“We lit the flame and lit up the world…”

13 08 2012

“The best athletics championships I’ve ever witnessed.”

(Michael Johnson – ‘Superman’ – US 400m legend/ TV summariser/ ‘honorary Brit’)

 

“It just cannot get better than this! This is us, our time, our country, our Mo Farrah: Crowd of our time; tears of our time; Hope for all time.”

(Jon Snow – Channel 4 News – after Mo Farrah’s second gold in the 5000m)  

“A triumph for sport, a triumph for London, a triumph for Great Britain…” 

(Gary Lineker – BBC Olympics anchor-man)

“These were happy and glorious Games.

We will never forget the smiles, the kindness and support of the wonderful volunteers, the much-needed heroes of these Games.”

(Jacques Rogge – IOC boss)

“A wonderful Games in a wonderful city…

We lit the flame and lit up the World…

I said that these Games would see the best of us.

When our time came, Britain, we did it right. Thank you”

(Lord Coe)

I don’t think I was alone in waking up this morning with that same empty feeling I get after turning the last page of a particularly gripping novel. For sixteen days our daily life, here in ‘the Shire’, has been choreographed around the, outstanding, 24/7 BBC coverage of the London 2012 Olympic Games. For heaven’s sake, even Chris confessed to being ‘hooked’.

It has been mesmerizing, magnificent, momentous. I can’t ever remember being more proud to be a Brit, nor a time when there has been such a feeling of national togetherness, and pride.

Boris (happily recovered from his zip-wire malfunction) may have reluctantly passed on the Olympic flag to his Rio de Janeiro counterpart, at last night’s memorable closing ceremony, and the Olympic flame may have been extinguished, but now is not the time to slide into POD (Post Olympic Depression).

While we should not deny ourselves a little time to bathe in the afterglow of a job well done, we do need to strike while the cauldron is still hot, to grasp the baton of unprecedented GB success (65 medals / 29 Gold) and pass it safely on to schools and sports clubs, the length and breadth of the nation, ensuring the dream of a lasting Olympic Legacy becomes a reality.  

Let us not kid ourselves it will be easy. Lord Coe, is nothing if not a realist and a pragmatist. He knows that his new role, as Olympics ‘legacy ambassador’, will prove every bit as challenging as masterminding the original GB bid and overseeing the successful delivery of the Games.

But deliver we did – and big time. London was entrusted with mounting ‘the greatest show on earth’ and didn’t disappoint. For all those sceptical doom-mongers who longed for a foul up – unlucky! There was never any doubt that we could and would put on what is already being proclaimed (worldwide) the most successful Games ever – the friendly Games, the people’s Games. Even ‘The Australian’ and ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ concede, London 2012 eclipsed the benchmark Games of Sydney 2000.  

If medals awarded for moans, groans, whingeing and putting ourselves down – we would have a shed load. But regardless of the vociferous sceptical pessimists – Britain has shown, time and again, that when national pride is at stake, no nation pulls together better and nowhere else in the world can stage a better show. The bar has been raised – good luck to Rio, as the Brazilians  samba their way towards the 2016 Olympic Carnival.        

There have been so many sporting highs and lows, cheers and tears, disappointments and celebrations – that will linger long in the memory. As far as team GB goes, I can’t wait for BBC Sports Personality of the Year – what a show it will be, and where to start in nominating the likely winner?  

For me athletics will always be the beating heart of the Games. So two of my most memorable GB moments are taken from the Olympic Stadium:

  • Golden poster-girl, Jess Ennis, the greatest woman heptahlete in the World, arms outstretched, taking the tape at the end of her gruelling final event, the 800m, – she is now, more than ever, a sporting role model for a generation of girls.
  • Mo Farah, crossing the line, eyes wide in disbelief, having run his way into British athletics history, with a double 5000m/10,000m Gold – and that  ‘Mobot’ celebration, providing an iconic sporting image for a modern multi-cultural Britain. 

And then there was:   

  • Sir Chris Hoy, legs pumping, powering his way around the velodrome to claim a, GB record, sixth Olympic Gold medal – a sporting giant, and a true gentleman, who could not hold back the stream of tears as the crowd serenaded him with the GB anthem, and the Union flag was raised.    
  • Tom Daley, an 18 years old, waiting on his A Level results, staged one of the come-backs of the Games. Having missed out in the paired, synchronised, dive, from the 10m board, during the first weekend, he returned for the individual event, on the penultimate day of competition – but only just, after scraping through to the semi-finals in 15th qualifying position. Commendably, he held his nerve and surfaced from an incredibly close fought competition with a well-deserved bronze, silencing the abhorrent ‘Twitter trolls’ who had tormented him for his earlier failure. His late father, who died of cancer last year, would have been proud.                                       

Elsewhere in the World, it is hard to look any further than the charismatic Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who has captivated millions, and now has six of the best, having completed a second successive clean sweep of Olympic gold in the 100m, 200m and sprint relay double. The Jamaican 1,2,3, in the men’s 200m and the world record-breaking 4 x 100m relay are huge achievements for a small Caribbean island. The women are no slouches either! 

