Athletics is always labelled the blue riband event of an Olympic Games, and in the case of London 2012 the billing was entirely justified. Although rowing and cycling sent a wave of excitement across the nation during the first week, it was the first Saturday of the athletics that set the Games alight. An unprecedented three British gold medals in 45 minutes, from Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Mo Farah in the 10,000m, provided a thrilling opener to the track and field events as the British public whooped and swooned. On that evening it seemed impossible to imagine that such noise could be repeated, let alone bettered in the following days. But that kind of thinking did not factor in the Usain Bolt effect. When he entered the picture along with an impressive team of Jamaica sprinters, the anticipation in the Olympic Stadium went stratospheric. Bolt's team-mate Yohan Blake, the 100m and 200m Olympic silver medallist, described it best when he talked about the Jamaica sprint relay team dropping in from outer space – not quite human, direct from Mars. Bolt joked that Blake was off his head but the 22‑year‑old did not have it far wrong. When Bolt, despite question marks over his fitness, tore apart the competition to defend both of his sprint titles and earn himself legendary status, the watching public were overawed. Bolt became the centre of the party, and everyone wanted a piece of him. Whether he was posturing on the track, or posing with three female Swedish handball players in his bedroom, Bolt was front‑page news. Helping his team to a world record in the 4x100m relay was no more than icing on the cake as the quartet clocked 36.84sec, smashing their old mark by 0.2sec and leaving the USA trailing on the home straight, as Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Blake and Bolt brought home the baton for the fourth athletics world record of the Games. Perhaps most pleasing of all for the sport was the emergence of new stars. David Rudisha was the standout candidate for global recognition as the 800m runner pulled off arguably the athletics performance of London 2012. Rudisha, a shy 23-year-old from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, broke his own world record in a time of 1min 40.91sec. But it was the manner in which he did so that caught the imagination. Sprinting from the outset he indicated that he was not content to simply win his first Olympic gold medal but that he wanted to do it in style. Caught up in the excitement spectators leapt to their feet, urging him on as he kicked once, and then twice, the field chasing him, dragged to their own personal bests and national records. Just when it had seemed as though nothing could top these moments, as though nothing could ever make the crowd cheer louder, Farah came back to the Olympic Stadium to win his second title in the 5,000m. As he sprinted for the line, the roars that accompanied his long elegant strides were deafening. Dropping to the track to perform a drill of sit-ups, the 29-year-old clowned around Bolt-style, and the crowd were enthralled. The entire stadium stayed on to watch Farah receive his gold medal, chanting: "We want Mo!" while they waited. Their patience was rewarded as not only Farah but his long-time friend Bolt returned to the arena to stand on the podium together, an iconic image that will last long in the memory.
The story of London 2012: Guardian writers' Olympic Games review