Jessica Ennis-Hill wrapped herself in the British flag and smiled that familiar smile into a flurry of flashbulbs. It was almost like 2012 again. Almost.
From the moment she returned to competition, following the birth of her son Reggie, she and her influential coach Toni Minichiello had this date indelibly marked in their diaries.
They’d plotted and planned, schemed and scheduled but, in the end, in a sport of fractions, the sums didn’t quite add up, as Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam edged heptathlon gold by a narrow margin.
But there is no shame at all in silver, with Ennis-Hill’s position alongside Daley Thompson as Britain’s greatest multi-eventer already secure. No athlete has ever defended an Olympic heptathlon title and Ennis-Hill’s victory at last year’s World Championship, just 13 months after giving birth, only emboldened her sense of self-belief in Rio.
But it was not to be, as Super Saturday II didn't quite live up to the original, while the sequel hardly went straight to video either. Besides, if you are truly disappointed by Mo Farah's gold, Ennis-Hill's silver and Greg Rutherford's bronze, then you need some joy in your soul. Thiam beckoned to Ennis-Hill to lead the heptathlon field on their lap of honour and tears followed, happy tears at another medal, sad tears that this was probably it.
The wise counsel of Minichiello, who has coached Ennis-Hill since she was 13, and husband Andy will be key to what happens next and don’t expect to see her on Strictly Come Dancing anytime soon either. Ennis-Hill will forever be defined by that storied summer four years ago. The poster girl of the Games, who embraced the national expectation and did her duty.
The smart money says this will be her last appearance on the track, though she’s right not to make that decision until the emotion of this moment has subsided. Next year offers the chance to do something only the great Carolina Kluft ever achieved, winning a third world heptathlon title, in front of a home crowd in London. But sometimes, you shouldn’t go back.
Thiam, just 21 and full of youth and vigour, looks a mean prospect for the future. Just a month before Ennis–Hill, now 30, won gold in London she finished 14th at the World Junior Championships. Until this weekend, her personal best was 6,508 points – enough to put in the mix for a bronze. She was a 50-1 outsider for gold here.
It’s just ten years since Ennis-Hill made her breakthrough - with a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, a decade that’s gone in a flash. Back then Kelly Sotherton, her domestic rival, jokingly described her as a ‘tadpole’ because of her diminutive size and age. Within a few years she was swimming with the big fish and metamorphosed into the world number one, winning her first world title in Berlin seven years ago.
It was a supreme performance in the searing heat of the Olympiastadion and it won her a legion of admirers. “This girl is amazing, does she ever stop smiling,” said one German journalist. Of course there have been lows too, not that this Olympic silver should ever be considered one of them. Missing the 2008 Olympics, after she fractured her ankle just a few weeks before the Games, remains the biggest single disappointment of her career.
And, in many ways, last year’s World Championships victory should be considered the greatest moment. Three years earlier, she’d blown away her rivals with a nerveless performance under the most crippling pressure in London. In Beijing she produced seven events that were a masterclass in consistency and concentration, it was a consummate performance from a consummate professional.
While Farah celebrated retaining his 10,000m title this weekend, Ennis-Hill slowly made her way from interview to interview in the bowels of Rio Olympic Stadium. Every commitment was politely fulfilled, with those asking the questions all wishing they could be telling another story too. At one point, as she patiently waited for one interviewer to fiddle with his camera, she looked in the distance as if lost in thought, the blur of noise around her fading to black.
What was she thinking about? Maybe, tomorrow.
*Aldi is the first Official Supermarket partner of Team GB and has been championing our nation’s extraordinary athletes on their Road to Rio and encouraging the public to tuck into fresh, affordable, Great British food. For more information visit aldi.co.uk