One of the great things about retirement is that one has flexibility to reconfigure personal plans and embrace unfolding historic events.
Like many, I emerged from the London Olympics bubble on Monday having been unexpectedly caught in its spell for the preceding seventeen days.
I must confess to pinching myself in disbelief at what had transpired over that strange wonderful period.
What was it that surprised me and yes moved me so?
After all – given the poor England team performance in the European footie, Wimbledon, the wet and disappointing Queen’s Jubilee holiday – I honestly didn’t hold out too much hope for the Games of the 30th Olympiad.
Maybe it was just plain relief that we had actually pulled the whole thing successfully off in front of a skeptical watching world. This was despite all the signs beforehand (e.g. the G4S security failure) that it would be the usual cock-up. In pressure situations over the fortnight, where things could have gone either way, Team Great Britain often won things for a change.
And it wasn’t just the cyclists either – who were again clinical in their execution as the new Kenny/Trott generation came through to take over what the Hoys and Pendletons started in Beijing. For me, the last Saturday 5000m final was the iconic (but far from only) example of this new-found steely Britishness.
About 250 m to go to the tape. Mo Farah out in front having made a kick for home with just over a lap remaining. Slight falter promotes customary colleywobbles in me. Prepared almost unconsciously for familiar script where wily Kenyans and Ethiopians in chasing pack skip past in home straight and our man comes in valiant British fourth. Mo hadn’t read my plot though. Bloody gutsy performance to hold them all off in the closing sprint and win the track distance double. I have to agree with the words of his coach Alberto Salazar :
‘Mo dug deeper than I have seen any athlete do. You’re talking about a man who has more heart, more guts and more soul than any athlete I’ve ever seen’.
Perpetual loser Andy Murray also finally nailed one, revenging himself on Roger Federer for the earlier summer tennis defeat.
Feeding off the above was the whole positive mood thing, adding yet a further layer of ‘specialness’ to emerging proceedings beyond the superlative sporting achievement we were privileged to be witnessing.
People tried being friendly to each other in London and all around the country and found it was actually quite pleasant. Australian and French visitors were dumbfounded by the charm offensive of the big pointy-fingered pink and purple volunteer army (where the hell did they get conjured up from btw – bloody brilliant).
We wholeheartedly embraced previously marginal sports and talked down the pub knowledgeably about such things as Dressage (“Charlotte Dujardin’s prawn pilau er piaff was definitely a 95 percenter”) and Beach Volleyball.
We saw British eccentricity at its unselfconscious best. People strutted in Wiggo sideburns, there was Beanie in Chariots Of Fire and Lord Major Boris dangling on the high wire, and oh yes the corgis….
Whatever it was it held the cynic in me at bay, allowing periods of child-like joy to shine through for the first in many a long time.
And there were a number of such utterly joyful and unforgettable moments. Who will ever forget Jessica Ennis’s face as she crossed the finished line after her 800m heptathlon-winning final event. The first sight of the fiery Olympic rings shortly before they fused together in the night sky above the athletics stadium at the end of the amazing opening ceremony intro sequence made my heart sing. Kathryn Grainger finally winning her long-sought rowing gold medal was beautiful to witness.
Since this is elite sport and we always have to have losers as well as winners, we also got unflinchingly close to the real-time sadness of those for whom things did not go quite as they had wished.
GB’s golden sculling hopefuls Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase were utterly inconsolable after losing by a metre to Denmark.
“We feel like we’ve let everyone down by not winning”
, the pair said…..
“Even though it’s a silver medal, it still hurts when you come for gold.”
Poor Becky Adlington, confessing that the pressure of expectation for her at least had been too much after her bronze in trying to defend her Olympics 800m freestyle swim title, had the whole of Britain welling up.
Then there was the imaginative spectacles of the opening and closing ceremonies. A theatrical condensation of our evolving concept of Britishness and what must have been surely the soundtrack of many of our lives (mine certainly) weaved into the proceedings by the genius of Danny Boyle the director and his musical collaborators Underworld.
I felt a tremendous inexplicable sense of loss when it was all finally over late on Sunday night. The whole experience made me feel more human in a weird sort of way and perhaps renewed my resolve to be a ‘player’ in life versus allowing myself to merely watch it go by. My dearest hope is that it evoked similar sentiments in others in our country.
James Lawton, writing in the Independent, had the very words for it as usual:
“You thought of all this, you recalled once more the sight of Bolt and the meaning of Mo, and you felt pride that the old town had put on such a show. Then the music died and the flame went out and you wondered if we would feel quite this way ever again.”
A Youtube embed of the mesmeric opening music is below and a link to High Contrast’s fascinating insider background to the production of the score for the ceremony is here.