Siting on an airplane heading home and reflecting on how the last two weeks have flashed by. I’ve taken dozens of trains, went to 14 events, seen British athletes win gold a couple of time, stood in hundreds of lines and loved every second of it.
First is that they were superbly organized. The creation of the Olympic Park was inspired. Seven years ago it was a polluted wasteland in the middle of one of the poorest parts of London. If you walk the mile and a half or so from West Ham station to the Park on you pass through some of still derelict parts of Stratford.
In Athens and Beijing some of the venues have become disused wastelands since the games. London’s Olympic Park started there and is now full of possibilities and a bright tomorrow. It’s an incredible journey and that little effort was made to hide the areas industrial history shows a level of maturity that other cities may not have.
These games were also about the future. The slogan “Inspire a Generation” was everywhere and the legacy left behind has been an important part of these games. A large, but perhaps intangible part of that legacy will be providing proof of regeneration and what it can do.
My father and I were leaving the Olympic Park in the early afternoon after a morning athletics session and were discussing where to go for lunch. For us Stratford may as well be on the moon, it’s just not a part of London we’d ever have need to be in before now. We got a recommendation, had a great lunch and know something of Stratford beyond the Park. It’s not alien to us anymore, and that can only be a good thing.
Beyond Stratford there was some spectacular places that showed the finest side of London.
Horse Guards Parade hosted the Beach Volleyball, whoever came up with that idea when the bid was being put together was a genius. It was perfect, the views outstanding and the atmosphere just astounding. Other than dad telling an American fan sitting next to him “It’s not really a sport is it? It’s really just some fun they give medals for…” This was prior to USA predictably destroying Italy in a quarter final match. Lets just say some there did not wholly support dad’s opinion.
But the game was fantastic, the stadium rocked and dad acknowledged that they were indeed great athletes, even if the result was never in any real doubt this was a tremendous experience.
I went to a couple of un-ticketed events, the open water swimming in Hyde Park was one. The crowd was 10 deep around the Serpentine, the noise never stopped for a moment. And this was for endurance swimming. This is how London embraced these games.
Other examples abound, a million people lined the route of the Mens Road Race. OK, it was a week after Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France. But a million people standing on the side of the road to watch the cyclists zoom by?
The Marathon took in all the A-list sights in Central London. Like the road race there were vast numbers of people dedicating their Sunday to watching 60 elite marathon runners pass through their city.
Once the track started it was all about Usain Bolt and what he was going to do. He and his Jamaican teammates did not disappoint and dominated the sprints in a way we’ve not seen since Carl Lewis and the USA team in LA.
Coming into this the British face of the games was Jessica Ennis, and she held up her end of the bargain in winning the Heptathlon in style. Add in Mo Farrah completing a unique long distance double and the home team had enough to celebrate on the track
Elsewhere other parts of the Team GB machine were in rare form. The rowers exceeded the high expectations placed on them. The track cyclists prioritize the Olympics over every other event, and did exactly what was expected of them in the velodrome, they dominated.
Away from the home team David Rudisha’s win in the 800 was astounding. The way he won this race from the front, challenging others to come and get him, was one of the finest things I’ve ever seen. In addition to a new world record, seven of the eight runners in that final set personal bests or new national records.
On the same evening that David Rudisha rewrote the history books I saw one of the cooler moments as the decathletes took a victory lap of the stadium together after their final event.
Decathletes on their victory lap together.
I was told weightlifting was something very cool to see, I was skeptical, but on the strength of the recommendation I picked up a pair of tickets. I was blown away by the drama and the astounding atmosphere in the EXCEL.
All traces of amateurism have long disappeared, the medal table correlates very closely to the amount of funding given to sports. That’s undeniable, but the stories away from the elite end of the field were just as important. Women represented Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei at the games for the first time. In the woman’s 800M Sarah Attar was handicapped by running in hijab and finished significantly down on the field, but the stadium never stopped cheering until she crossed the line.
Then you have the story of South African Oscar Pistorious and the list of inspirational moments from the last two weeks just keeps going.
Something this big is going to have issues, but the major one was turned into an opportunity. A few weeks prior to the games it was announced that the contractor hired to provide guards for the venues really screwed up and was tens-of-thousands of people short of it’s recruitment goals. The Army stepped in and became wonderful ambassadors for the country.
At worst these games were a welcome distraction from what’s going on in the world, perhaps if we feel optimistic it has shown what’s possible when a country puts their mind to it.
The best games ever? Maybe.