London 2012 Olympics: Never mind the medals - shock and awe win the day
RIDING the London tube at 2am, you didn’t have to strain the eyes and ears to figure out how the opening ceremony at these Olympic Games had gone down.
It was written on their faces and audible in their speech, a mixture of shock and awe, giddy excitement and stunned silence. Onwards we went down the Central Line from Stratford, further into the city and deeper into the night and yet the place was electrified. A beautiful and unforgettable bedlam.
Coming out of Victoria Station close to 3am, John Bull walked by, the Statue of Liberty following quickly in his slipstream. This is what you see here. Memorable image after image reflecting the passion of the people. Yesterday, in the Olympic Park, twin boys, five years old, raced each other from one post to the next, their father commentating all the while. “And it’s Usain Bolt out in the lead, BUT HERE COMES YOHAN BLAKE!” You stood and watched, a simple scene in this space-age place and you had to smile. This is how it was supposed to be.
Four years ago, Beijing put on a show that was stunning, but clinical, the criticism being that it was more made for television than for the ordinary people in the city that hosted it. Some might level that accusation at London, too, but they’d be wrong. We can be cynical about a lot of things; the vulgar money-grabs of the International Olympic Committee and the rampant commercialisation of the Games. We can be cynical, too, about some of those who seek to cheat, an Albanian weightlifter banned yesterday for a positive dope test while the Irish launched an investigation into an alleged betting scandal involving one of their athletes, but at the heart of the Games are people; mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. You can’t be cynical looking at them.
The morning after the night before. It is 9am on the Mall and the place is packed. The throngs have been arriving since 6am for the 10am start of the Road Race, for their chance to get a blurred glimpse of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins and Team GB and glory that never came. Fifteen minutes before the off, Prince Charles appears with Camilla. He is surrounded by security but within touching distance so you can see he is smiling. More than that, he is buzzing.
The Mall was poised to party, but everything fell impossibly flat when a Kazakhstani with a history of doping instead of the Manx Cat whose story is beloved by the people crossed the finishing line first. Cavendish was left feeling utterly spent and hopelessly empty, but that’s what you get at the Olympics. Light and shade. Glory and despair. And surprises.
All sorts of humanity are here. There’s the pregnant rifle shooter from Malaysia – she competed yesterday but failed to deliver; boom, boom. There’s the legally blind archer from South Korea who has already broken a world record, there’s the Buddhist monk competing for Japan in eventing. It’s a cast as weird and wonderful as Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.
Mid-morning, we made our way back to Stratford, down Pall Mall, and eastwards to the Olympic Village. This theme park for the sporting fanatic. For two hours we strolled, down Brittania Row and onto London Way, past the hockey arena and the handball arena and the basketball arena that looks like a baked Alaska.
All the time you could hear snippets of conversation, much of it still reflecting on what happened on Friday night, just a stone’s throw from where we stood.
“I was crying…”
In the middle of the village there’s the River Lea surrounded by grassy banks to the east and west, both busy in the midday sun. There’s a giant screen there. It’s beaming out pictures of the water at Eton Dorney; Team GB versus the world and Team GB win. It’s only a heat, but for the unheralded pair of George Nash and Will Satch it’s a big moment in the boat, a moment that is shared by the masses.
Later in the day, the crowd is even bigger. The Road Race is on and the tension is palpable. There’s a realisation that Cavendish is too detached from the leaders to reel them in. There’s an acceptance that the fairytale just isn’t going to come true.
The dejection is a world away from Friday night. It’s as if they had their party and Cavendish’s failure was the hangover. So you move on and let them be and soak up more of this extraordinary place – and here is where the feelings change somewhat. In the basketball arena and at the aquatics centre – much like at Wimbledon for the tennis and at the gymnastics, too – there are empty seats. Gaps everywhere. Who are the absentees? Corporate folk, so we’re told. The kind of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Back by the Lea, by the big screen and under the sun, you get talking to spectators who would have loved to have been at these events, some of them bidding for tickets but failing to get them, some just unable to afford them in the first place. They’re happy to soak it in from where they lay, but there is frustration there as well.
“You’re telling me that people haven’t turned up?” asks one.
“Lots of people.”
“I don’t understand that, I really don’t.”
Alas, it’s the way of things. Mercifully, it’s not what stands out from the first day of competition. The images that will linger are from the Road Race, arguably the best supported event in the history of the Games, the faces of the fans and the look on the face of Cavendish at the end. We will see more joyous expressions from Team GB during these Games. Up and running now. And how.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
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