Tuesday, 14 August 2012
AND then it was all over. Seventeen days of competition, seventeen days in which the world marvelled at dedication and achievement, have come to an end; seventeen days in which a country, so comfortable with a default attitude of cynicism and discontent, figured out how to be happy, and how to be proud. I have no idea how the outside world has received London 2012, but to that world I say: these three weeks have transformed a nation ruing its own decline into a proud, defiant population of disparate, diverse cultures that knows it can punch above its weight. Thanks for giving us that opportunity.
As a nation we were never universally excited about hosting the Games. Up until the very start we picked holes and predicted gloom. I attended the rowing at Eton Dorney on day 1 and, despite the most efficient transport system and event management I have ever seen in this country, people around me were picking holes from the moment the gates opened: there were not enough food and drink outlets or enough bins; it was too far to walk and so on. All of this, in spite of where they were. I began to wish I was Australian, their default attitude summed up by a fan interviewed on Simon Mayo's drivetime show on BBC Radio 2 the previous evening, just prior to the opening ceremony: "I don't know what all the whining is about, it all seems pretty incredible to me," the wise Australian declared, without prompting.
But it didn't take long for the whining to stop. The Opening Ceremony showed the world what this nation is: a hodgepodge of cultures and nationalities united by a history of progress and revolution, of social mobility and pioneering enterprise. Suddenly the nation had found what it had been looking for for so long: a modern definition of itself. With that established, it was time to cheer. And then Team GB won their very first race on the rowing lake.