The Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics is still nine hours away, and I’m already starting to feel tearful. I have surprised myself by the wholehearted way I’ve embraced these Games. The TV has barely been away from the Olympic channels, and TLC and I have been glued to the BBC’s outstanding coverage. That is, when we haven’t been out watching events. What the hell’s happened to me? I don’t like sport. I’ve never liked sport. And yet, here I am, feeling emotional about the fact that it’s coming to a close.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise, of course. As soon as it became clear that London had won the Olympics, TLC and I knew we had a rare chance to immerse ourselves in a world-class experience. We were lucky enough to snag fencing tickets in the lottery, and booked a brace of events through a travel agent, accepting right there and then that the Games would be a replacement for a big summer holiday. It was expensive, but totally, totally worth it.
Seeing Olympic events live is a completely different prospect to watching them on the telly. The crowd is as much a part of the action as the athletes on the field of play. We watched a volleyball match between Poland and Russia in a packed Earl’s Court–packed, that is, with vocal Poles. Whenever Russia served, they were heartily, cheerfully booed. It was not to be Poland’s night. They were comprehensively taken apart by the Russians, losing three sets to nothing. But the roar whenever the Polish team scored a point had to be heard to be believed. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen at Earl’s Court, and even the noisy Boss fans had nothing on this crowd. You could feel the whole building vibrate.
But if you want to talk about noise, the place to be is the Olympic Stadium when a member of Team GB is competing. The roar is a physical thing, wrapping round you like an over-enthusiastic hug, drumming on your bones. The Stadium is state-of-the-art, comfortable, accessible and the sightlines are all fine. But acoustically, the place is a triumph, designed to build crowd noise up into thunder.
You’re applauding all the time. You applaud when a jump or a run goes well. You applaud when it doesn’t. You applaud before people start their jump. You applaud if they get through the heats. You applaud even more loudly if they don’t, just to make the athletes feel a bit better about all that hard work and sacrifice being for nothing.
Not that it was, of course. I don’t hold with the idea of Olympic gold being the be-all and end-all, that if you don’t get a spot on the podium that you’re a failure. Competing in the Olympics is a big fucking deal. It’s the culmination of years of effort, of focus, of doing without, of eating right, of pain and endurance. And that, my Readership, is why we applaud the stragglers, and the ones that fall at the third attempt. Because they have still achieved more simply by striding into the arena than we can really know. They’ve made the grade, and the least we can do is let them know that they’re champions before the starting pistol goes off.
The most remarkable thing about the 2012 Olympics is the way that our expectations simply refused to materialise. That the Team GB athletes would fail to make the grade. That there would be organisational and transport fubars that would strand thousands of angry ticket-holders miles from the Olympic Park. That somehow, we’d mess it all up, become a laughing stock. Even now, as the finish line comes into view, I think we still can’t quite believe what’s actually happened–that we were not only up to the challenge, but that we absolutely bloody nailed it. Our best medal haul in 104 years. A cheerful, clean and easy to navigate capital. A showpiece Olympic venue that not only works, but looks amazing and symbolises a lasting legacy. Let’s not forget, this time last year, London was reeling after a week of riots, and commentators on both wings of the press were expending huge volumes of hot air on how multicultural Britain had failed. The nay-sayers are quiet now, and if they do pipe up, like the moronic Aiden Burley, they simply show how out of touch they are. Our medal winners are an extraordinarily diverse bunch, from every background, a rainbow of colours, class, and ethnicities. I’ve always believed the major strength of this beautiful island nation of hours is the way that we’ll accept, adopt, and adapt influences from around the world to create something new and quintessentially us. The Olympics has shown that clearly, polished it up and made it shine.
We’re on the cusp of something new here, something brighter. I’ll be honest. I’m a little giddy with the promise of it all. You could sneer and call it bread and circuses. Our economy has flatlined. We are ruled over by buffoons and malicious reactionaries. In a lot of ways, we are at our lowest. But we have to build up from somewhere. And these last two weeks, when we have seen our little country at its best seems like a great place to start. In some ways, I’ve seen what David Camoron (sic) means when he’s talking about the Big Society. Thousands of volunteers, giving their time freely and good-naturedly, all working together to create something greater. You don’t have to legislate for that. Give us the right motivation, and we’ll bite your arm off for the chance to help. Team GB doesn’t just have to be the athletes that have done us so proud. We can all play a part. We are all Team GB.
And hey, it’s not like it’s all over yet. The Paralympics starts in a couple of weeks. Yes, we have tickets to a day at the Olympic Park for that. I love the cheeky posters promoting the Channel 4 coverage that say simply, “Thanks For The Warm-up.” The Paralympics will show the extremes of human endeavour and tenacity, and by the looks of it Team GB will be right up there in the medals table. TLC and I are intensely excited about the whole thing. As producer Paul Carter puts it:
But that’s a little way into the future. For now, we have a closing ceremony to look forward to that I can guarantee will see me in raggedy, tear-sodden bits. It’s been one hell of a fortnight. Well played, Great Britain. Bloody well played.
All photos are by TLC. There’s more to enjoy on her Flickrstream.