It took Usain a mere 98.8 seconds to achieve his three gold medals, but there has been life beyond the lightning Bolt, and two equally uplifting athletics performances for me were those by:

  • David Rudisha of Kenya, who led from gun to tape in the 800m final, storming to a world record,  dragging the rest of the field to personal bests. It was as amazing a track performance, as I’ve ever seen and one that got less coverage than it deserved –  arguably the best run of the Games. 
  • Stephen Kiprotich, the Ugandan marathon runner who took everyone by surprise, not least the Kenyans (“I was unknown, now I am known”) cantering up the Mall at the end of the 26 mile 385 yards race, draped in his nation’s flag, 26 seconds ahead of the nearest rival. It was only Uganda’s third ever medal, the last coming, 40 years ago, in Munich – surely what the Games is all about? 

And finally, to the closing ceremony; if Danny Boyle’s opener had been spellbinding, Kim Gavin’s London 2012 end-piece, was the after-hours party of all-time, a joyous celebration of British creativity.

The centre-piece was the city of London, in miniature, set atop a Damien Hurst spin-painting of the Union Flag (symbolising patriotism smeared into a new less rigid form).

British eccentricity was at the very heart of proceedings. Even the stewards, patiently ushering thousands of demob happy athletes into the centre of the stadium, wore blue bowler hats crowned with glowing electric light bulbs.

Timothy Spall emerged from the top of Big Ben – a Shakespeare quoting Winston Churchill, ‘Trotter & Sons’ yellow Robin Reliant made an explosive appearance, Annie Lennox floated on stage – the figurehead of a mighty galleon, the Pet Shop Boys did a circuit of the ‘track’ by rickshaw, while Willy Wonka, aka Russell Brand, tripped out on board a psychedelic camper-van. 

Posh, Ginger, Baby, Sporty & Scary (together again for one night only) arrived by London cab, to spice up our lives  – oh and let’s not forget the self-inflating multi-coloured octopus (don’t ask why!), nor Royal Ballet dancer, Darcey Bussell, a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Olympic flame.

All of that and I’ve barely started on the veritable Who’s Who of great British pop: George Michael (one song too many for me – not a fan), Ray Davies (how could we close the London Games without ‘Waterloo Sunset’), a rare passage of calm from Julian Webber’s cello, and then more Madness – a ‘Nutty Boys’ reprise of, their Diamond Jubilee rendition of, ‘Our House’.

Live music was interspersed by big screen tributes, a montage of vintage Bowie, a moving re-mastered version of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, and vocal gymnastics from Freddie Mercury.

Elbow had the thankless task of accompanying the grand entry of the Olympic athletes, as they flooded into the stadium, and probably didn’t get the attention they deserved. Jessie J probably got a bit too much attention – hooking up, first of all, with Fatboy Slim, Tiny Tempah and Taio Cruz before reappearing with rock royalty, Queen. She actually made quite a decent fist of ‘We Will Rock You’.

One of the highlights of the night was a Pythonesque interlude during which, ‘human canonball’, Eric Idle plopped on to the stage to lead 80,000 voices in a rendition of, ‘Always look on the bright side of life…’ assisted by a chorus line of Bollywood dancers!  

Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye, one of the few truly live performances of the night, treated us to Oasis classic ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Take That’ (sadly, minus Robbie) did what ‘Take That’ do, and then, in stark contrast to the Olympic events of the last two weeks, the best came last – The Who. I bet GB’s most decorated Olympian, retro mod Bradley Wiggins, could hardly contain himself – nobody could.  

As ‘My Generation’ reverberated around the Olympic Stadium (note to Sir ‘Macca’ – Roger Daltrey can still belt it out) and fireworks illuminated the host city of the 30th Olympiad, the legacy of pride and joy was tangible, and the baton was being symbolically passed to the next generation – and Rio 2016.                               

Olympic Epilogue     

‘TRANSLATING THE BRITISH, 2012

A summer of rain, then a gap in the clouds

and The Queen jumped from the sky

to the cheering crowds.

We speak Shakespeare here,

a hundred tongues, one-voiced; the moon bronze or silver,

sun gold, from Cardiff to Edinburgh

by way of London Town,

on the Giant’s Causeway;

we say we want to be who we truly are,

now, we roar it. Welcome to us.

We’ve had our pockets picked,

the soft, white hands of bankers,

bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;

we want it back.

We are Mo Farah lifting the 10,000 metres gold.

We want new running-tracks in his name.

For Jessica Ennis, the same; for the Brownlee brothers,

Rutherford, Ohuruogu, Whitlock, Tweddle,

for every medal earned,

we want school playing-fields returned.

Enough of the soundbite abstract nouns,

austerity, policy, legacy, of tightening metaphorical belts;

we got on our real bikes,

for we are Bradley Wiggins,

side-burned, Mod, god;

we are Sir Chris Hoy,

Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Kenny, Hindes,

Clancy, Burke, Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas,

Olympian names.

We want more cycle lanes.

Or we saddled our steed,

or we paddled our own canoe,

or we rowed in an eight or a four or a two;

our names, Glover and Stanning; Baillie and Stott;

Adlington, Ainslie, Wilson, Murray,

Valegro (Dujardin’s horse).

We saw what we did. We are Nicola Adams and Jade Jones,

bring on the fighting kids.

We sense new weather.

We are on our marks. We are all in this together.’

(Carol Ann Duffy – Poet Laureate)

 

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One response

16 08 2012
lanceleuven

In light of all the Olympic naysayer’s I thought it was interesting that the first post-Olympic headline I saw on the BBC website was ‘Train Fares to Rise 6.2%’, if nothing esle at least the Olympics gave us some positive news for a couple of weeks!

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