Two children, and now two medals in ten days.

If Jo Pavey did not think life could get much better than the Commonwealth Games 5000 metres bronze medal she claimed with her inspirational home-straight surge on the final night of track action at Hampden Park, the 40-year-old mother of two was mistaken.

Ever since she left a young Bedfordshire girl called Paula Radcliffe trailing in her wake en route to the English schools under-15 1500m title at Yeovil in 1988, Pavey has had an exceptional talent waiting to be truly fulfilled. There was a Commonwealth 5000m bronze in Melbourne in 2006, a European 10,000m silver in Helsinki in 2012, and then that brilliant bronze at Hampden.

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Last night, in the opening track final of the European Championships, the golden moment finally arrived for the wonder woman from Tiverton, a quiet market town in East Devon.

With the bell approaching in what had been a cautious, pedestrian 10,000m final, Pavey shifted into carpe diem mode. She did so with a vengeance, surging past Clemence Calvin of France into the lead, gritting her teeth, holding off a rival who happened to be her junior by 16 years and pulling to clear to win by 1.19sec.

The time, 32:32.39, was irrelevant; the achievement anything but. In the midst of the euphoria, Pavey was unaware she had entered the record books as the oldest female gold-medal winner in the history of the championships until Herald Sport informed her of the fact in the bowels of the Letzigrund Stadium. "Really?" the Exeter Harrier said. "Oh, that's really a nice honour to have. I didn't know that. I'm really chuffed.

"It's so funny. I didn't know I'd still be able to run at this age. I feel like I must be dreaming. It feels like it's not real. It's all a bit surreal."

Pavey almost drifted away from athletics when injury struck in her late teens and early 20s and yet now, 11 months after giving birth to her second child, Emily, she has emulated Radcliffe as the second Briton to win the European women's 10,000m title.

For the record, the previous eldest female champion of Europe was sprinter Irina Khabarova. She was 27 days past her 40th birthday when she was a member of Russia's 4x100m relay team that won in Helsinki in 1994. Pavey was aged 40 years and 325 days yesterday. She turns 41 on September 20.

"I'm taking inspiration from that," said Beth Potter, the Glasgow City athlete who finished 10th in the 10,000m at Hampden for Scotland but faded over the final three laps here to 14th place in 32:53.17. "If Jo's doing it at 40, she's got 18 years on me.

"I wasn't sure if she had won or not until I saw her clutching a Union Jack. For me, it's been a long season. The aim this summer was Glasgow, so coming here was a bonus."

Young Beth can put her feet up and take a well-earned rest. Old Jo still has the 5,000m final to come here on Saturday. "To be honest, I didn't necessarily feel that confident towards the end," she confessed. "It felt like a long way. I was thinking to myself, 'I don't feel very good here'.

"I thought, 'I've just got to for it and give it all I've got'. I just can't believe I've come away with a gold at this age. It's taken me a long time to learn the things that I needed to about running - just to relax. Being a busy mum has done me a lot of good.

"It has been tough this year, though. I was still breastfeeding in April and I was doing sessions down the track and my times were terrible.

"I was lying on the floor exhausted. I was thinking, 'How am I going to run? How am I going to get the qualifying time for Zurich?' It's hilarious now to think how slow I was then."

Ashleigh Nelson and Desiree Henry both set personal bests in qualifying for the women's semi-finals, while Asha Philip is in with a good chance of a podium finish.

Great Britain won three of the five men's 100m heats, with Dwain Chambers and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey bookending a promising display from James Dasaolu. The 26-year-old clocked 9.91 last year and looked capable of going sub-10 in Zurich yesterday, easing in at 10.22.

"It was just the heats, you were trying to lose as little energy as possible," Dasaolu told the BBC. "I'm just happy to get through."

There were no signs of rustiness from Christine Ohuruogu as the reigning 400m world champion eased through the heats with a season's best of 51.40. Having followed Olympic silver at London 2012 by winning the World Championships, the 30-year-old decided to dramatically scale back this year. "It's a first-round race. Tomorrow's the one I'm worried about, not today," she said.