In every aspect, the concerns about following Beijing have been swept aside, and the legacy of London 2012 is already some paces down the track. The politicians who played their part, from Singapore on, must now have eyes wide open about the value of sport to the morale of the country. Equally there is a responsibility on clubs to keep alive the new-found enthusiasm and inner determination to succeed. Seven years of feast have ended. What seven will follow?
What distinguished the London games from all the others I have been lucky enough to witness was the unprecedented size of the crowds. They came with their smiles to enjoy the day and were greeted by smiles from those who had volunteered to ease them on their way. Every sport was supported with a fervour which led the coach of the Australian men’s hockey team, Rick Charlesworth – a man with experience in many fields including being a member of his country’s parliament – to comment after Great Britain’s team recovery from three goals down, ‘with that support the opposition always needs another goal’. Sport is an integral part of the British psyche: after all, we invented most of the games the world now plays, but never before has that been made so abundantly clear.
Olympic opening ceremonies are much debated, always too long and usually attract the biggest television audiences. London’s were no exception. Danny Boyle’s wonderfully imaginative, dramatic and amusing offering, crammed full of little nuances as he expressed his view of how and what Britain is today, presented a broadcasting challenge I had yet to experience: the pace was quick, and the time to explain the significance to the likes of Brunel to the international audience receiving the Olympic Broadcasting Service pictures was short. But the ceremonies are meant to put an arm around what would otherwise be a collection of world championships and place each Games in context with a tradition which, for all its failings, brings people and countries together in the name of a sporting ideal. The history was exclusively modern, with only a passing reference to 1908 and 1948, and for me the protocol was generally not well served.
One of the nicest things about having the Games at home was the opportunity afforded for great champions of the past to have a say, and how positive they were about the present. Seeing Mary Peters joining Denise Lewis and the new champion, Jessica Ennis discussing the heptathlon was a particular delight. I remember well Ron Pickering’s commentary ‘come on Mary, you can do it’ as she battled for needed points in the last few metres. I suspect then that someone in authority may just have raised a disapproving eyebrow, and there were those who felt I was too patriotic in dismissing the Germans with ‘who cares?’ in the 1988 hockey final. Then, over-praising the ‘plucking Brit’ who finished down the field was criticised, and use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ was banned. How different now! But provided comment was fair, today’s public expects British eyes.
Kim Gavin’s closing ceremony was the usual end-of-term party with a lot of songs and many famous faces, but to my ear it had too little variety, and finished with rather a sudden close. The abrupt change from an hour of pop to the raising of the Greek flag was uncomfortable, and the Olympic flag was lowered far too quickly to the beautifully sung Olympic Hymn – removed in haste like a table-cloth no longer needed. But Rio beckons already. How many who were part of London will make it there?
Barry Davies was covering a record 19th Olympic Games as a broadcaster.