The Best Seventeen Days Ever: #London2012, we salute you – 13th August 2012
The best seventeen days ever – is that perhaps seeking to place a short period of time too highly in the pantheon of history?
Way back on 6th July 2005, I had found myself in the restaurant at Vodafone in Newbury as the announcement that London had won the bid was made. All around me broke out in spontaneous applause and cheers as it transpired that the Olympics were coming to the United Kingdom.
I had followed the progress with interest, over the next seven years as plans turned into reality and it appeared that, despite the recession, London was capable of delivering the Olympic Games on time and on budget.
I’ll admit to some degree of trepidation, and almost Olympic fatigue, during the run up to the games. I began to look forward to the time when it would all be over and we could finally settle down to our normal lives again. On the news, everything seemed to be dominated by the games.
Then came the moment that the Olympic torch touched down in Cornwall. We had followed its progress, watched the plane carrying it land and seen it held proudly aloft by David Beckham. Looking at the crowds gathered, finally, it seemed that Olympic fever had truly arrived.
The torch relay was a brilliantly executed piece of logistics: 8000 runners carried the flame 8000 miles all around England, Scotland and Wales over a period of 70 days. The torch passed within an hour’s drive of 95% of the population of Great Britain, the aim being to show that it wasn’t just ‘London’s Olympics’, it truly belonged to the whole country. Each runner will have his own unique memories to cherish and story to tell to his children and grandchildren.
Once we had found out that the Olympic torch would pass our house in Maidenhead, I duly arranged a day off work, anxious not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On the day itself, Maidenhead geared up to receive the flame, with roads closed and crowds lining the streets ahead of the arrival of the torch. It was a momentous day, a chance to be a part of the Olympics and a day when the realisation that the Olympics really were just around the corner, finally struck home. The relay continued on for a few more days as the country counted down to the big day.
Finally, 27th July arrived and with it the anticipation for the events of the Opening Ceremony. What would the evening bring? What would the Olympic flame in the stadium look like? Who would light the flame?
Suffice to say, Mr Boyle didn’t disappoint. In a very ‘British’ ceremony full of history, humour, music and theatre, London blew the world away.
But what of the following days?
The Olympics themselves got off to a slightly uncertain start when the South Korean flag was shown beside the names of the North Korean football team. There were early complaints about travel chaos, criticism of empty seats at venues and even people moaning about how long it took for Team GB to win any medals!
Then, suddenly, the medals began to roll in, beginning with success in the rowing as Heather Stanning and Helen Glover secured the first gold for Team GB.
The mood of the country changed. Everyone seemed to be suddenly mesmerised by the Olympics. People began to speak to strangers on the Tube. The country became bedecked with union flags.
Medals continued to accumulate, helped, no doubt, by the much quoted ‘home advantage’. Who cared what sport they were in, Britain was finally excelling and showing the world just how good we were. Suddenly everyone was overcome with a sense of national pride. Britain was truly great again.
We were delighted to be able to experience the Olympics at first hand and go along to the football quarter-final between Mexico (the eventual winners) and Senegal. Memories of the day will last a lifetime.
Overall, there were so many memories to cherish and take away from the London Olympics:
- The wonderful victory for Bradley Wiggins in the cycling time trial, coming so soon after his victory in the Tour de France
- Katherine Grainger finally securing a gold medal after collecting 3 silver medals at previous Olympics
- In the pool, Becky Adlington coming so near and yet so far
- Sir Chris Hoy surging to his sixth gold medal and being rewarded (like so many others) with a hug from Sir Steve Redgrave
- Victoria Pendleton’s tearful ending to an illustrious Olympic career, beaten into silver
- Ben Ainslie, finally victorious in a sailing competition which seemed to last all week
- That amazing Saturday night when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won golds in the Olympic Stadium
- Murray against Federer for the gold medal and sweeping him away, before claiming a silver with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles
- Unexpected medals in the gymnastics, equestrian and dressage
- The epic triumph of the Brownlee Brothers
- Stupendous achievements by Usain Bolt in the 100m, 200m and 100m relay
- Nicola Adams taking the very first women’s boxing gold
- Jade Jones victorious in taekwondo
- Mo Farah coming through to win the 5000m
- Laura Trott winning two gold medals at the age of 20
- The unique talent of Michael Phelps
- David Rudisha breaking the world record in the 800m
- Jamaica smashing the world record in the 4x100m relay
- Tom Daley’s celebrations at clinching bronze
Even more than memories of the Olympians themselves, was the wider picture: the thousands of volunteers, each with a smile, who helped to bring the games alive, the security teams working behind the scenes, those involved in the transport arrangements and on duty at the various stadia as well as the huge turnout from the public.
The country was truly united in a sporting event that had successfully defied all the odds, deflected the negative stories generated and delighted the world.
London 2012 had sold itself on the ability to ‘Inspire a generation’. As the athletes return home and the world gets back to normal, perhaps this is the biggest challenge of them all to achieve.
For me, I’ll look back on London 2012 with huge fondness, delighted that my initial scepticism had been so completely blown out of the water. The honesty, enthusiasm and passion of the competitors taking part was truly inspirational and, for me at least, made it the Best Seventeen Days if not ever, at least that I can remember.
If only we could bottle the happiness generated and keep it alive for ever.