LONDON - In one unforgettable night for a nation, the Olympic Games and their host, Britain, were the best they can be.
Three British athletes winning three gold medals in the Olympic Stadium in a delirious 44-minute spell produced the signature moment of the London Games.
Barring catastrophe in the final week, this Saturday night of fever and fervour made sure that the London Olympics will be remembered as a roaring success.
It was a night when the prefix "Great" before "Britain" suddenly seemed to make a lot more sense. It ended, so appropriately, with the massive crowd in the 80,000-seat stadium awash in the colours of the Union Jack's red, white and blue and belting out "God Save the Queen" to celebrate sporting success beyond their wildest expectations.
To be truly memorable, the best Olympics need moments like these.
Beijing in 2008 had Michael Phelps eclipsing Mark Spitz's iconic record with eight golds in the Water Cube and Usain Bolt getting three golds in three world-record sprints in the Bird's Nest.
Sydney in 2000 had Aborigine Cathy Freeman, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson together conjuring up one of the most memorable nights ever on an Olympic track.
And at the midpoint of the 2012 games, London on Saturday had hometown athletes Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah winning one after another, whipping to a froth the stadium crowd that proved to be a star, too, by lifting their champions to undreamt-of heights.
"I'm worried I'm going to wake up in a minute and this ain't going to be real," said Rutherford, who won the long jump.
"Incredible night. I mean how many people expected three gold medals out of three possible gold medals? It's the greatest night in British athletics history, I think," he said. "It's been about inspiring a generation. What can be more inspring than going out and winning?"
"Unbelievable," said Ennis, the heptathlon champion who lived up to her billing as the poster girl of the London games. "I'm just still in shock."
"It's just amazing. If it wasn't for the crowd I don't think that would happen," said Farah, winner of the 10,000 metres. "They give you that lift, that boost. It's just incredible."
It certainly was.
Before these games, Britons lamented that they had become a nation of gold-medal gripers. Olympic critics moaned about the 9.3 billion pound ($14.4 billion) bill for the games, the feared disruption for two weeks to London's way of life and its traffic network, the privileges accorded to Olympic organizers, visitors and sponsors.
But all that was buried by the spellbinding drama from 8:02 p.m., London time, when Ennis clinched heptathlon gold, to 8:46, when Farah won the 10,000 and clasped his head in a disbelief. In between, Rutherford won gold with his leap of 8.31 metres (27 feet, 3 1/4 inches) into the long jump pit.
When added to two more golds from the rowers and another from women's track cycling on Saturday, Britain's total for the day was six. For the games, its haul so far is 14 golds, seven silver and eight bronze, for a total of 29. Only China, with 53 medals, and the United States, the leader with 54, have more.
"Team GB's glutinous desire for gold shows no sign of being sated," said London mayor Boris Johnson. "Their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country, if not the planet."
That really didn't seem to be an exaggeration.
In the guts of the stadium, British winners came through so thick and fast to recount their emotions to journalists that one of their press managers laboured to deal with the one-after-another flow.
"I've got a queue of Olympic champions," she said.
This was the day when Britain delivered — in all senses of the word: in sporting success and in generously shared joy. The inferiority complex that comes from being an island on the edge of Europe with only history books to record how it once ruled much of the world gave way to unbridled national pride.
In the stadium, the focus for it all, the pride came without arrogance. The warm, fuzzy feeling was perhaps best expressed in the way the crowd, swaying from side to side and waving small flags on sticks, sang along to the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" that played over the loudspeakers. To make the picture perfect, Paul McCartney happened to be in the stadium, and he celebrated, too, by waving a Union Jack above his head. David Bowie's song "Heroes" was replayed, and replayed, and replayed. The London Olympics have swung continually to British pop and rock classics.
Prince William and his wife, Kate, and Prime Minister David Cameron, were also there. Cameron called the atmosphere "electric" and tweeted on his office account: "Awe inspiring win for Jessica Ennis. Proud to be cheering her on with the home crowd."
