Who could ever have guessed last Spring, when the papers were full of criticism at the supposed nightmare which the 2012 Olympics were about to be – who could possibly have imagined this September!
Passengers DID get through Heathrow’s Passport Control, London’s traffic and public transport DIDN’T grind to a halt, the wonderful Forces DID step in when G4S failed to train enough security people, enough people DID manage to buy seats for events, everything WAS ready.
Each day (on multi-channels of BBC TV) we looked out through the BBC studio windows onto the Olympic Stadium, the Velodrome, the swimming Stadium – and saw how beautiful each building was…saw the crowds in their holiday mood being ushered by the ‘Games Makers’ across numerous new bridges, the open spaces, towards the venues.
But far more than simply ‘being ready’ – everything was transformingly joyful.
I think we’d lost sight of our ability to be happy. Before the Olympics, we believed the endless media moan about a broken Britain. We accepted an image of fearsome rioters, gangs, and a seemingly unbridgeable gap between those who have, and those who want.
Then – the lights were switched on, and we saw through a haze of amazement, 70,000 people filling the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony… thousands of athletes parading with their country’s flag, proud and excited to be taking part… and when each carefully cradled bronze shape was handed over, we saw them assembled into a wide-spreading flower-head, taking fire from the young athletes’ Olympic Torches, which rose and gathered until it became a great feast of light – the Olympic Cauldron.
Each day, at every heat and Final, we watched enormous crowds on heir feet in the Stadium, the Velodrome, the swimming Stadium, roaring their encouragement, support – love, even – for the athletes. The noise, they said later, which propelled them along the track, through the water, over the hurdles – and brought them home to victory.
Tears: smiles: pure unshadowed joy. Shared by the commentators; shared by us, all over the country.
And we learned to see: people we’d never chosen to notice; people who’d had their share of rudeness, mockery, being pushed out of the way – and suddenly they were Paralympians. If we began with an embarrassed anxiety we might watch like voyeurs, we got over it – the people we learnt to see, were heroes, world-record breakers, and their differences were part of the awe and part of our shared joy at achievements we’d never thought possible.
It is an extraordinary, almost incredible, feat to transform a nation’s negative image of itself into something absolutely the opposite – not ‘broken’ but ‘can-do’; not ‘failures’ but ‘Olympians’; not ‘disabled’ but ‘Paralympians’.
As Princess Anne’s speech affirmed: “everyone who took part in the Olympics and Paralympics, whether or not you won a medal, you are all Olympians now!” And somehow we have seen ourselves as Olympians, too, in the radiance of it all…as if, somehow, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington, Nicola Adams, David Weir, Greg Rutherford, Ellie Simmonds and all the others are the generous icing on the UK cake.
Now as the Olympic athletes’ glorious parade has passed through London, through the endless crowd of a million cheering people, as they’ve waved and thanked us as we thank them – now we are a different people.