Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympics: the Legacy of London 2012

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Olympic Games are over for another four years, with the torch literally passed to Rio de Janeiro for 2016. It's been a wonderful fortnight for a great many reasons, managing the difficult feat of making the British lose their cynicism and sarcasm. Ever since London won the Games seven years ago, the press and comedians have been filling our heads with derogatory remarks about what a London Games will look like (how could they be as lavish or well-organised as Beijing?), and the focus was on the astronomical expense and predictions of travel chaos across the capital. Even days before the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony, people were bracing themselves for a Teletubbies-esque fuckup from artistic director Danny Boyle, inclement weather, and the big story was security firm G4S failing to meet their commitments and forcing the government to send the military to Olympic venues last-minute.

But, guess what: London 2012 was bloody fantastic. The naysayers were resoundingly provedn wrong. Even the weather wasn't half bad, although the dream of a two-week heat wave didn't materialise. It obviously helps that, for me and my fellow countrymen, this was a home Games. I'm 33, so I've lived through eight Olympic Games in my lifetime, but this one undoubtedly felt special because it was happening just 3 hours away from where I live. I even got tickets to watch a day's worth of Third Round tennis at Wimbledon during the Olympic fortnight, cheering Andy Murray onto glory that weekend. But even if you couldn't be there in person, the marvellous BBC radio/TV coverage (which included 24 bespoke HD channels) was second to none. Indeed, the BBC's estimable broadcasts were the envy of foreign territories—some of which, like America, had decided to forego live broadcasts and instead focus on providing highlights each evening. I guess it must be a cultural thing, because any British broadcaster wouldn't dare NOT show the Olympics live, even if that means major events are happening at breakfast. In an era of increasing social media, having outcomes spoiled online just isn't the way to go.

Thankfully, we didn't have to suffer such madness in the UK, where everything (and I mean everything) was broadcast live and uninterrupted by commercials. I'm not a very sporty person, but it was fantastic to know every event was available through your TV or computer. I watched the key moments from a Team GB perspective (Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah, Greg Rutherford, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, etc), plus the 100m/200m with Usain Bolt (legend), and dipped into various sports throughout the weeks. To be honest, I wasn't as keen on the indoor events at the Olympic Park, because they feel quite sanitised to watch unless you're particularly keen on judo, fencing or boxing. I preferred the outdoor events, mainly because they provided a good showcase for the UK as a country. On a patriotic level, it felt nice to know the eyes of the world were on our little island and soaking up the atmosphere.

If there's one failing of the BBC's coverage, it's that daily roundups of the Games (especially Gabby Logan's weeknight show) were too focused on Team GB. It's an understandable position to take, but you lost a sense of other countries' achievements. It actually surprised me that Russia came fourth, because I don't remember a single time their national anthem was played. And, as fantastic and invaluable as they were, the BBC's 24 Olympic HD channels weren't publicised enough. Most people relied on BBC1 and BBC3 for their TV fix, unaware that there were 24 other channels on Sky and Virgin Media for the short-term. Why weren't the BBC presenters mentioning those channels? Instead, they would promote the extra feeds via the interactive "red button" or BBC website. It can't have been cheap getting those HD channels up and running, so why not plug them?

Regardless of these very minor failings in the coverage, the Olympic Games were a triumph for Britain. Not least because, hey, Team GB actually did very well! Great Britain came third in the overall medals table, which is extraordinary when you think that first-place USA and second-place China have a pool of talent to choose from that dwarfs our own. There are 310 million people in the USA, and 1.3bn people in China. The latter are also so lax with human rights that their athletes are practically slave-driven to become the best, so that taints the achievement for me. And then there's little Britain: an erstwhile superpower with a modest 60 million citizens... and we came third to those global giants.

Sure, it helps that we were the home team this year, because our athletes were familiar with venues, had no travel concerns, and could rely on the home crowd as a psychological lift, but I think we'd have done equally as well overseas. Our efforts at Beijing 2008 weren't too far behind what we achieved in London 2012, so I think the added success was more down to a determination to do well in front of a home crowd. I mean, anything less than fifth place would have been unthinkable. I'd be surprised if we do considerably worse in Rio, unless the government pull a lot of funding now London 2012 is over—which they may do in these austere financial times.

So what next, now the Olympic Games are over? The world feels a little emptier and sadder today. I can't rely on an early-evening boost, watching a Briton win a medal for their country.

I'm unlikely to see another home Olympics in my lifetime, which is a gloomy thought. That was it. It's over. Oh well. It's turned me into a genuine fan of the Olympics. I'll be watching as much as I can of Rio 2016, although the time delay may curtail my enjoyment to an extent. And as a nation, we have some new sporting heroes to champion; role models for children that aren't talentless reality stars or manufactured pop singers. Team GB's athletes are gifted, determined, healthy, passionate people that the youth of Britain can aspire to with the full support of adults. That's a refreshing feeling in itself. Okay, so many of Team GB's most famous faces will be signed to inconsequential shows like Strictly Come Dancing and I'm A Celebrity over the coming year, which is inevitable, but at least they became famous for doing something honourable and worthwhile. They didn't just date a rock n' roll icon for a few years, or something.

It's naïve to imagine a cultural shift happening overnight, which London 2012's "Inspire A Generation" motto suggests will happen. Kids won't all be out running round tracks, learning to canoe, or taking up archery, just because of a successful home Olympics. However, big changes are the accumulation of smaller ones over time. It's now up to the government, parents, and the people of Britain to use these Olympics as a springboard. Keep promoting Wiggins, Ennis, Farah, Khan, Daley, Adlington, Hoy, Pendleton, Trott, Ainsley, and all the others. Make it feel desirable to follow in their footsteps, rather than pursue desperate means to become famous by marrying a footballer or appearing on Big Brother.

Most people aren't going to become Olympic legends, of course, but we CAN take something away from these Games; a feeling of national pride being chief amongst them. We successfully hosted the biggest sporting spectacle the world ever seen with no major problems, we came third in a table of 204 countries (our most successful Games since 1908), this was the first Olympiad where every country had female representation, female boxing made its Olympic debut, the USA's Michael Phelps officially became the greatest Olympian of all time, and Usain Bolt achieved living legend status for winning consecutive Olympic golds in the 100m/200m events. A few world records were even set in the Olympic Stadium, too.

I'll miss the London 2012 Olympics. For a few weeks in summer, it felt really good to be British. I hope the world enjoyed it as much as the UK certainly did, even if you couldn't be there yourself or had to suffer a frustrating broadcast ethos. The Closing Ceremony even had its share of marvellous moments from some pop icons, past and present, although even the Spice Girls can't hold a candle to Team GB's take on a Queen classic...