Well, the Olympics are over. After the grand opening ceremony largely silenced the naysayers, the sport began and a nation held its breath to see if London really could pull this off.
By and large, we did quite well, in terms of both the games organisation and the number of medals won. I’m not a sports fan, but I had BBC1 on in the background constantly, and several moments stand out: Andy Murray winning a Wimbledon final at long last; the cyclists winning… well, almost everything; Tom Daley winning bronze and celebrating as if he’d won gold; and immigrant Mo Farah winning two gold medals, silencing the Daily Mail and other whingers who bemoaned “plastic Brits”.
Despite (or perhaps because of) TfL’s dire warnings to stay away, the transport problems failed to materialise, with the Tube, train and DLR lines holding up remarkably well. The army covered admirably following the G4S embarrassment. The empty seats in the venues were sad to see (especially for people like me who tried and tried to get tickets, but were ultimately left empty-handed). I hope the ticket allocation is handled more sensibly at future Games.
The BBC have been big winners, receiving deserved praise from all sides for the breadth and depth of their coverage, with every event covered live on the brilliant Olympic web site and via 24 dedicated channels on Sky and Virgin. Commentators and presenters, mindful that a high number of non-sports addicts would be tuning in, took time to explain the minutiae of the sport. They cheered on Team GB’s victories, but other countries were not overlooked, and the line between patriotism and one-sided jingoism was well-observed. Clare Balding and Ian Thorpe (despite his habit of saying “look” at the start of every sentence) deserve particular praise for their punditry.
So on Sunday, all that was left was to bring things to a close. Much has been written about the piss-poor closing ceremony, so I won’t go over it here. Suffice to say a parade of pop stars of varying levels of has-beenness was not an appropriate way to close what was an amazing two weeks.
And what of the much-discussed legacy? Well, our ruling class demonstrates a lot of signs that they are learning the wrong lessons. David Cameron is now demanding that competitive sport be made compulsory in all schools, sneering at “Indian Dance” lessons, and decrying the “all must have prizes” culture that exists mainly in the mind of Daily Telegraph columnists.
David Cameron, I suspect, has never suffered the indignity of being picked last for a team, or finishing a cross country run so late that everyone else had got changed and gone home (I was that soldier). Forcing competitive sport on me put me off any form of exercise for the best part of a decade, and my health suffered as a result. For the sake of every computer geek with poor hand-eye coordination, other forms of physical education must be provided.
Now that the 2012 party is half-finished (Paralympics still to come of course), will be there be lasting change? Certainly the games have provided a real lift to the national mood. Even the grumpiest soul must have been cheered up by the scenes on display. British athletes competing for the honour rather than the money; the thousands of volunteers giving up their time to become Gamesmakers; London, at its best, beamed onto a billion TV screens worldwide. Indeed, Monday morning seemed to bring a collective post-Olympic depression, as people realised it was over.
Will there be a permanent change to the nation’s psyche, though? It would be nice to think that, after seeing the years of training and preparation put in by the athletes, the youth of the nation will use that as a model rather than the cynical “instant fame” celebrity culture. It’s naive and simplistic to say – as some have this week – “if you work hard, you can achieve anything”. With inequality and class privilege still ingrained in British society, you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed (indeed, one-third of the UK’s medallists were privately educated). However, Team GB still provide better examples to follow than those shown in Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent and OK! Magazine.
Sadly, I’m not sure there will be such profound change. The tabloids, which for the last fortnight have carried pictures of beaming gold medallists, will surely now return to the sexual exploits of footballers. Bankers will still be greedy. Nick Clegg will still be useless. And — oh, joy — The X Factor returns to ITV1 this Saturday.
Hmm… I think I can feel the cynicism returning.