Happy endings as GB start with bang
There were three particularly lovely moments in the giddy aftermath of Mo Farah's 10,000m gold and Chris Thompson's silver in the Estadio Olympico on Tuesday evening.
The first was Farah crossing the line arms outstretched, eyeballs popping, unconsciously replicating Kelly Holmes' famous pose as she celebrated her own golden moment in Athens six years ago.
The second was Thompson's reaction when grabbed by BBC Sport's Phil Jones for his reaction. "That was the greatest half-an-hour of my life," he gasped, before insisting he was off for a beer.
The third was Thompson, still disbelieving, planting a sloppy kiss atop his teammate's sweaty shaved head.
For both these men, Tuesday night represented the culmination of two very different but equally tortuous sporting journeys. That they celebrated in such liberated and unbridled fashion tells its own tale of the struggles both have endured.
Farah, arriving in Britain in 1993 from Mogadishu as a nine-year-old refugee, was almost immediately in trouble. Among the very few English phrases his father had taught him were 'where is the toilet?' and 'come on then'. Unfortunately, on his first day at school, he made the mistake of saying the latter to the local hard-nut and, in his own words, got 'twatted'.
That he developed as any sort of athlete at all was in large part due to the persistence of his PE teacher at Isleworth and Syon school in west London, Alan Watkinson.
Watkinson not only spotted his raw ability but bribed him into giving up his beloved football for athletics. Aged 13, he entered his first English schools cross country championships and finished ninth. The following year, Watkinson offered to buy him a football shirt if he won. He did, and went on to win in each of the next four years. Brentham United lost a right-back, but Britain found a rare talent.
Even then he was nearly led down the wrong path. Farah likes to have fun. Even in Tuesday's final he was grinning at his opponents, wagging his finger at others and looking behind him to wave Thompson closer. In his early 20s, it was more about the partying; he once stripped naked and jumped from Kingston Bridge into the River Thames.
Back in 2003, Thompson out-sprinted Farah to win the 5,000m title at the European under-23 championships. While Farah took note of his errors and began a more austere lifestyle, eventually moving in with a group of top Kenyan runners in Teddington and doing nothing but "sleep, eat, train and rest", Thompson found himself beset by injury.
At several points his career looked finished. When Farah was taking European 5,000m silver in Gothenburg four years ago, Thompson was trailing home last in such obvious pain that his grandfather, watching at home on television, burst into tears.
Salvation came slowly, in the shape of three different individuals: his long-term UK-based coach John Nuttall; Mark Rowland, the former Olympic steeplechase bronze medalist who took him under his wing at the Oregon Track Club in the US; and his girlfriend, British 800m runner Jemma Simpson.
Nuttall has provided the coaching, Rowland the environment and training-group, Simpson the support.
Simpson could not bear to watch in person on Tuesday. Half an hour earlier she had stormed into the 800m final, and was getting a massage deep in the bowels of the stadium as her boyfriend justified her faith in him.
It was Thompson - clad in the same luminous orange spikes that Simpson had sported in her heat - who made the first big move, hitting the front with 3400m left, but Farah was straight onto his heels.
With five and a half laps to go, Farah hit the front, taking home favourite Ayad Lamdassem with him. Thompson dropped back, seemingly spent, but he hadn't come this far to let it all slip away once again.
"I thought, I've got to give everything here," he said afterwards. "I'd been reading Steve Redgrave's book before the race, and he talked about once thinking he was gone halfway through a race, only to find his strength came back. That inspired me. I thought, this is my gold medal."
Farah, running with complete ease and confidence, kicked past Lamdassem with 300m to go and never looked back. Thompson, digging deep within himself, found the strength to fight past the Spaniard and hold off Italy's Daniele Meucci.
Britain had its first ever male gold medallist in a European 10,000m final. Farah and Thompson had finally fulfilled their youthful potential.
"These medals make such a statement for British distance running," says Steve Cram, European champion over 1500m in 1982 and 1986. "Chris is such a great story. His career was written off - everyone had given up on him, he'd given up on himself, he was off funding - but he always had that ability.
"His medal will be hugely popular in athletics clubs up and down the country, with cross country runners and club runners who have raced against him, who he always had time for. So many athletes have been in the same position - full of talent, but struggling with injuries and failing to convert - but he stuck at it.
"The people around him convinced him that if he could get injury-free he could still do it, and he showed the dedication to do it - taking odd jobs to make ends meet, really committing to what he was doing, keeping the faith when he could so easily have given up."
British men's distance running has been waiting for a moment like this for a long time. Four years ago there wasn't even a British male in the final, let alone one at the last Olympics or World Championships.
Watching in the main grandstand, cheering himself hoarse, was Ian Stewart - European 5,000m gold medallist 31 years ago and now UK Athletics' head of endurance. Alongside him, wearing a grin almost as wide, was Dave Bedford, former world record holder over 10,000m.
Distance running in 2010 is in a very different place to when those two were producing world-beating performances in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the changes Stewart has made since taking his new job 20 months ago - such as bringing the 10,000m back to the GB Trials - may be starting to turn around the long decline.
"Teams for distance events have been shut down," says Cram. "We haven't sent anyone to some events. But these two athletes have shown other British men that you can compete on the big stage."
And what of the naysayers who might grouch that these are 'only' European medals, that the world and Olympic distance finals will remain the preserve of the Kenyans and Ethiopians?
"Britain has never won this gold before. We've had years without an entry in the event. This is absolutely a big achievement.
"I'm a believer that when you get to Worlds and Olympics, you want British athletes in the big finals. And if you don't have athletes competing and winning in European finals, we won't have that.
"Farah and Thompson would go into any distance race and be competitive. There is nothing wrong with finishing in the top seven at the World Championships. This result gives young British athletes something to believe in. If American and Australian men can win distance medals, why can't we?"
As first days of championships go, it was everything GB head coach Charles van Commenee could have hoped for. Phillips Idowu breezed into the triple jump final with his first and only effort, Dwain Chambers looked in fine shape in the 100m heats and both Jenny Meadows and Simpson will go into Friday's 800m final with medals on their minds.
But it is Farah and Thompson, the old friends and old rivals come good, who have really kick-started the British charge. And there is still the 5,000m to come.