This is, I realise, a little off-topic for a football blog but I felt I couldn’t let the Games go entirely without commenting on their undoubted success from my point of view.
I love the Olympics, and therefore a home Olympics is something I’ve been looking forward to since the announcement was made by Jacques Rogge (“are awarded to the city of….LONEDONE”) in that mad week in July 2005. They’ve held a certain mystique for me ever since I did a “personal project” on the Summer Olympics in Primary 7. Names like Jesse Owens, Ray Ewry, Olga Korbut and Steve Redgrave suddenly became familiar to me. I can still pretty reliably name the host cities of every Summer Olympics (though I do get a bit mixed up now in the 1910s and 1920s). Even though the first Games I properly remember was the commerciality-ridden bedbug of an occasion that was Atlanta `96 (staying up till 2:30 to see Linford Christie get disqualified is a memory that particularly sticks), the Olympics has always had a bit of mystique for me.
Therefore, London 2012 excited me more than usual. Although I had only managed to get tickets for four (subsequently 5) football matches, I couldn’t wait for things to get going. And what a show we had. From 26 July and two tremendous matches at Hampden (who knew Honduras v Morocco would be a cracking game of football), to the quirkily British opening ceremony, to the 4-day lull of gold followed by the amazing 12 days of metallic beauty for Team GB (and NI) that followed, these Olympics were just fantastic.
A number of things have struck me in particular about these Olympics. What these Games seem to have done, more than ever, is get people who have little or no interest in sport glued to the TV. Suddenly it was the talk of work, my girlfriend from not liking track and field wasn’t impressed when we missed Jess Ennis’s long jump attempt because of my channel hopping, and quite suddenly the mood of the country generally turned from gloomy discussion of the economy or immigration to animated chats about track cycling and the merits of dressage. It was a wonderful fortnight or so (other than the closing ceremony…). This hasn’t happened before, and certainly didn’t despite the (then) unprecedented success of Team GB 4 years ago in Beijing.
In fact, if Juan Antonio Samaranch was still in charge of the International Olympic Committee, I think he would have said this was “the best Olympics ever.” Yes, he did say that for every Olympics he oversaw (other than the aforementioned Atlanta), but there was something about London, even if I only witnessed the atmosphere (mostly) through the TV. For one, it has shown that Britain can host major sporting events like this quite easily. It seems sad that England won’t get a World Cup till at least 2026 now (after FIFA’s latest “decisions”), and after this year it’s highly unlikely we’ll see another home Olympics/Paralympics in our lifetimes (given the last London games was in 1948, 64 years on gives us London 2076, anyone?) given the fantastic success of the 2012 Games. It also shows that the British people have an unparalleled enthusiasm for sport, and seeing the best people perform on their home stage. Yes, Jess Ennis and Mo Farah were roared from beginning to end in the Olympic Stadium but Usain Bolt, Yelena Isinbaeva (until she went in a huff under the duvet) and the US women’s 4×100 relay team were given similar treatment.
This atmosphere of course wasn’t just exclusive to the Olympic Stadium itself. The Aquatics Centre went wild for Adlington, Jamieson and Daley, but also for Phelps, Lochte and Ye Shiwen. The Velodrome crowd… well they were at least decent to Anna Meares. Yes, there was undoubtedly partisanship on display (and so there should be – it’s the number 1 advantage for the sportsmen and women at a home games), but there was also respect and appreciation for brilliant performances and incredible sportsmanship throughout. Speaking from experience, at the football, the majority British crowds cheered everything; every decent pass, every effort vaguely near the goal, and stood up for every goal and every national anthem, no matter the team involved. In the main, of course, the crowds (mostly) veered towards the underdog when they could. I am in no doubt that it was the same at every Olympic venue.
A week on, people are still talking about them. The One Show (I’ve watched it this week because it’s had Olympic things on it) has kept the enthusiasm up a little bit, and this fantastic story about the Brownlee brothers’ letter and reward from an elderly gentleman. Largely though, what we need is the Paralympics to hurry up. And then Rio in 2016 to do exactly the same.