Jessica Ennis has been the face of Britain in 2012. She could stake a fair claim to be “the face of the census” too.
She had to travel past 20 foot posters of herself on the way to compete at her home Olympics, but responded with such a strong performance as to turn the final event of the Heptathlon, the 800 metres, into a double lap of honour. With gold assured, she provided one of the indelible images of our Olympic summer, making sure to sprint first to the line, arms outstretched, breaking through the imaginary finishing tape, arms outstretched, in true Chariots of Fire style.
As Ennis says in her biography, Unbelievable: ‘I was unaware at that point that what people would call the greatest night in British athletics – some would even say British sport – was unfolding. I won at 9.04pm. Greg was a few laps into the 10,000 metres final. When he won in the most dramatic fashion, we had three gold medals in less than 45 minutes. Given that we had only won one Gold medal in Beijing, it was an incredible gold rush.’
It was Team GB’s finest hour, halfway through that Olympic fortnight. Britain’s best-selling tabloid, The Sun, was most vocal in suggesting no casting director could have picked a better trio:
‘It was 46 golden Olympic minutes when three young Britons showed the watching world just who we are. A ginger bloke from Milton Keynes, a mixed race beauty from Sheffield, an ethnic Somali given shelter on these shores from his war-ravaged homeland. This is what Britain looks like today … The long-term social ramifications of these Games remain to be seen. Yet the sight of these three Olympians wrapped in the Union Flag will surely do more to inspire than any political words.’
Mo Farah was central to this idea of a ‘new Britishness’. The idea that, in 2012, the flag still needed “reclaiming” from the far right was rather puzzling. “There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack” was a ‘seventies and ‘eighties street slogan of the NF, long ago decisively rejected by a broad majority. There had been no debate, nor novelty, about Linford Christie and Kris Akabusi’s claim to the flag at the Barcelona Games, twenty years earlier, following 1980s stars Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson. But Farah also represented three of the forms of otherness – being Somali-born, a Muslim and having a refugee-like trajectory – most often villified in the anxious decade after 9/11.
The coincidental timing of their Gold medals saw Ennis and Rutherford co-star in this modern British triptych. The Sun also celebrated how immigration that had made Jessica Ennis possible, ‘Immigrants like heptathlon queen Jessica Ennis’s dad Vinnie who arrived in this country from Jamaica at the age…Jessica Ennis has been the face of Britain in 2012. She could stake a fair claim to be “the face of the census” too. She had to travel past 20 foot posters of herself on the way to compete at her home Olympics, but responded with such a strong performance as to turn the final event