Despite the tweets of despair as the flame went out on Sunday night, just forty-eight hours later, while walking through the streets of London, on my first day back to work after the Games, it struck me that perhaps the Olympic spirit was not something to disappear as quickly as they extinguished the Olympic flame after all. Reminders of the past few weeks’ events were everywhere. The tube still bears its 2012 stickers and directions to Games venues across London. Tesco are still selling memorabilia and the news tells of sporting heroes welcomed home. Curzon Street and Park Lane are still a mass of LOCOG cars and volunteers, the latter hanging around on the pavements and outside the hotels as if they don’t want to go home, don’t want the dream that was London 2012 to be over.
Indeed, it occurred to me that instead of it all being over, London 2012 has a little of the immortal about it. Like the Ancient Greek Games first held in Olympia and later reinstated across Greece to restore peace and harmony between City States and returning to the origins of Greek life, here, through London 2012, we Brits seem to have remembered what makes Britain great. Across the land, across the generations and across all colours and faiths the greatness of our nation could be seen by all who cared to look for it. Indeed, London is the Olympia of the modern Olympics, being the only city to have hosted the Games in three Olympiads.
First, there was the journey of the Olympic flame around the country, touching our local communities, honoring the every day champions among us. A real physical tie to the Olympic flame that has made its way from Greece to each modern Olympic stadium by torch relay since 1936. A special event that literally brought the spirit of the Games to so many people across the country.
Then there was the incredible generosity of time and true British spirit of all the volunteers, young and old, who helped in no small way to make the Games happen, including those in the Forces drafted in at the last minute. Also a little reminiscent of the Ancient Games, when armies laid down their weapons to compete for the glory of the gods as they honored them with their exceptional human endeavors. Volunteers were praised for their cheerful and helpful approach. As the event went off without a hitch, I think they got it spot on.
We all bore witness to the end product of the hard-working teams who designed, built and developed the state of the art velodrome, aquatic centre and athletics stadium for the best competitors in the world to enjoy. Their efforts, like those of the sculptors who hammered out the statues of the gods and the temples at Delphi and Olympus all those years ago, revered as they have been by subsequent generations, will hopefully inspire more than just a generation, no matter how they are ‘recycled’.
There was of course, the incredible talent and dedication of the Team GB athletes who participated, winning their best haul of medals ever to put us all in the Top 3 performing countries overall. Like Hercules and Achilles before them, they are true heroes, all of them.
The genuine, down to earth support displayed by our Royal Family for the athletes competing was also fitting for a Jubilee year, when the nation seems to have fallen back in love with its monarchy and our monarch herself. From the Queen’s skit in the opening ceremony, with every girl’s heart-throb – 007, to the excitement in the Velodrome that led to the spontaneous hug between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the clear maternal pride of Princess Anne as she presented her own daughter with a medal, we loved it all. It appears we Brits have resurrected our gods and worship accordingly.
Even the fact that the London 2012 Games saw so many women competing from countries around the world where oppression of women and lack of equal opportunity is the norm, seemed entirely right for a British Olympics, true to our own history of suffrage and of strong, successful, pioneering women from Boadicea to Denise McCaffery.
Last but not least there was you and me, whether track-side, road-side, sitting on the sofa or in seats at the Olympic venues, there are those who have said only the British could roar as loud as we did in support of not just our own athletes but of all the greats, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt on the track and USA’s Michael Phelps in the pool. Our disappointment for poor Rebecca Adlington, whose heroic efforts in the pool weren’t enough to secure her the gold medal she dreamed of, didn’t stop us from roaring our appreciation of sporting legend when we saw Mr Phelps swim his way to make Olympic history. A true Hercules of our time.
The best bit, of course, is knowing that it isn’t quite over yet. With the Paralympics just over a week away and the teams clearing the way for the PRN, as opposed to the ORN, I felt that there were a few more tourists in town today, a few more day trippers and shoppers than we’ve seen in recent weeks to fill the coffers of the beleaguered shop keepers and stall holders who’ve been waiting for their turn to hold captive our guests from around the world. With our world-class fashion boutiques and department stores, our top quality restaurants and prize-winning theatres, we too, like the Greeks, have an artistic side to the festivities our visitors can enjoy. This was also reflected in the fabulous and slightly eccentric mix of delights we saw in the opening and closing ceremonies of Danny Boyle and …
I know that there have been many questions raised as to whether the UK can afford the extra costs of putting on the Games during such difficult economic times. I live with one such ardent protester. One would argue that we were fortunate to be in a better fiscal place than most countries, but even he managed to enjoy them and acknowledge the excellence that was London 2012. It is already clear in the comments of Roy Hodgson this morning, that football fans and players have a lot to live up to in order to emulate the spirit of London 2012. I’ve already joined the call for less football to be on our tv screens in light of their performance – it seems there were people who really enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate such a variety of talented sportsmen and women not usually broadcast to us.
As we all get back to ‘normal’ and to our everyday existence here in London and across Britain, let’s all carry our own little piece of that special Olympic flame that burned here at London 2012. Let’s remember the words of Eric Idle, to “always look on the bright side of life”, let’s remember our great history and our slightly quirky but much-loved culture with pride, and let it inspire us all to know who we are and with determination and focus, follow the example set by Team GB athletes. Let’s all do our bit to make sure the Great stays in Britain.
Here’s to the Paralympics!