It finished with the crowning of the undisputed fastest woman on earth, Elaine Thompson-Herah going where no women’s sprinter alive has gone before, and for now at least possibly upstaging the men’s showdown which is to come.
Because in defending her Olympic 100 metres title, Thompson-Herah ran a new Olympic record of 10.61 seconds, the second fastest time ever behind the late Florence Griffith Joyner – and made it a clean sweep of medals for Jamaica too, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson also finishing inside 10.80.
Believe me it held the mostly empty stadium suitably enthralled, coming not long after the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team had gone where no Irish team had gone before in in making a relay final at the Olympics.
It promised to be a hectic race as it was a nine-team final after the USA, then the Dominican Republic, were both reinstated following a successful appeal to their disqualification in Friday's heats. Still they couldn't top Poland, who took the gold medal in 3:09.87, silver and bronze going to the Dominican Republic and the USA, who only succeeded in their appeal late on Friday.
It was also a first Olympic staging of the mixed 4x400m relay final, a new event for 2021, and in truth the Irish quartet of Cillin Greene, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Chris O'Donnell – all four first-time Olympians – were carrying a little of Friday's Irish record-breaking effort on to the track, particularly as the stronger finalists such as the USA were able to alternate runners.
Starting out of lane one didn't help matters, still they left it all out here, O'Donnell battling hard to the line to finish a close eighth behind Jamaica, the German quartet a long way back in ninth after they dropped the baton on the third changeover. The Ireland team clocked 3:15.04, after improving the national record by four seconds to 3:12.88 on Friday night, and while a little less beaming about their effort this time there was certainly no regret.
“To come eighth in an Olympic final is unbelievable,” said Healy, who will contest the 200m and 400m individually.
"To qualify from World Relays was the first step, we secured that, then we wanted to come out here, do the best we could, 3:14 was our target, we shattered that and did 3:12. This sets us up for Oregon (2022 World Championships – already qualified via World Relays result) next year, it shows the depth in 400m running, how much the team has changed throughout the year.
“We came out here to perform tonight and we were going to take whatever lane we got. If you asked us a couple of weeks ago if we’d take lane one in an Olympic final we would have taken anyone’s hand off, we went out there and gave it our all.”
Becker added: “It was just surreal, it was amazing. You’re walking out with people who this is their second or third Olympics even and to be sharing a track with them is just brilliant. We gave it our all, we knew it was going to be tough and we saw there was going to be nine teams instead of eight and it was going to be carnage and sure enough it was when Phil was passing the baton to me. But we all held our own and fought until the very last bit. We’re all very happy with that.”
For O’Donnell too it also gave him further inspiration for his individual goals in the event: “At the start of the year no one gave us a chance at the World Relays. We proved them wrong there, we came seventh and qualified for the Olympics. When we got here no one got us a chance either and we proved them wrong and qualified for an Olympic final. We’ve also experienced now what an Olympic final is like, we’ve raced against the best of the best. Ireland have competed now against the best and we’re going to go back now and try to run PBs, try and break national records.”
For the young Greene the experience will also stand to him: “Look it doesn’t get any better than an Olympic final, it’s an incredible experience to be out here. No one gave us a shot at making a final, so to stop up in the biggest stage is an astronomical experience for us all. I think everyone ran their heart out, we’re one of the few teams who had to run yesterday and today, a lot of teams brought in fresh legs, which definitely showed out on the track, but we left it all out there.
Even if most of the 64,000 seats were empty, the stadium was buzzing a lot more tonight, the small sections of team support raising enough hand clap to at times echo around the stadium. Before tonight, Fraser-Pryce had been the fastest woman still walking the earth, running 10.63 in Jamaica last month: the only woman in history to ever have run faster than Griffith Joyner, who ran the current women’s world record of 10.49 seconds in 1988, before her sudden death just 10 years later at the age of 38.
Now that honour of being the fastest woman on the earth goes to Thompson-Herah, with her 10.61, denying Fraser-Pryce from becoming the first woman to win a single individual Olympic athletics event three times, to add to her 100m victories claimed in 2008 and 2012. Thompson-Herah now has two also, Paris 2024 only three years away.
Two years ago in Doha, Britain's Dina Asher-Smith won the World 200m title and also claimed silver in the 100m and 4x100m: she couldn't make the 100m final here, missing out in the semi-finals after sustaining an injury, and later withdrawing from the 200m.
The night included (we were reliably told) the 1,000 athletics final event since the Games were restored in modern times in Athens in 1896, that event, suitably enough being the final of the men's discus, one of the ancient events too. Claiming that 1,000th gold medal was Sweden's Daniel Stahl, the reigning world champion, who beat countryman Simon Pettersson into second with a best throw of 68.90. A former ice-hockey player, Stahl's gold medal was a celebration with ABBA's Dancing Queen blaring out around the stadium.