How I Spent My (Olympic) Summer Vacation
By Edwin Davies
August 15, 2012
As I said earlier, I did not watch the Opening Ceremonies live, but I did watch them on the BBC’s On-Demand service the following day. This is important, since I can safely say that it was as I watched Danny Boyle’s bizarre, beautiful and bonkers celebration of Britain, I found myself falling in love with the Olympics. The ceremony seemed like the first true representation of Britain as I know it I had ever seen; vibrant, multi-cultural, more than a little bit goofy, covered in flying Mary Poppinses, it was everything we thought the Opening Ceremony wouldn’t be, and that made it majestic. It celebrated our culture and asked us to live up to the best that we could be as a nation and as individuals. It aimed to, as the slogan for the Games themselves said, Inspire This Generation. Maybe I just got all misty-eyed at the thought of touchstones of quintessential Britishness like Gregory’s Girl, A Matter of Life and Death and Harry Hill’s TV Burp being shown to a global audience, but there was something utterly, madly marvelous about the whole thing, and from that moment on I hoped that the Games themselves could live up to that beginning.
It turned out that they could and did. From a purely nationalistic and sporting perspective, these Games were very good to Great Britain, since we walked away with 65 medals in total, 29 of them golden in hue. It was our best performance since the 1908 Olympics, which coincidentally were also held in London, and an arguably more impressive performance than at those Games since then Britain only competed against another 21 countries, as opposed to the 203 other nations vying for Olympic glory this time around.
Yet these figures are just numbers, and they don’t convey the drama and wonder of the stories that went into the medals themselves, stories that will stick with me for the rest of my life. More than that, I’ll remember the faces of athletes so ecstatic in victory or crushed in defeat. So much of the experience of the Games for me was contained in those moments when the human and the super-human met. These people carried out amazing feats, displaying an ability that is far beyond what most of us could ever hope to attain, yet they cheered and cried all the same. It was a beautiful thing to see, and we got to see it happen day in, day out for two glorious weeks.
Beyond the joy of the athletes was the joy of the spectators. Whilst there were still stories of things going wrong with the Olympics – mainly revolving around the stupidly complex ticket ordering system which put people off buying and left many events so sparsely attended that soldiers had to be ordered in to fill vacant spaces at events across the Games – and there was still a strong vein of cynicism about the less savory aspects (the social cleansing thing, in particular, is pretty unpalatable, and will probably be even worse in Rio once they start making room amongst the favelas) for the most part, people embraced the Games and the athletes, regardless of their nationality. Twenty million people tuned in to watch Usain Bolt win Gold in the 100m sprint, roughly a third of the entire population of the country. The atmosphere of the nation, and London in particular, became different over the course of the fortnight. Everyone seemed upbeat, excited and genuinely friendly and welcoming, all of which are characteristics which aren’t generally associated with London, wonderful city though it often can be.