The flame may have extinguished (with due respect to the Paralympics), but the effects on our national conscience and pride should live on for some time. I want to reflect on my experience of London 2012 – our Olympics.
From before 6 July 2005 when London was awarded the games, I was firmly in the camp of the cynics. I didn’t want the cost and disruption and, if it went wrong, the embarrassment of a festival of vanity for politicians for the benefit of a few sports men and women and sponsors.
I’m old enough to remember Mexico ’68 held in police state conditions, controversially overshadowed by civil rights protests. The “friendly games” of Munich ’72 were shattered by terrorism. The city of Montreal spent decades paying off the debt of the 1976 games with its half finished stadium. Boycotts ruined Moscow ’80 and Los Angeles ’84 (though the latter proved two things: the Olympics can run at a profit and soccer can succeed in the US). Athens, so desperate to get the Millennium games (which it didn’t get) spent too much on lavish, mostly once-used, facilities for 2004 that have had hardly helped its economy.
Not a great history. Then, 7/7 showed our vulnerabilities.
I wasn’t much of a fan of Seb Coe – Ovett was more likeable and Coe was rubbish as an MP. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary (bag carrier) he had a reputation as being useful for running out to the get the coffee. How on earth could he pull it off?
But, I love sport and as much as I would have gladly travelled to Paris to see the games and laugh at the cost to France, I wanted to be at London 2012. I nearly wasn’t and I was quick to have a moan at the unfair ticketing process. Come May I spent a couple of hours desperately fighting the Locog website to get two tickets for anything. To my surprise, in the second chance for lottery losers, athletics went on sale early. For the only time this year I used my Visa credit card. Only afterwards did I think about how I would pay off the debt.
Food and drink: £38
Obligatory “I was there” t-shirts: £16
Preamble done, I’ve decided to cover five aspects – my five, multi-coloured circles (geddit?) – of my day at Stratford and the whole Olympic experience from Beckham with the flame to the Who.
I’ll try to steer clear of the People’s Olympics cliche, but perhaps more than anything the Olympics said a lot about Britons and our love with events and celebration. The monarchy is not for me, but I recognise that the Jubilee was a great event that most of the population embraced. In tough times, people decided it was a good chance to celebrate and feel good about themselves as individuals and as a nation.
We can be as patriotic as any other nation. I don’t think we’re as reticent and reserved as we might think.
The overriding memory of Stratford and the torch relay before was of people. There were over 100,000 in the park on the day we went. Everyone seemed to be having an absolutely marvellous time. it was like being in a theme park without the rides and the cartoon characters. The volunteers played such a vital role in keeping people entertained, even when they had to keep us penned as we waited for the train at the end of the day.
The torch relay was a staggering success. We had it in north Devon early on. the crowds were phenomenal. All to see sight of someone they didn’t know, often from outside the area and for only a minute or so.
Seeing a chap in Braunton struggle out of his wheelchair to carry the torch a few steps brought a lump to many a throat.
And, we cheered, every step of the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
We cheered too in the stadium with fans from around the world. We cheered every athlete. Yes, bigger cheers for Brits, but big cheers for the Americans, Jamaicans and Russians.
I used to live next door to the Olympic park, in the flats that housed the surface to air missiles. As the sculpture in the park says, it used to be the site of the largest refrigerator mountain in Europe. It was gritty. In estate agent speak it was not even “up and coming”.
Yes, businesses and a small community were forceably moved out of the site. That’s sad in a mature democracy.
I have no answer to that. Except to say that what has been built in Stratford is a collection of stunning sports venues. The stadium iteslf is beautifully simple: functional, but not oppressive with fantastic sightlines.
I love the “Pringle” and we were so disappointed not to get cycling tickets. I hope that the building gets used every day of every year until memories of 2012 are dim and distant. I hope too that Herne Hill velodrome keeps its place in South London and produces another Bradley Wiggins.
St Pancras to Stratford in 10 minutes. Wow!
When it became apparent that CrossRail would not be ready for 2012, there were many like me who thought that was another nail in the transport coffin. From our one day experience it’s hard to make a judgement. I’m sure if I was still living in London I would have grumbled about station closures, Olympic lanes and crowds.
On the day, everything worked. And, worked well. We were left thinking that London had never worked so well.
That said, I am still not convinced that the ticketing succeeded. There was a whole bank of empty seats at the stadium on our day. There continued to be swathes of spectator-less plastic across most venues.
We were disappointed that we didn’t see a British success on our day in the park. But, the cheers echoed around the park as Britain took bronze in the women’s hockey.
So much sport and, at home, we loved every minute. Even the weightlifting, archery, handball and water polo. Red button coverage without commentary: nirvana!
We also cried as Mo Farah won his second gold.
But, in the park, we saw the US women’s 4×100 team break the world record. We saw a thrilling pole vault competition. We witnessed the Bahamas first ever gold medal.
My £700 odd pales into insignificance against the £9 billion or whatever the figure is. As I’ve said before, sporting events, stadia and the like generate minor additional economic activity over short periods. Justifying the cost in economic terms is a pointless exercise.
The sponsors didn’t quite kill the Olympic spirit. Their presence in the park and in the media has been irritating, but I’m sure I’ll forget who they are fairly soon. (I’ve already mistakenly identified the official logistics partner.)
There is certainly no way can I justify what I spent other than the fact that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my 54 years.
I purposely avoided using the L-word as one of my five aspects. There is no escaping that legacy was the cornerstone of the bid. And, it will probably return as a point of argument in years to come such as when the stadium is half demolished or Newham locals complain about the lack of jobs or services.
From my perspective now, I can see legacy.
There is, hopefully and with a political will, a sporting legacy. Heck, I’m thinking of taking up archery! If Twitter is anything to go by, no one wants the football season to start because footballers are greedy cheats. Er, football is an Olympic sport; the women’s tournament was fantastic and threw up great British role models.
There is additional infrastructure in place (with CrossRail to come) that improves London.
East London has had an economic boost: with continued investment that could continue (but that’s a big austerity-driven political question).
That leaves the effect on us. I think as a nation we’ve surprised ourselves. Everyone seemed happy for two weeks. We found out we could pull off a huge project. We realised that we’re pretty good at sports across the Olympic range.
We did it!
I’m now thinking ahead to Glasgow 2014…and volunteering…