Sunday, 12 August 2012

London 2012- A New Attitude?

It’s cost around 11 billion pounds and to many, it feels as if it’s been talked about for the best part of seven years (perhaps not in a good way), ever since London won the bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics way back in 2005.

But on Friday 27th July, the eyes of the world were focused firmly on Stratford, East London as Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony spectacular, ‘Isles of Wonder’ was showcased, at least in part to almost 900 million worldwide viewers. To me and I imagine a fair few others, this was the start of an opinion that these games were worth every single penny. Naysayers were silenced as an idyllic country scene of harmony, sheep and village folk made way for Kenneth Branagh’s Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Industrial Revolution, towering pillars of burning and smoke and thousands of workers forging the Olympic rings; ‘Pandemonium’. We laughed at Mr Bean and his unintentional solo with the London Symphony Orchestra and we were moved by various segments of our past including the soldiers, poppies and moment of silence for those lost. The words “Good Evening, Mr Bond” were forever immortalised as the Queen and Daniel Craig ‘parachuted’ into the stadium to rapturous applause and real NHS nurses danced around beds, protecting their young patients from the things that go bump in the night. 

Olympic rings, forged by the workers in the Opening Ceremony (from The Guardian)

It had everything; heart, heritage, humour and a huge proportion of warmth, set to a cracking soundtrack of some of the greats of British music both old and new. The choreography and mobilisation of over 15,000 volunteers alone was quite some feat and yet Danny Boyle pulled it off. Expectations could not have been higher and they could also have not been met more successfully met, as Great Britain seemed to pause, forget that we can be a nation of cynics and name Mr Boyle as the most deserving candidate for next Prime Minister. Watch out David Cameron. 

Today, on the closing day of the London 2012 Olympics, we look back on perhaps one of the most exciting periods of British sport for years. Never before has there seemed to be an Olympics where so many people have got involved, whether they are sporting enthusiasts or not. From the Games Makers volunteering, to those braving all weather to line the streets of London for hours for events such as the Road Cycling and then to the viewers at home or in the venues, cheering and supporting Team GB; the masses have got behind these Games, glued to their seats and screens. Perhaps a large factor contributing to this is that it is a home Olympics and therefore more accessible than if it was half way around the world. Or maybe it is because as a nation, we are maybe growing tired of the celebrity and reality television culture and are looking towards these athletes of ours as the true role models. We are taken in by their stories, their personalities and their achievements. They bear the badges of Team GB and we have been behind them all the way, cheering them on in their journeys. Every single one of them that I have seen interviewed, especially on the glorious coverage by the BBC, has been humble, hard-working, charming and utterly inspirational- real qualities to aspire to. 

Mo Farah taking gold in 5000m. (From The Guardian)
Who could forget Katherine Grainger’s sheer dedication and delight on winning gold with Anna Watkins in the Double Skulls Rowing final at Eton Dorney after winning silver in the three consecutive Olympics since Sydney 2000? Keeping up with the rigours of training for such a lengthy period and then to finally, spectacularly achieve that elusive gold at long last was a wonderful moment to witness and was part of a Team GB Rowing master-class these past days.  But hasn’t London 2012 been full of such moments? The list could go on and on; but ‘Super Saturday’ as it shall be known saw Jessica Ennis smashing the Women’s Heptathlon, 306 points clear of her nearest competitor, Greg Rutherford’s winning Long Jump and then Mo Farah taking gold too in the 10,000m and doing the same again in the 5,000m last night. I for one will never forget the deafening roars and cheers of the crowd on 4th August in the stadium, even watching at home in front of the television, like so many others around the world. 

The countless successes in the cycling in and out of the velodrome will be in the minds of many for decades to come; take a bow Victoria Pendleton, Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott and the rest of your extraordinary colleagues. 

Despite some events and athletes gaining more media coverage than others, it would perhaps be a fair point to make that the extensive coverage provided by the BBC, with it's countless channels and sites to follow every sport, has enabled us to watch sports that, before the last couple of weeks, we would never have dreamt up an interest in and yet it is in many of these that we have seen some of the greatest achievements. Gemma Gibbons taking silver in Judo and silently mouthing ‘I love you’ to her mother who had passed away in 2004 certainly had me in tears and the men’s Gymnastics was equally captivating to watch; as was Alistair Brownlee in the Triathlon, walking across the finish line, draped in a Union Jack he had picked up from the crowd; his brother Jonny following in bronze moments later.

Much of the Olympic spirit was summed up last night in the Aquatics Centre, where we watched London 2012 Diving poster boy, Tom Daley battle through with a series of superb dives to take bronze and then proceed to celebrate like he’d won gold. And it seemed all the same to us; to achieve at such a high level in such a technical sport, after the trauma of losing his father and growing up with the expectations of his country weighted on 18 year old shoulders, he did us, himself and his dad so very, very proud.

Tom Daley celebrating bronze with Team GB (from The Telegraph)

Hopefully we will take something from the London 2012 Olympic Games that last much longer than the week after it has ended. The talk of the ‘legacy’ of London 2012 and more sports in schools is all well and good, but this time and call me an optimist, I think that there is a strong chance that we will all learn from what we have seen. We’ve witnessed history, people’s attributes at their very finest, Usain Bolt run very, very fast, cheered countries that are not just our own and supported Team GB with all of our hearts.

It is too early to tell if London 2012 has ‘inspired a generation’, but from what I have seen the last couple of weeks and what I am sure we will see during the Paralympics; it is certainly well on its way.