I still remember the headline of the Metro the morning of Friday 27th July. My eyes filled with the first round of sentimental tears as a red bus rumbled by in the background (just to make the experience a little more authentic). It proclaimed, “Good Morning World, Welcome to Our City, and Your Olympics”. Maybe it was the first time I considered London “my” city. By the end of the Games it certainly was.
I think it is safe to say that every single Londoner, was, for a brief two weeks, caught up in the olympic spirit (before a swift return to the staple moaning and groaning). The papers were scathing about the Olympic Games, the Transport For London posters were menacing with their warnings, and it was safe to say that at least every second person considered vacating the city for the Games. Those who stayed (most people: empty threats), were given a treat. Weeks full of summer street parties, miles of bunting, hundreds of thousands of British flags, and a unified pride for Team GB characterised the city, and there were smiles on the face of every otherwise-miserable-sod!For Joel and I, we couldn’t contain our delight, as for the second time in our young lives, we were living in an Olympic City! I was literally pinching myself the whole few weeks, and having the absolute time of my life. I felt beyond blessed. Suffice to say, Joel and I and our comrades were at every free Olympic event the city had to offer. We were even lucky enough to be able to get our hands on some precious tickets.
I have to preface this post to say that whilst we did not disown Australia, we came to share an equal enthusiasm between the Aussies and Team GB. Lets face it, the Aussies were not on fire, and it is hard to paddle against the tide when you are surrounded by thousands of cheering Brits. That’s a force to be reckoned with (as you cricket fans will be well aware)…so we sheepishly joined in the hubbub with an eager growing pride. It was extremely bizarre to watch TV coverage from a UK perspective. We didn’t know any of the athletes, and were initially mad that they were not mentioning anything to do with Australia, nor following our athletes on the cameras – in the pool or on the track. By week two we were used to it, and may that excuse some of our loyalty to Team GB by the end of the Games!
London 2012 kicked off in style with a spectacular opening ceremony which we watched alongside many of our friends on the screens in Hyde Park. The atmosphere was immense and the crowds were buzzing in anticipation. Any hour that was not spent at work was glued to the TV in the pub, or any public place intently following the action. The nation was working itself up into a state of frenzy which was unleashed like a shaken can of beer on Saturday 4 August, 2012 aka ‘Super Saturday’ when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won Olympic gold. At that point we were rejoicing so genuinely that I would have been ashamed to stand before my Aussie folk! I may or may not have donned a flag for two weeks (hey, we still have the union jack on our flag, so it’s acceptable, right?)…
The sun shone, the Olympic Sprit grew, and we cheered harder as we took in the marathon, triathlon, and bike races through the parks and streets of London. For me the highlight was watching the cyclists race down Putney High Street. I couldn’t get over the fact that the Olympics, this great event in history, was so close to me that I could hear it from our flat (cue second bout of welling-up). Of course we joined in the festivities. It was absolutely rammed, people were climbing phone booths, lamposts, and hanging off balconies. People had hit the pub early and were spilling out onto the sidewalks until the crowds built to such a point that you could hardly move. Everywhere I looked people were cheering, waving flags, and just having a jolly old time. I remember my heart beating so fast in anticipation as we waited for the cyclists to round the corner on the last stretch. The Brits were cheering for Wiggans, Cavendish, Millar etc and were quite literally in a state of frantic patriotism. The cyclists appeared, and I have no idea how you were supposed to tell what country was leading, as they were gone in a flash! As our friend Jack said – “If you paid to see that, you would be disappointed!”. However I would have paid simply for the atmosphere!
There were other brilliant moments, such as the volleyball, hockey, and lazing around soaking up the cheers in the Olympic Park as team GP added to their ever-growing medal tally. However, surprisingly, (perhaps it shouldn’t have been suprising) the most precious moment of London 2012 was the Paralympics. I was profoundly touched by the way the public celebrated the athletes equally, if not more so, than the Olympics. I considered the Olympics to just be the warm up for the Paralympics! I felt that the Paralympics was the ‘Games of the Londoners’, as tickets were fairly made available at reasonable prices, meaning ordinary people could take part in this amazing event in history. Every session of every sporting event was filled to capacity throughout the whole duration of the Paralympics – whereas I remember so many vacant seats at Sydney 2000.
We watched the athletics in the stadium and I have never been part of such an inspiring event in all my life, it was nothing short of spectacular. I was proud of the athletes, and I was proud of London. And it wasn’t just me. I think we all felt the same. Cue third round of tears a few days later as I watched the wheelchair marathon fly though the city, with the athletes faces full of perseverance and courage. I felt convicted, yet injected with their courage to approach my own life with such tenacity and determination. As the final wheelchair zoomed past and London 2012 came to a close I stood on the Embankment by myself wiping the tears from under my sunglasses feeling humbled and thankful to have been part of one of the worlds’ significant events. Little old me was present at an celebration of humanity that will be written about for as long as the world continues to turn on its axis.
There is something about sport that reveals the strength of the human spirit. In the words of Dan Gable “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” It was this, that made standing in the midst of the summer of 2012 a privilege.