On Monday London 2012 came to an end with another outpouring of support, exhilaration and sheer joy at the achievements of Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes on the victory parade, which stretched across London from Mansion House to The Mall, for many culminating at Trafalgar Square. With the eyes of Admiral Horatio Nelson fixed upon the thousands gathered in the streets, on pavements, within glass buildings lining The Strand and even on rooftops, the country celebrated its greatest ever team.
This is no longer an advertising slogan. At the start some may have been suspicious of the hype. Naysayers and doom-mongerers predicted that the Games would be a disaster.
Now not even the most hardened sceptic can doubt the value that London 2012 has brought to Britain. So our anthem may be outdated and excessively monarchistic. So we may be a country in recession. So a majority of Britons may be overweight and sport may be, for the most part, something that occurs on the television, rather than in the local park. However, there can be no doubt that London 2012 has left a legacy that will last. Particularly among those fortunate enough to be able to contribute to its success as members of staff, either logistical, volunteer, security or commercial.
As a programme seller working for a company contracted by LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) I worked 13 shifts during the Olympics and 11 during the Paralympics vending merchandise in order to, as I often had to inform customers, pay for the extortionate cost of hosting the Games. For all but two days of the Games I was based at the Olympic Park, and certainly had the opportunity to soak up the amazing atmosphere within. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, one donating an athletics ticket to myself and my colleagues, and another offering a half-price ticket to the final day of action at the Velodrome, I was able to watch elite sport first hand, rather than just on the television. While it was a pain to have to wake up at 3.30am most days during the Olympics, there are few more inspirational settings bursting with excitement, camaraderie and expectation to carry out your trade in.
Capturing the imagination
It must be said that the organisation for London 2012, at least from the perspective of a member of staff, was excellent. Trains ran on time, indeed no sooner had the Games finished that my Twitter feed was full of updates from Greater Anglia warning of line closures, station improvement works and delayed services. For the first time ever Tube trains threw off their antisocial coat and members of the public actually talked to each other. Despite dealing with huge crowds on a daily basis, those working from Stratford Station all the way to the security scanners at the Olympic Park entrance were positive, helpful and encouraging people heading in or out to “keep smiling”. Perhaps a little cheesy? Of course, but the whole thing was cheesy. Inside the Park the infectious enthusiasm of the fans and spectators was rewarded by increasingly bizarre displays of choreographed routines courtesy of Coca Cola’s “Future Flames”, mostly drama students presumably short of theatrical opportunities during the summer months.
When G4S failed to meet its contract for security staff, the British Armed Forces stepped in and the security company’s grievous error turned out to be a boon for the Games and those visiting the venues across London. For the army was a welcomed presence, providing a sense of stability and reassurance that many commented on. Genial, good natured and reliable, this invaluable intervention by men and women that in some cases had to sleep in underground car parks did not at all hamper the spirit or enjoyment of proceedings. The fact that an article summing up the feel of the Park barely even needs to mention security concerns tells its own stories. The Games were largely safe from negative incidents, barring the tragic death of a cyclist in the first few days, which one hopes will not be forgotten amid the sporting glory that followed.
During the victory parade speeches it was expected that the 70-80,000 or so individuals in purple t-shirts and jackets that have been the public face of London 2012 would be thanked for their contribution to the success of both the Olympics and Paralympics. These are of course the Games Makers. Unpaid, working exceptionally long hours (shifts lasted from 10-16 hours per day) you could forgive them for occasionally taking their eye off the ball or feeling as though they possibly didn’t want to direct visitors to the nearest toilet for the 178th time in a day. They didn’t, however. Although it was only the most “positive and enthusiastic” Games Makers that were selected for the final 100 yards (from Westfield Stratford to the security gates), these qualities were in view across the Olympic Park, at The Mall, at the Excel Arena, everywhere. To my slight annoyance, this group was not thanked directly during the aforementioned speech. One can only hope that collectively, in whatever manner is deemed most appropriate, they are honoured for well and truly making the Games.
Our greatest team
There was also a bit of sport at London 2012 to reflect upon with a warm, fuzzy glow. Both Team GB and Paralympics GB made a mockery of their respective medal targets, in the process launching the careers of stars such as Laura Trott and Jonnie Peacock. Meanwhile the legendary status of figures such as Ellie Simmonds, Sir Chris Hoy and Mo Farah was confirmed, and memories were etched into the Britain’s sporting consciousness that, hopefully, will form the basis of the much discussed “legacy” of the Games. Perhaps the greatest legacy in the immediate future would be a greater appreciation of the sports of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the national media. For while the journeys of British athletes to elite sport are often lauded, few ever look to blaze the trail.
Perhaps this is because individuals such as Tom Daley and Jessica Ennis are viewed as being impossible to emulate, but more likely it is because apart from when these individuals are on our television screens and achieving sporting greatness in the nation’s capital, little attention is paid to the World and European Championships, or even Olympic Games held in other countries. Football dominates the back pages of newspapers, and as such kids want to replicate the skills and career highs and lows of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, not the Olympians that have become such pin ups thanks to the extraordinary events of the past couple of months. With the funding for athletes and British sport in the run up to London 2012 having been guaranteed until Rio de Janeiro 2016, this is the real test for the government and its legacy programme. After the BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been crowned, we cannot simply forget our Olympians and Paralympians.
On a final note it is worth looking at the progress that has been made in transforming perceptions of the Paralympic Games. London 2012 has brought Paralympic sport to the fore, not as a “sideshow”, but a second round of elite sporting competition. Those competing at London 2012 were interpreted by audiences not through their disabilities, but their achievements on track, in the pool and on the pitch. It is probably fair to say that had the Games not been in London, most would have switched off after the Olympics. However, thanks to the positive embers still burning away in the minds of Britons and international visitors about the Games in London, the Paralympics and athletes such as David Weir may never have to suffer the ignominy of empty stadia again.
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