After the wondrous Olympic Games in London, I expect to already be preaching to the congregation with this piece. However, what has happened in Britain over the past few weeks ought to be repeated. This is despite the fact that for so long, the prospect of the greatest show on Earth reaching these shores was met with indifference.
The pessimism and apathy had begun to dissipate as the opening ceremony drew closer. Then a political gaffe from Mitt Romney only expedited this, failing to realise that like one’s family members, you can listen to the complaints, but under no circumstances join in. It almost makes me want to see him become America’s next president simply in order to observe the manner in which any future visit to Downing Street would pan out. The country still approached the beginning of the Games with a tangible sense of trepidation. Everyone had witnessed China host a stunning, albeit somewhat clinical, opening in 2008. So how would Britain compare?
Artistic director Danny Boyle certainly knew better than to put on a comparable show. The logic was – why try to do something “Chinese” when we can do it “British” instead? This is not to imply that one culture is superior to another, but simply state that any opening ceremony ought to be representative of the host nation. I hope that in four years time Rio eschews anything redolent of what took place in London. For the 2016 Olympic Games will be Brazil’s time to shine, and I hope they give us something distinctly Brazilian.
As 27 July came around and the world of Twitter grew ever more frenetic, it occurred to me that if the opening ceremony were supposed to constitute a journey into the dense history of Britain, then it ought to be a full and frank review. Issues such as slavery, colonialism, bigotry and the concerted attempt to maintain the power of one nation at the expense of so many others should not be ignored.
However, as Boyle’s vision unfolded, I realised my error of judgement. It is not that politics has no place in the Olympics, but the relative merits of the nation should be discussed in an arena where tangible change can be effected, and that is not a sporting one. What the opening ceremony did so well was to highlight the best of ourselves: our literature, the Industrial Revolution and the National Health Service.
It was almost as though Britain suddenly acknowledged its own successes: “We have done some rather good things on this small island, have we not? Why were we so dolorous again? Who cares, I am actually looking forward to the Games now.” It set the perfect tone for what followed and was a telling reminder that great things were possible. For the next two weeks or so, greatness became a part of the British diet.
This greatness went further than the plethora of medals won by Team GB. Canada and the USA showed that women’s football was no longer a punchline. New stars were born such as Ruta Meilutyte, Ye Shiwen, Gabrielle Douglas and Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti. Usain Bolt and David Rudisha cemented themselves as undeniable sporting legends. Michael Phelps departed as the most decorated Olympian ever – maybe even the greatest, while genuine social progress was made in front of the world as Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent their first female athletes to the Games, despite both falling victim to pockets of vile online abuse.
With the most glorious form of osmosis, the feats of the competitors above seemed to nurture a greater sense of camaraderie and kindness in us all. We became that bit warmer and better, with empathy taking the place of disdain. It is often said that Britons, and Londoners in particular use sardonicism and scorn rather like a security blanket. This time it was nowhere to be seen. The capital of the nation was a beacon of high achievement and we all wanted a piece of this.
Cutting through all the hype, television coverage and mantras, and even the medals, which are secondary as to why the Olympics matter, as much as a sporting event can ever matter – the true purpose of the Olympic Games is to remind us to find the very best of ourselves. Whether it is breaking a world record in the Velodrome, or helping a tourist find their way to the Olympic Stadium, the Games brought out the best in us.
Like the most marvellous contagion, brilliance begat brilliance. For example, you may have no interest in boxing, but Nicola Adams‘ gold medal set an example to us all. Not to get into the ring, but to be more than just ordinary. No other sporting occasion has such an effect, nor could it. London 2012 dazzled as an Olympic Games because nothing else would do. “Faster, higher, stronger” is more than a media tagline, it is pure inspiration – and so are the Olympics.
Have your say | Tweet the author | @TGEISH
Back to the London 2012 Olympics
Interested in writing for The Armchair Pundits?
We’re always on the lookout for aspiring journalists, click here for details on how you can start contributing.