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British Elbow Into An Exclusive Medals Podium


There is still a week to go at the Olympics, but it's a good bet that after all the drama ends, Britons will look back on last night as the moment the Games turned in their favor - maybe not in the overall medal count but the host country got a huge psychological lift as Team Great Britain snagged three track and field gold medals on the Games' biggest stage. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: With the start of track and field this weekend, there wasn't a lot of hope that Great Britain's growing medal tally would soar at the Olympic Stadium. History was against Team GB. The last time the Summer Games were held in London - 1948 - the host country didn't win a single track and field gold medal.


GOLDMAN: But this was the soundtrack at the Olympic Stadium for the better part of an hour last night. The dins spanned three events: women's heptathlon, men's long jump, men's 10,000 meters. Team GB athletes won all three events. Talk about ending a drought. London Mayor Boris Johnson often gets a hearty laugh for his hyperbolic statements. But on this night, you wouldn't have found a soul exiting the stadium who disagreed with the mayor, who said of the winners: their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country, if not the planet. OK, Boris - a planet too far, but the rest - spot-on.

JESSICA ENNIS: Just actually realizing that, you know, I've achieved one of my greatest goals and you never quite think that you're going to get there. And so when you do it's just really overwhelming.

GOLDMAN: After Team GB poster girl Jessica Ennis overcame huge expectations and won the seven-event heptathlon, Greg Rutherford leaped out of nowhere to take the long jump. Like Ennis, he took his victory lap with the Union Jack wrapped around his shoulders. And just as the men's 10,000-meter run began to unfold - 29 men, 25 laps - and you could have forgiven stadium goers for dashing out to take a loo break or grab a sausage on a roll. What would be the point of sticking around to see another African sweep? Since 1988, African runners have claimed every medal in this event except one.


GOLDMAN: But with 600 meters to run, this breathtaking race was completely up for grabs. Up to 10 runners were bunched at the front. Of course, that included Ethiopians, Eritreans and Kenyans. But wait, a Brit and a Yank? Training partners and buddies Mo Farah - the Brit - and Galen Rupp - the Yank - were right there. And with a surge down the stretch, they crossed the line one-two. They found each other, hugged, then Farah collapsed onto the track, zapped by exhaustion and euphoria. Later, Rupp describes how they worked the race together, with Farah, the reigning 5,000 meter world champion providing timely comfort.

GALEN RUPP: I remember during the middle of the race, you know, I was starting to get a little antsy. Tadese and some of those guys were surging and I was kind of wondering whether to go. And, you know, he kind of tapped me on the shoulder and was like, you know, just relax, mate. Everything's fine. They're going to come back. We just got play it cool right now and save everything to the finish.

GOLDMAN: The Somali-born Farah was another one of those Team GB athletes carried along in this event by a wave of adoration and hope. He said he made a decision not to let it crush him.

MO FARAH: When I walked in the crowd, I wasn't think these people want me to win. I was thinking all these people are here. They're supporting me. I've got more support than everyone else. I have to do well rather than using it in a negative way. So, that helped me a lot.

GOLDMAN: Farah and Rupp train under legendary long-distance runner Alberto Salazar. Last night, Salazar said the race plan of winning in the last 100 meters worked flawlessly. And he offered up Farah and Rupp as an example of a British-U.S. distance running alliance he hopes will flourish now that they've elbowed their way onto a very exclusive medals podium and given these Olympics one of the biggest moments on one of the biggest nights. Tom Goldman, NPR News, London.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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