“I hear there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready?” From the moment Boris Johnson tore into the Republican Presidential candidate in front of a rabid, expectant Hyde Park crowd, on the eve of The Greatest Show On Earth, until Mo Farah’s keynote performance in the Olympic Stadium on the penultimate night of competition, my word, did London 2012 ever answer the Mayor’s question in the affirmative. We were ready. We delivered.
The highlights are almost too numerous to recollect: Team GB’s complete domination of the Velodrome; David Rudisha’s remarkable 800m World Record; Andy Murray’s destruction of Roger Federer; Chad Le Clos ripping the 200m Butterfly title from Michael Phelps’ iron fist; Katherine Grainger finally grasping her previously elusive Olympic gold medal; Phelps’ resurgence to become the most decorated Olympian in history; Jade Jones’ unprecedented Taekwondo gold medal, to name but a handful. Oh, and Bolt. Always Bolt.
The personal highlight (even eclipsing the realisation of a lifelong ambition by attending the 100m final the following night) was undoubtedly Mo Farah’s epic victory in the 10,000m. The gradually increasing Mexican Wave of noise that followed the athletes round the track for 24 ½ laps before climaxing in a deafening, crescendo of support as Farah struck for home and victory round the final bend was an exhilarating, transcendent experience. And one to which I will forever be able to say: I was there.
London’s ability to embrace the Olympic spirit was also foolishly questioned in the build-up to the big event. The Olympic Park probably best encapsulated the atmosphere of harmony, hope and happiness that prevailed throughout the city. A veritable Disneyworld of sport, the Park provided an almost utopian experience – from the designer sporting venues to the smooth and efficient security system; from the surprisingly edible fish and chips to the world’s largest McDonald’s; from the jovial volunteers to the unceasingly cheerful army operatives to the superhuman athletes – it was like transportation to another, better, world.
Additionally, the Olympic experience has been spectacularly enhanced by the BBC’s peerless coverage. 24 HD channels, 3 dedicated radio stations and an avalanche of web based content provided the opportunity to keep tabs on a multitude of events simultaneously. If it was on – dressage, artistic gymnastics, beach volleyball, the whole flippin’ lot – you could watch it.
Couple this with the intelligent and incisive punditry of Michael Johnson, Chris Boardman, Ian Thorpe et al. and the licence fee of £5.60 for the two weeks’ coverage surely stands alone as the greatest media bargain in history.
The isolated lowlight – an entirely personal one – having to endure an afternoon in an SW19 public house watching Federer defeat Juan Martin Del Potro 19-17 in the deciding set despite possessing a valid Centre Court ticket. Unfortunately, the ticket allocated to the Turkmenistan Olympic Committee had fallen into the hands of an unscrupulous tout who displayed rather questionable ethics in selling me the ticket after it had already been scanned into the grounds. Despite, an hour’s worth of protesting, whining, begging and moaning the Olympic staff were unmoved by my plight and I retreated to the Old Garage.
My despondency deepened further that evening, while sitting in the Copper Box arena watching ladies’ handball and being informed that Murray was conquering the once-invincible Novak Djokovic, in front of a raucous Wimbledon crowd. There were 14,999 people inside Centre Court that night; one seat remained empty.
I suppose it will remain forever impossible to quantify exactly why the London Olympic was such an overwhelming triumph. Perhaps, most of all, the sense of hope provided by the unbridled Olympic fever that seemed to sweep the entire country defined our Olympics. A fortnight of release from economic woes and muddled government – in 21st century Britain this was as good as it gets; the absolute pinaccle of life.
Aided by supreme sporting performances from Usain Bolt – undoubtedly The Greatest (Ali? Bradman? Jordan? Please.); and Mo Farah (Great Britain’s Greatest?) the Olympics comfortably surpassed even the highest of expectations and made a mockery of the previously abundant cynics.
This wasn’t just the best sporting fortnight of the year. It wasn’t even merely the best Olympic Games ever. This was probably the best fortnight of pure sport that you will ever see. Savour it. London 2012 – you truly were an incomparable privilege.