Non-Britons felt thrilled and privileged to share it.
"Fantastic night, incredible crowd," said Farah's American coach, Alberto Salazar. "I've been to a lot of Olympics but I have never seen a crowd as supportive as this crowd is for all the British athletes. It's a pretty cool feeling."
"Awesome crowd," said U.S. long jumper Will Claye, who won bronze. "They were awesome for all of us. Not just the British."
Jonathan Edwards, now a television presenter, was reminded of Sydney in 2000, when he won triple-jump gold for Britain, Freeman became the first Aborigine to win an individual Olympic gold medal, in the women's 400 metres, and Johnson made Olympic history by becoming the first man to successfully defend a 400-meter title. Gebrselassie also successfully defended his 10,000-meter crown. This all in one night. Edwards called it "Magic Monday."
"In world terms, maybe that still stands as the greatest night," he said.
But London's "Super Saturday" lived up to its name, too.
"That won't be topped," said Edwards. "To see a night like that — Jess Ennis set up to be the golden girl, Mo the golden guy, Greg Rutherford to come from almost nowhere to win a gold medal. It's just staggering. You need a new lexicon, actually. You run out of words to describe that."
"The tension never ratcheted down at all." he said. "So, for sustained excitement, I don't know if there's ever been a night like that in track and field history."
Usain Bolt, whose hotly anticipated showdown with Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake follows on Sunday night, might have something to say about that.
But out-shouting and out-shining this night could prove impossible even for him.
John Leicester can be reached at jleicester(at)ap.org or at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
Christine Sinclair carried the flag for Canada and the hosts staged another star-studded show to close off the London Games.
Canada's athletes celebrate at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. (Frank Gunn/CP)
Christine Sinclair carries the flag for Canada at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. (CP/Frank Gunn)
British band 'The Spice Girls' perform during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Posh At The Games
Victoria Beckham performs as Posh Spice with British band The Spice Girls during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Strut Their Stuff
British model Naomi Campbell, fourth right, walks with other models during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Still Got It
Brian May, guitarist of the British rock band Queen, performs during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Baby, You're A Firework
Fireworks explode over the Olympic Stadium at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
The Olympic flag is handed over to the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the host of the 2016 Olympic Games. (AP)
Soak It All In
French athletes sit and watch as the Olympic Closing Ceremony come to a close. (AP)
An athlete holds up the British flag during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
And after 16 days or winning, losing, scoring and missing, the London Games have come to an end. Canada's medal count remained at 18, while the U.S. would go on to to win a gold in men's basketball. Russia defeated Brazil in men's volleyball to take home a gold and the Italian men's water polo team fell to their Croatian counterparts to secure a silver medal.
Spain's Got Game
Spain's Sergio Llull reacts during the men's gold medal basketball game against USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Kiss The Podium
Members of the gold medallist team from Russia kiss the podium during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Alekno's In The Air
Members of team Russia lift their coach, Vladimir Alekno, into the air after defeating Brazil in a men's gold medal volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Right Jab To the Face
Russia's Egor Mekhontcev, right, fights Kazakhstan's Adilbek Niyazymbetov in a light heavyweight 81-kg gold medal boxing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. Mekhontcev won the gold and Niyazymbetov won the silver.
Gold-medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, left, competes with Kenya's bronze-medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, center, and silver-medalist Abel Kirui in the men's marathon at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Pink And In Sync
The team from Russia performs during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana reacts after being declared the winner over Mongolia's Tugstsogt Nyambayar in their flyweight 52-kg gold medal boxing match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
Italy's Emanuele Birarelli (15) reacts following the final point of a 3-1 win over Bulgaria in the men's bronze medal volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
There's A Reason The Call Him King James
United States' LeBron James dunks during a men's gold medal basketball game against Spain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London.
The Smell Of Sweet, Sweet Victory
Croatia's Ivan Buljubasic sniffs his flowers after receiving his gold medal at the men's water polo gold medal ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, in London. Croatia beat Italy 8-6 in the gold medal game.
