How I Spent My (Olympic) Summer Vacation
By Edwin Davies
August 15, 2012
Being, in the words of Malcolm McDowell in that one episode of South Park, a British person, the last 12 months or so have been eventful, to say the least. When a spate of riots across London and other parts of Britain broke out last August, it seemed as if the country was as far from its triumphal best as it was possible to be. Yet 12 months later, the same city played host to one of the most exhilarating and all-encompassing events in the sporting calendar: The Olympics. As one of many who was sceptical about the Games going in, I wasn’t sure if I would be all that bothered by the event itself, yet over the two weeks I went from cynic to teary-eyed convert, reveling in the successes of athletes, both British and from other nations, and found the whole endeavour to be somewhat beautiful. The following is an account of that experience, and a very personal depiction of what it was like to be in Britain when the whole world came to visit.
I did not watch the Opening Ceremonies of the 30th Olympiad. On the night that the Games began, I opted to go out to a club night being run by one of my friends, mainly to support them and to have a good time with other friends, but also because, as of the 27th of July, 2012, I had relatively little interest in the Olympics themselves. Even though Great Britain, my beloved homeland, hosting the Games was a genuinely once in a lifetime experience, there had been such doubts about them in the lead up that many Britons regarded them the sort of weary cynicism typical of our natural character: Where others may hope for the best, we prepare for the worst.
I visited London twice in the months leading up to the start of the Games, once in May and once the week before they started, and both times I was struck by the misgivings that many people had about the oncoming onslaught of sport. Riding a bike around the Olympic Park, I could see everywhere the hectic, hurried preparations being undertaken to make the city ready to play host to the world which, coupled with the relentless pessimism of the press, made it seem like the best we could look forward to was for the Games to be merely a minor disaster. Friends who lived in London told me of the inconveniences that the Games and their accompanying preparations were causing, the way in which rents across the city were skyrocketing as landlords took advantage of the expected influx of people, and there were numerous reports on the “social cleansing” being undertaken to force poorer families out of London in order to make way for the Games. As they loomed ever closer, there was much to be worried about, and there was a more than healthy amount of cynicism regarding the Games.
Yet in the week before the Games started, things started to shift noticeably. People started to care. And not just the die-hard sports fans or the uber-patriots who ruin everything by making it all about Britannia ruling the waves, but everyone. It certainly didn’t hurt that Mitt Romney made the cardinal sin of saying something that everyone in Britain had been saying for months – that we seemed a touch unprepared – assuming that it was okay to do so, in the process uniting everyone in Britain against the outsider who would have the audacity to suggest such a thing. It even made me, for a brief moment, side with our Prime Minister, a man who I have never seen eye to eye with, when he said, "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world, of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." There was cautious hope that things might turn out okay, if only so that we could prove the doubters (and the self-doubters) wrong.