Tuesday, 14 August 2012

What a show!

On Wednesday 6th July 2005, in Singapore, the International Olympic Committee announced that the winning bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics was London. Sadly, the celebrations were cut short the very next day when three British Muslims detonated bombs on underground trains and one detonated a bomb on a bus in the very city that had just been told that it was to host the games. Fifty-two innocent people were killed and more than 700 were injured.

So it was in the aftermath of this that preparations began to host the Games of the XXX Olympiad, particularly the construction of the new Olympic Park at Stratford in the East End of London. And between the awarding of the games and the actual games themselves there were the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, very successfully hosted by Beijing in 2008. I have re-read my blog from around that time and I also remember how spectacular the opening and closing ceremonies were. I, like a lot of other people, was a little cynical about whether we could match in 2012 the performance of the organisers let alone see the athletes be as successful as they had been in 2008.

The events in the lead up to the games didn't really do anything to allay the fears, as far as the organisation was concerned, with stories about the venues being behind schedule, the security risks and even, in the final build up to the games, the announcement that the security company G4S would be unable to meet its contractual obligation to provide 10,000 personal for security duties and that the slack would have to be taken up by military personnel. It looked as if it was going to be embarrassingly bad.

However, there was a lot of "rallying around the flag" when the US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as part of his Insult the World Tour, which I understand was his attempt to prove to American voters that a. he had a passport and b. there is someone who is less appropriate to be the ruler of the world's last superpower than George W. Bush, successfully riled the British by suggesting that we were unprepared to run an Olympics. He had completely missed the point that, as Brits, if we want to criticise something British, that is our right, but he, as a colonial who once organised the Winter Olympics "in the middle of nowhere" needs to learn when to keep quiet.

So it was with this background that I prepared to watch the opening ceremony, an event that had been kept "Top Secret", but was being directed by Danny Boyle, which probably meant that it would be "unusual".

Unfortunately, I wasn't at home for this as I was attending the second weekend of a course that I had to do for the Army, but was settled in the bar in Malta Barracks to see most of it.

I had arrived slightly late, so missed the initial "Green and Pleasant Land" part, so I was texting m'Julie about how dark it was. Overall I thought that it was a fabulous piece of theatre, but the highlight for me was when Daniel Craig, as James Bond, entered Buckingham Palace and when the person in the chair turned round with the words "Good evening, Mr Bond" it really was The Queen!

So was it better or worse than Beijing? I think neither, it was different. It celebrated the history of this country, good and bad, in much the same way as the ceremony in Beijing celebrated the history of China. It also seems that the rest of the world also appreciated the quirkiness of the whole event as it was overwhelmingly positively reported in non-UK press and media (except NBC, which I understand is an abbreviation of No Brain Cells).

I will admit that the eighty minute parade of the athletes did seem to last forever, but I had to stay up to see TeamGB, with flag bearer Sir Chris Hoy who was to become the most successful British Olympian after by the end of the games. It was also amusing to observe that just about every country with either the word "Peoples" or "Democratic" in its name was is usually ruled by a regime that oppresses the people and is certainly not democratic. 
On to the actual competition. What was witnessed was two weeks of some of the finest displays that the world has seen in every one of the Olympic events. And I, for one, am very glad to eat humble pie after commenting in 2008, when the TeamGB finished fourth in the medals table and won 47 medals (19 Gold, 13 Silver and 15 Bronze)

"However, it looks unlikely that this feat will be repeated when London again hosts the next games in 2012. Already, there has been talk that the budget will be nowhere near that of the Beijing games (which in the current climate is not such a bad thing), but there also seems to be less support for certain sports".

Just the prove me wrong, and I'm glad they did, TeamGB eclipsed that with a total of 65 medals (29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze). However, I was correct in one statement that I made

"The problem is that in the build up to the next Olympics, plus all the ones for the next 200 years, the press will have a field day referring to these games, as they do with 1966 in the build up to every World Cup. If/when the team don't do as well, they will have a field day slagging them off as they always do."

And it was true. It took "six long days" before TeamGB won the first of their gold medals, with the UK press making much of the fact that it did take that long. But that was just the first gold, with 43 athletes winning Gold, five of them twice, by the time the games finished, although the fact that several were won as part of a team, hence the tally of 29 Gold’s. And it’s true that there were some of the athletes who were expected to win Gold who either won a Silver or Bronze, or didn't medal at all, but equally, there were also some who weren't expected to win anything that medalled. Was I proud to be British? You know my feelings on patriotism!

But it wasn't just about TeamGB. Michael Phelps winning 4 Gold and 2 Silver medals to become the most successful Olympian ever, with a total of 18 Gold and 4 Silver medals and Usain Bolt proving, for the second Olympics running, that he is the fastest man in the world, winning the Gold in the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay were just two of the numerous other highlights during the fortnight of competition. Others would be the first participation of Saudi Arabian female athletes and the introduction of women's boxing, the first of the Gold medals for this being won by Nicola Adams of TeamGB.

I admit that, like m'Julie, I had become addicted to the Games, cheering and shouting at the TV when the British athletes were competing in close races, and like m'Julie, regretting that we hadn't been able to get tickets and experience the atmosphere at first hand. So like m'Julie, I found it sad that the closing ceremony came around so quickly. However, I personally didn't think that it was a patch on the opening ceremony, and thought that the choice of artistes, bearing in mind the talent that this country has produced over the years, was poor, which has been reflected in the press and media reviews.So that was it, 7 years and 37 days after the announcement that the games would be taking place in London 2012, it was all over with only 3 years and 358 days until it all happens again in Rio.