August 17, 2012 Leave a comment
Author: Paul Arnold @ BritEvents
London 2012 – Best Olympics ever?
As the rosy glow fades and the Olympic tingle dissipates the nation starts to settle back into normality; an existence where our TV’s and radio’s are not permanently switched on to the BBC whilst we listen out for news of more British Olympic success.
For, lets not understate this, London 2012 was the most successful Olympics in living memory. The fantastic medal haul of 29 golds, 17 silvers and 19 bronzes has only ever been bettered once – London 1908, where competition was nowhere near as fierce as now.
So, London 2012 was a sporting success, whether or not you judge the huge amount of funding that has been required to produce this result as value for money. On many levels though, what was great about the games cannot simply be measured in terms of the weight of medals. In time this Olympic Games has the potential to be a defining moment in the development of our country.
Once the euphoria of actually landing the games in 2005 had faded amongst the reality of the terrorist attacks, the massive logistical issues that surround the planning of any Olympic games and the subsequent global financial crisis there was a backlash of pessimism. The plans were too expensive, too London centric or inappropriate in a climate where thousands were losing their jobs. We wouldn’t be able to organise it properly and the transport infrastructure would collapse.
As the games drew nearer and each sport focused its attention on honing performance it didn’t really seem that the UK in general was too bothered at the prospect of a home Olympics. The fiasco that was the LOCOG ticket purchasing system only served to emphasise the fears that London wouldn’t be able to cope.
However, the arrival of the Olympic torch saw a massive sea change in the attitude of the country. The crowds wherever the torch went around the UK – and it went neat to most places – were huge and enthusiastic beyond belief. One of the torch relay organisers who has been involved in every games since Sydney stated that it was the best response he had ever witnessed. It appeared from then that the nation was ready. Ready and willing to embrace the Olympic spirit.
The opening ceremony, orchestrated by Oscar winning director Danny Boyle, arrived and just blew the nation’s mind, setting the scene for an absolutely wonderful and emotional 16 days of, quite simply, the finest sporting action and drama, featuring iconic locations and buildings such as Horse Guards Parade, Wimbledon, Wembley, Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, Hampton Court Palace, Lords and of course London itself with its fantastic east-end Olympic Park.
The opening ceremony was quintessentially British with James Bond and the Queen, Mr Bean and Mary Poppins entertaining the 80,000 strong crowd and the millions of TV viewers. The representation of England as a green and pleasant land, moving to the forging of the Olympic rings echoed our agricultural and industrial past whilst the inclusion of the suffragette movement and the NHS exemplified our recent social history. The image of emerging athletes lighting the cauldron at the end of the ceremony epitomised the legacy promise of the London games. Danny Boyle definitely delivered. Now it was the turn of Team GB’s athletes.
The sporting games started slowly for Team GB. Hopes were high of early gold medals with Mark Cavendish favourite to win the road cycling race and Rebecca Adlington, already a double Olympic champion, expected to excel in the pool. However it was Lizzie Armistead who secured Britain’s first medal with a silver in the women’s road cycling race. This proved to be the opening of the flood gates.
Bradley Wiggins, fresh from becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France, further established his knighthood credentials by securing Team GB’s first gold medal in the road cycling time trial and this was swiftly followed by outstanding performances on the rowing lake, in the velodrome, in the equestrian and boxing rings as well as in the Olympic Stadium itself.
Each day of games success brought new sporting heroes into the nation’s sitting rooms and hearts. We got to know their names and their individual stories. We shared their triumph, their joy and their tears as they fulfilled their own, as well as our, dreams of Olympic glory. The majority of the UK was hooked, interested and totally absorbed.
People who couldn’t have told you what dressage was a month ago became transfixed with the fortunes of our riders and their unbelievable skill and bond with their horses. Bikes were dusted down as people took to the streets for a ride in emulation of Wiggo, Sir Chris Hoy, Queen Victoria and the young Laura Trott. We remembered our own childhood dreams of sporting success and vicariously lived them through our wonderful Team GB athletes. The feel-good factor was palpable – people even said hello to each other on the Tube and talked of being proud to be British!
There are too many great memories to recall all of them here but some were so poignant that they bear repeating. I, for one, will never forget the face of Katherine Copeland as she and her crew mate Sophie Hosking crossed the finishing line winning the gold in the women’s lightweight double sculls. Her sheer disbelief at having achieved her lifetime’s ambition immediately followed by her unadulterated realisation and joy was one of my Olympic highlights. Of course, there were many others.
Mo Farah’s eye popping delight when he won the men’s 10,000m and the subsequent Mobot fever, Jessica Ennis’ open armed, eyes-closed look of relief and satisfaction when she crossed the line in the 800m confirming her heptathlon gold, Chris Hoy’s tears at becoming the most decorated British Olympian, Katherine Grainger’s reaction to finally reaching the top step of an Olympic podium, Jade Jones’ ear splitting grin at winning Teakwood gold at just 19 years old and, Alan Campbell’s exhaustion filled interview with John Inverdale and of course, Gemma Gibbons emotional message to her dead mother after reaching her Judo final. I could go on and on.
In all Team GB won 65 medals in 18 different sports (cycling being classed as one not two) showing a huge diversity in effort and competition. Some sports we dominated, such as cycling and rowing. In others, like athletics, boxing and sailing, we more than held our own and in others medals were more surprising and, for that, more welcome.
And it wasn’t just the supreme performances of the home athletes which served to make London 2012 such a memorable festival of sporting endeavour. Usain Bolt cemented his reputation as the planet’s biggest sporting star, repeating his sprint double achievement from Beijing as well as helping his team mates break the 4x100m world record in earning his third gold of the games. Michael Phelps, the US swimmer, has had to build an extension to his medal cabinet after he eclipsed Larisa Latynina as the all-time winner of most Olympic gold and total medals with 18 and 22 respectively.
Who could forget the raw emotion of other Olympians and their families? The father of South African swimmer, Chad le Clos, was as proud a parent as I have ever seen and his interview an incredible reminder of the sacrifices some families make to get their loved ones to Olympic participation. Felix Sanchez and his flood of tears at receiving his gold medal for the 400m hurdles has been a You Tube sensation. And, whilst we marvel at the public’s reaction to Britain’s sporting success we should appreciate what just a single gold medal can mean to a country.
Stephen Kiprotich’s win in the marathon, Uganda’s first gold for 40 years, brought the nation to a stand still. On Kiprotich’s return home the crowds were euphoric and the President of Uganda promised to invest in sport and build a high-altitude training camp to nurture future distance running stars – Kiprotich had to move to Kenya to realise his talent.
There’s no doubt the London games were special and they made a lot of people very happy, albeit for a short period of time. Britain proved that it is a sporting power but more than that it re-established itself as a first rate nation. We put on a marvellous show for the world, we were welcoming, we were friendly and we were well organised. The trains ran on time (mostly), the food was generally good, the hastily arranged soldiers and bobbies accommodating and even the rain didn’t put too much of a dampener on events. In short, Rio has a heck of a lot to live up to if it is to eclipse London 2012.