Monday, August 13, 2012

Goodbye, London 2012

My earliest Olympic memory is of my mum shouting, "HIT HIM! GO ON HIT HIM!" at Audley Harrison in the early hours of the morning, as  she embraced the millennium spirit by shouting encouragement at the TV for Sydney 2000. Strangely though, it was the 2002 Winter Olympics, and more specifically the sport of curling, which cemented my love for this enormous sportsfest and it was in 2004 that I finally got round to watching the Olympic Games properly. Jumping around the living room and clapping at a slowly dying television as Steve Cram shouted "Come on Kelly" is something which has stuck with me for the past eight years and will, undoubtedly, stay with me for the rest of my life.

So when it was announced on 6th July 2005 that London had beaten Paris to host the 2012 Olympic games, I was excited. My home nation would be hosting a Summer Olympics, meaning I wouldn't have to alter my sleeping pattern and would have the world's greatest show about 100 miles away in a city that, to a 13 year old girl, was a terrifyingly exciting place.

For seven years I've been one of those commuters, travellers, day trippers, sometimes even dogs, who've gone on the Norwich-London Liverpool Street train through Stratford and have seen the way in which an Olympic Park has risen out of wasteland into a world class sporting site. A place where world records would tumble and heroes would be made. A place where national pride spread, thanks to the athletes, the spectators and the wonderful volunteers.

Having said this, I didn't get Olympic tickets. I couldn't afford to risk applying for them. Maybe if I were the gambling type, I could've experienced Great Britain's dominance at the velodrome or been in the Olympic Stadium for Golden Saturday. But I wasn't, and I don't regret not applying, because this games, despite the name, wasn't just London's games. It was Britain's games.

I was up at Headingley for the second Test, you know, the one where Kevin Pietersen scored a brilliant century on the same day Jess Ennis was crowned the world's greatest all-round female athlete, the day Greg Rutherford leapt to an unexpected gold and the day Mo Farah showcased the Mo-bot to an audience Sky 1 could only ever dream of. But from the large number of people dressed up as Bradley Wiggins to the people standing up and singing Spandau Ballet's 'Gold' when news from the velodrome reached the Western Terrace, it was clear that London 2012 had a nation gripped and that the 'Olympic spirit' was well and truly flowing in Yorkshire. 

A digital radio, a dodgy signal and 5 Live crackling away on a train carriage packed full of people ready for a Saturday night is probably a fairly usual occurrence, especially during the football season. But when a guy, who'd spent his day dressed as the Cookie Monster at the cricket, has three people crowded round a tiny mobile phone screen, hoping that the signal would hold out so they could watch incredible athletes run 10,000m and join in with the 80,000 people screaming encouragement for the one with the GB crest on his chest, then you know it's something special. Being greeted by other passengers giving funny looks as we cheered, joining millions across the nation, when Mo Farah crossed the line, was a wonderful moment and certainly one I won't ever forget.

Rain meant sparse amounts of play during the fourth day, a Sunday, a month after Andy Murray's big date in the Wimbledon final. A month later, it was the same opponent, the same venue, but this time, a different prize and a far, far different atmosphere. I had updates coming through thanks to my mum and Twitter, but once the lightning arrived at Headingley, everyone was downstairs and watching. The queues for the bars were empty as everyone was transfixed as they watched Andy Murray blowing Roger Federer away. Match point. An ace. Mass jubilation. The national anthem was being sung by drunk people in fancy dress. People, who had in no way supported Murray in the final a month ago, suddenly felt it was their national duty to cheer on the man from Dunblane. The Western Terrace cheering for a Scotsman. You think you've seen it all.

This Olympics wasn't just about London. This Olympics was about the nation. It was about celebrating and supporting athletes, from the incredible, like Sir Chris Hoy and David Rudisha, to those who were making history just by being there and who gave their all, despite the odds being heavily stacked against them. It was about giving Britain something to feel proud about, something to unify an apparently 'broken' nation, something to prove all the doubters wrong.

London 2012 showed that the British people are one of the most eccentric, and passionate, bunch of people you could ever wish to meet. They carried home tired athletes, creating a cauldron of noise and a wall of colour for British participants. The volunteers created a community spirit, something to be proud of and also allowed for some truly wonderful moments, especially the Bolt fist-bump before the 200m final.

So, London, thank you. The 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze medals for Team GB have been spectacular. Hearing the national anthem be sung so joyfully as the Union Flag has been raised has left many people with a lump in their throat. We have introduced a whole generation to sports outside of the mainstream domain, and have provided them with heroes of humility, like Jess Ennis. There are people who have arrived at these games overcoming personal tragedies, civil wars, poverty, etc, to represent their countries and it is those people that we have celebrated. We have put on a show to the world and it is a show we can be proud of, because where else would have a 40 foot Voldemort being defeated by an army of Mary Poppins?

The Olympic flame may well have been extinguished, the BBC Olympic channels are no more and we may well have returned to the travesty of Heir Hunters and Bargain Hunt, but soon it will be time for the Paralympics, which, by the sounds of it, will be one of the most well-supported Paralympics ever.

Bring on August 29th. 

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