Canada wins yet another bronze medal in men's K1 200m kayak event, and Mexico defeats Brazil for the gold medal in men's soccer. Canada had an another Olympic upset and lost the bronze medal in the 4x100 relay due to a disqualification. Jamaica set a world record.
Tearin' Up Our Hearts
Canada's Justyn Warner is comforted after the team was disqualified from third place in the men's 4x100-meter relay.
Jamaican Us Crazy
Jamaica's Usain Bolt reacts as he finishes ahead of United States' Ryan Bailey in the men's 4 x 100-meter relay.
Britain's Mo Farah kisses the track after winning gold in the men's 5000-meter final during the athletics.
Love On Top
Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan celebrates after he beat Jaime Yusept Espinal of Puerto Rico for the gold medal during the men's 84-kg freestyle wrestling competition.
Race Walk It Out
Russia's Elena Lashmanova celebrates winning the women's 50-kilometer race walk.
United States mb Foluke Akinradewo, left, and Destinee Hooker react during the women's gold medal volleyball match against Brazil.
Hwang Woojin, of South Korea, and his horse Shearwater Oscar, fall down after the horse bucked after the starting bell sounded to start their run in the equestrian show jumping stage of the men's modern pentathlon.
From left to right Spain's Elliot 6m crew Angela Pumariega, Sofia Toro Prieto, and Tamara Echegoyen celebrate after winning the gold medal at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in Weymouth and Portland, England. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Mexico's Hector Herrera (6) and Mexico's Oribe Peralta (9) celebrate winning the gold medal with teammates in the men's soccer final against Brazil.
Bronze medallist Belarus' Liubou Charkashyna cries after a performance during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final.
Gold Medal Ribbon
Russia's Daria Dmitrieva performs during the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final.
Settles For Seventh
Canada's Catharine Pendrel (2) competes in the Mountain Bike Cycling women's race.
Australia's Got Talent
Australia's Jared Tallent competes in the men's 50-kilometer race walk.
Jake Herbert of the United State competes against Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan (in blue) during the men's 120-kg freestyle wrestling competition.
Amro El Geziry of Egypt, left, and Nicholas Woodbridge of Great Britain swim the 200-meter freestyle during the swimming portion of the men's modern pentathlon.
Fencing Is Modern
Britain's Samuel Weale looks up during the fencing section of the men's modern pentathlon.
Canada wins another bronze in men's open-water marathon and placed 4th in synchronized swimming. U.S. women's team set a world record in the 4 x 100 relay and Bahamas beat the men's team in the last stretch of the race.
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius competes in the men's 4x400-meter relay final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium.
Bahamas' Ramon Miller beats United States' Angelo Taylor across the line to win the men's 4 x 400-meter relay.
France's Renaud Lavillenie clears the bar in the men's pole vault final during the athletics.
Kenya's Hellen Onsando Obiri leaps over United States' Morgan Uceny during the women's 1500-meter final during the athletics.
United States' Morgan Uceny reacts after falling during the women's 1500-meter final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)
Throw It Up
South Korea's head coach Hong Myung-bo is hoisted up by his players after the team won their men's soccer bronze medal match.
They've Got The Beat
The team from Russia performs during the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Bump, Set, Boom
Bulgaria's Viktor Yosifov (12) spikes home a point against Russia during a men's volleyball semifinal match at the 2012 Summer Olympics Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Brazil's Squel Stein is carried off the field in a stretcher during a BMX cycling women's semifinal run at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, in London. Stein fell off her bike after she landed on the grass following a big jump in the first half of the course. The 21-year-old Stein secured her best result in a major competition earlier this year when she reached the world championships final. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The team from Russia competes during the synchronized swimming team free routine final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Russia won the gold medal in the event. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Swimmers dive into the Serpentine to start the men's 10-kilometer marathon swimming competition in Hyde Park at the 2012 Summer Olympics Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)