Sunday, 9 September 2012

Goodbye to The Games

Last week I was having a cuppa and a catch up with a dear old mate from my college days. We hadn't seen each other for at least ten years. Kate and I had become firm friends over several bottles of cheap Pino Grigio which had fuelled our passage through Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. While I'd opted to become a professional show off for a living, Kate had become a highly sought-after TV engineer working on a raft of high profile outdoor broadcasts including Wimbledon, Premiership Football and now, the Olympics. She told me how there were very few women in her field which was mainly populated by balding old men. Sounds familiar, I thought.

While we picked through our respective histories which included career changes, marriage (that was mainly Kate), kids (again, Kate) and property purchases (oooh, me!), my mind started to formulate quite a lovely thought.

The reason Kate and I were sitting opposite each other in this Stratford Starbucks (I never thought I'd be saying those two words in one sentence, unless that sentence was 'Stratford will never have anything  posh like a Starbucks') I realised this was yet another fantastic fallout from what had already been an amazing month due to the Olympic Games finally arriving in East London.

The Olympics had brought so many people together. Old friends, families, Londoners, colleagues, volunteers, and is it too grand to say, nations even?

Beyond the undoubted sporting success and logistical and operational acheivements of an excellently produced Olympiad, something else rather special had come out of this, a sense of connectedness.

Just like everyone else, Brits long to connect but over the years cynicism has become our second official language. It seems only yesterday that, following the momentary jubilation of being awarded the games, we immediately started talking about how shit the whole thing would be, largely because we were doing it. In fact, the only ones who remained positive were the organisers. Perhaps they knew something we didn't? That actually Britain and indeed being British isn't shit. We had all just stopped believing in ourselves as a nation.

2012 has been Britain's year for coming together (yeah, don't go, Scotland. It's just getting nice). We've had Jubilee celebrations, the Football European Cup (coming together isn't always pretty), Andrew Murray's ascent at Wimbledon and now, these glorious games.

This has literally been a golden opportunity for people to unite in watching dreams come true, sharing the unadulterated joy of seeing individuals and teams with unwavering dedication to the pursuit of excellence in their field.

Inevitable comparisons have been drawn between the footballing fraternity and the Olympic and Paralympic competitors, the latter displaying remarkable humility in the face of overwhelming adoration and support from the home crowds, their composure, sportsmanship and loyalty to all those who've worked with and for their success, unwavering. There seems to be a surplus of integrity amongst them. I cant imagine a football player even making the long list for BBC Sports Personality this year.

And as a spectator sport, the Olympics far outstrips its lowly footballing cousin in having a wider reach across gender, racial boundaries, age, indeed many demographics. As a local I was constantly taken by the diversity among the Olympic spectators, a diversity, football can but dream of. And, in the absence of a team GB representitive what a welcome change to see the home crowd cheer on competitiors from all nations. Football creates division. "Our lot are better than your lot". A chant of "You're shit, and you know you are" in the Olympic Stadium would have been as incongruous with its surroundings as having John Motson commentate on the snooker.

The Olympics or more specifically, the London 2012 Olympic Games was about something which transcended that, a coming together to coax the best out of the entire Olympic family.

And we cannot forget what the Olympics has done for the reclamation of the Union flag. No more an emblem of extremist nationalism and xenophobia, but a symbol of pride. You know, in the way it is   in so many other countries around the world. A flag we can all stand beneath and say,  we are British and we are proud. For here is a Games we have all contributed to, no matter how great or small, be it in our tax contributions or competing, volunteering or cheering.

I was lucky enough to be among the thousands of people to attend the Olympic Park. Another old college friend, Helen got in touch via Facebook. After seeing my rant about LOCOGs apparent reneging on providing priority tickets for Newham residents she, very generously, offered me a spare ticket for 9th August. To say I was delighted was like referring to the Olympics as a sports day. I was over the moon.

On the day, I cycled the ten minute journey from home to the park, all the while continually thinking, I'm cycling to the bloody Olympics, I cant believe it! I may as well have been cycling to the moon, it was that surreal.

From the moment I joined the throng headed towards the venue, the 'buzz' was palpable. Many people have talked about the 'atmosphere'. It was described as 'amazing', 'incredible' and host of other superlatives. It was all of those things and so much more. It was cynical-free, it was open, friendly, warm (in both senses. The weather was fantastic that day) everything and everyone was irridescent. Everyone was smiling. From the high-fiving volunteers, to the cheerful security guards, soldiers, police officers, paramedics, everybody did what they could to make the games the remarkable acheivement it was. I believe it was because they were proud of the Games, of our games.

It was a joyful celebration of Britain and all we are in 2012.
From my trip into the park, I take so many heartwarming and cherrished memories, walking out for the first time, into the vastness that is the Olympic Stadium and noting that there were no sides, or ends as in football, meeting the couple sitting in the seats next to ours and laughing with them like old friends, adding our voices to the other 79,998 as the British stars took the stage in front of an adoring crowd, who've yearned to cheer on British Lions, something football has failed to provided for many years, true national champions, doing the lightening bolt with a group of police officers but mostly, of never wanting to leave this place, this space, this theatre of dreams, or was it a theatre of dreaming, where we dream our reality into existence. Had we desired this enough that it was now made manifest?

But what now for a brave new London which opened its doors and its hearts to the rest of the world? One's naturally inclination is to ask, 'how can we hold on to this great, happy feeling'? But how can one hold on to something so efemeral and fleeting as shared joy? What was created was intangible, evoked by the collective minds and hearts of a nation longing to be great once more, breathing a deep sigh of relief that it was and indeed never had stopped being just that.

We often forget the things that are still remarkable about where we live. Our health service, our low crime rate, social freedoms we often take for granted, our rights, our infrastructure, education system and public services and not least of all, our sense of humour and liberal outlook are all the envy of many other nations. Wanting things to improve can never be a bad thing. It is this thinking that means the world can be a better place. But this should not be at the cost of acknowledging what we have already achieved.

As I recalled all the amazing memories I feel the bittersweet tingle of emotion. I realised that all this, would soon be in our past, venues deconstructed, vistors returning home, pressing matters of austerity measure, presidential elections, global political unrest and more would soon populate our minds (what a delight though, to have a month of good-news journalism) but actually, the emotion I was experiencing was not saddness that this moment would pass but in fact, happiness that we ever had it at all. As someone who questioned the Olympic legacy in the run up to the Games, I have to say, if this is all the legacy turns out to be, it has already been worth the journey.We may move on to new horizons but what was created this year, this place, is somewhere we can always come back to. For it will always be ours. Britain in 2012.


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