So the Olympics are over and the competitors, coaches and spectators will all be heading home. It’s been quite a seventeen days in London and the various other venues, but what’s the overall assessment of London 2012?
Organisationally, there were fears before the Olympics started of security chaos and gridlock on the streets of London. But neither of these has come to pass and the games have seen no major incidents. Indeed the smooth running of virtually the entire tournament is a triumph for the organisers.
Danny Boyle’s expensive and much talked about opening ceremony seemed to be enjoyed by most people. A few right wing Tory MPs didn’t like it, so he must have done something right. Paul McCartney was a bit off key but apart from that it went well. The closing ceremony last night was somewhat bizarre, and I’m not sure too many of us followed what it was supposed to represent. The music was very much a mixed bag too, but Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend showed them all how to play to a crowd in closing the gig.
Many people have been introduced to a variety of sports over these games. I’ve heard a lot of comments about beach volleyball, although I’m not sure all were related to the sporting aspects of the contest. But has there ever been so much talk of cycling as there has over the past couple of weeks? And who knew what a keirin or an omnium were before the Olympics?
There were some strange events in the games of course. I still find it difficult to take BMX seriously as a sport. Why not skateboarding and rollerblading too? Or under 4s cycling with stabilisers? Synchronised swimming is still just plain silly and what exactly is the point of dressage?
Some moments of controversy are part and parcel of any large sporting event. A few drugs tests were failed this time, but not too many. Some badminton players were sent home for trying to lose in order to get a more favourable draw. There were strange decisions from boxing’s judges as often happens, and in the professional sport as well as the amateur version. And a British cyclist used the rules to his benefit by “falling “in order to get a race restarted. I have a feeling we might have heard a lot more about that one if a rider from another country had performed the same trick.
The host nation has done exceptionally well in these games, finishing third in the medals table, behind only the USA and China. That’s a great achievement, even with home field advantage. There were many successes in the sports where we anticipated medals – sailing, equestrian and cycling – but there were also less expected triumphs too, like golds in taeqondo and shooting. And the athletes got their fair share of success in the latter stages of the games too.
Mo Farar’s two amazing long distance triumphs were highlights of the games for me. Jess Ennis defied all of the pressure on her as the face of the games to win gold. Nicola Adams winning the first ever women’s boxing gold was a historic moment. Andy Murray defeating Roger Federer in the singles final was a great achievement. Glaswegian Michael Jamieson winning a silver medal in the swimming in a final shown live on the big screens at Celtic Park was superb. And the achievements of Chris Hoy in the velodrome will live long on the memory.
The Olympics by its very nature is an international competition and there were many outstanding moments involving competitors from overseas.
Michael Phelps’ exploits in the swimming pool left him with a career medals haul that many decent sized countries would be delighted to have. This is the last time we will see the great man competing and it was fitting that he finished off with yet another gold medal in his final race.
Kenya’s David Rudisha set the only individual world record on the track with his victory in an amazing 800m final. He dominated one of the finest middle distance races ever seen and made himself a star with a tremendous run. And Kirani James earned tiny Grenada’s first ever medal by winning the 400m, becoming a national hero in the process.
But there is only one contender for the outstanding athlete of the games title. Usain Bolt showed that he is still the fastest man around. His double double – winning both the 100m and 200m at successive Olympics – is an amazing feat that had never been achieved before. But Bolt triumphed with apparent ease. He also anchored his country to a sprint relay gold with a world record thrown in. And his laid back personality as much as his amazing athletic ability makes him a superstar.
BBC’s coverage of the games has been pretty damned good. Wall to wall television and options on the red button to watch just about every event possible – the type of thing that Sky does so well. And their presenters have generally done a good job, knowledgeable and insightful yet managing to avoid too much jingoism. Well, apart from Mark Lawrenson of course. The British successes were celebrated with glee, but the fine performances of the games’ many other stars were also covered in depth. And Michael Johnson adds such a dignity and depth of knowledge to the athletics coverage.
The economic case for the Olympics was that the capital investment would bring in revenue in the form of tourism and consumer spend. I’m sure figures will be presented in due course to show exactly how much was contributed, but there are also reports of losses elsewhere. It seems many who may have otherwise come to London have been put off by the perceptions of crowds and transport chaos, and that non Olympic tourism revenue might be well down on what might normally be expected over the summer.
As ever politicians were keen to get themselves involved. David Cameron attended a fair few events which Britain seemed to do badly in. After talk of his becoming a jinx he seemed to disappear entirely – no bad thing really. Boris Johnson was always on hand to do something silly though. He seems to thrive on being seen as a fool, but he knows that it works for him.
So what will the legacy of London 2012 be? Will all of the youngsters who are currently discovering a newfound interest in sports get the encouragement they need to keep at it? Will funding be put in place to improve sport at school level? The short term noises coming from the politicians are encouraging – but action over years rather than months is required if real long term improvements in participation rates are to be achieved.
Will the many excellent sporting facilities created for the Olympics continue to be used? Twenty years on, several of the Barcelona games’ venues are standing derelict. That must be a warning to those in charge: ongoing work is needed to secure a legacy. Capital investment on its own simply isn’t enough.
Before these games started it is fair to say that there was a lot of cynicism around. A great deal of money was spent on sports facilities at a time of massive cuts elsewhere. Around £9 billion in public money was reportedly spent on the games in total. But, if a weekend poll is to be believed, a majority of Britains see the investment as worthwhile.
In organisational and sporting terms London 2012 has been a success. And the public in general has become very much caught up in events over the past seventeen days. A worthwhile exercise then? In many ways it’s a yes. But let’s wait until the final economic figures are in before declaring the final result.