold medal winners, the BBC elected to play Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, very appropriately.
Jessica Ennis: Golden Girl
This was an interesting half-hour documentary following Jess as she goes through training in the 11 months leading up to the Olympics. It gives a great sense of how much work she had to do, training 6 days a week during that time. So we see her training with other athletes at indoor and outdoor venues, taking part in small local athletics events, and competing in a big heptathlon championship in Austria, where she gets a couple of personal bests and sets a British record. Plus we see how her physiotherapist and medical advisors keep a close eye on her body, to try and catch any potential issues before they can cause a problem. There are nice insightful interviews with Jess and her coach Tony Minichiello throughout, and a few other people working with her too.
Sadly, 10 years on, Tony has just been banned from coaching for life after very inappropriate behaviour came to light. But thankfully it appears Jess wasn’t on the receiving end, and she continues to be a popular, inspirational, shining light for women athletes and others to this day.
Super Saturday 2016 Coverage
At the Rio Olympics 4 years later, Jess, Greg and Mo were back together on the same night as one another, to see if they could retain their respective titles. So I was able to record the coverage of that session, edit it down to 2 hours of British attention, and add it to the same disc as the 2012 footage. As is often the case with sequels, it wasn’t as magical as the original evening, but it still had lots of build-up, drama and emotional moments, so it’s good to see it again.
In the heptathlon, we start with the headlines from their long jump earlier in the day, before following the British ladies in the javelin and then Jessica’s 800m race. Ultimately, Jessica Ennis-Hill (her name now extended by virtue of marriage in 2013) was narrowly beaten to silver by Nafissatou Thiam. Jess did win the final 800m race like before, but Nafissatou had thrown considerably further than her in the javelin, giving her a big advantage in the final race, so Jessica wasn’t quite as far ahead at the finish as she needed to be. Jess gives Nafissatou due credit in her interview later though, and struggles to contain her emotions when she thanks her family and others who have helped her.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s bid for a podium position was lost during the javelin, however, as injuries and poor self-confidence got in the way, so by the end of the night she finished in 6th place. But she gives a nice interview afterwards, acknowledging that she has a lot of potential, it just wasn’t her night on this occasion. And she has improved greatly since then, going on to win gold for the heptathlon at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 2019 World Championships and, after a rough couple of years, the very recent 2022 Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd, along with other successes over the years. So she’s got a lot to be proud of!
Back to Rio in 2016 though, and in the long jump the leaders kept changing throughout the competition. Greg Rutherford was briefly in first place after his 3rd jump, having improved after his poor scoring during qualification. But a couple of other athletes were able to jump further, and he appeared to have ended up in 4th after the final huge jump by Jarrion Lawson from the USA. But Lawson hadn’t realised that his left hand had scuffed the sand behind him as he landed, and that was taken as the measurement as it was nearest the take-off board. He and his coach were furious, but the replayed footage made it clear the judges were right. So that meant Greg ultimately won bronze, though he was disappointed by that and got emotional when talking about it in his interview.
Mo Farah, meanwhile, had proven to be unbeatable since 2012, so there were high expectations and very real pressure on him as #MoTime approached for his 10,000m event. Once again Steve Cram & Brendan Foster were in the commentary box for the BBC as Mo settled into the race, staying at the back to begin with to keep an eye on everyone else. He then moved up the field, only for there to be a moment of worry when his training partner accidentally clipped his heel and caused him to fall over. For many athletes, that could have completely disrupted their mindset and planning and cost them the chance of a medal.
Mo, however, was strong, both mentally and physically. So he quickly bounced back on to his feet and settled comfortably into the groove again. And then on a fantastic last lap he treated us to another great sprint to victory, much to Steve Cram’s elation once again, meaning that Mo became the first British athlete to win 3 Olympic golds. And he would add to that later in Rio by winning the 5,000m again as well, becoming the first British athlete to retain both titles. As well as doing the Mobot again, he gave a nice interview afterwards as well, talking about rebounding from his fall and his emotions at the finish, plus we see his medal ceremony as well.
So our 3 heroes didn’t do badly at all really – not as well as Jess or Greg had hoped or expected perhaps, but one medal of each colour between the trio is still very respectable, considering the extraordinarily high bar we’d set 4 years previously.
It’s also noted in the closing headlines that Michael Phelps had won his 23rd Olympic gold medal in the pool that day, as part of the USA 4 x 100m medley relay team, with the British team getting the silver medal position, so that was another impressive result for us given who we were up against!
And that’s it for the first half of the 2012 Games, I hope you enjoyed looking back over those wonderful memories. As I said at the start, I have an Olympics highlights playlist with lots more clips than I could possibly mention here if you want to dig even deeper. And be sure to come back later this weekend for my review of the second half of the Games, which had plenty more excitement and drama in store!