‘ARE YOU OFF to see an event?’ she asked, beaming away.
‘Hyde Park,’ I replied. ‘They’ve got the big screens up there; the men’s triathlon, too.’
The awfully nice lady looked at us in our Team GB garb and smiled again. “Well, I must say you all look great. Have a fantastic day, won’t you?’
When we got off at Green Park station, what had just happened dawned on me. I had just had a conversation with a stranger. In London. On the Tube. If you’ve ever been to London, one of the city’s unwritten rules is that you just don’t talk to people on the Underground. It’s not done. I was shocked – so shocked, in fact – that I wanted to tell the national papers, and Boris, and the people marching along Piccadilly that there is hope. I didn’t, needless to say, but it was strange. Yet this strange happiness wasn’t just alive on the Jubilee line – droves of people were smiling and laughing in the streets and parks and some were even singing. It wasn’t just the sunshine that day, or the joy of being in London (though in fact, normally walking through a very busy London would never make you want to laugh or sing) but it was the Olympic Games.
I was never a sporty child. It took me several years to learn to ride a bike, I’m quite clumsy and for most of my school days, I’d be worrying about PE lessons weeks in advance. So it’s no wonder that I’m sitting here writing a blog about sport rather than on my way to a college scholarship in California for sport. But then the Olympics happened. I feel slightly ashamed for saying this, but London 2012 was the first Olympic Games I paid a great deal of attention to – possibly because it was in my home country, in a city I know and love, and I had been lucky enough to see the torch on its national relay – but whatever the reason, it stirred something inside me. Not only did seeing London (and Britain) showcased to the world in a awe-inspiring opening ceremony confirm my patriotism in what was a Diamond Jubilee year, but the sport was what kept my passion burning like the Olympic cauldron. Day after day, come rain or shine (and for British standards, we were dealt a pretty good hand with the weather), we were consistently provided with perfect examples of where hard work and dedication can get us from athletes from around the world, from archery to water polo, and badminton to weightlifting, and everything in between. It was compelling viewing – I watched it all day every day. The thought of being away from the action was unbearable – what if Team GB won a string of medals in the rowing when I was wasting time doing something like, I don’t know, eating or having a shower? Exactly; it’s a horrible thought. I’m not afraid to say I watched it to that extent. It’s the only thing I’ve ever watched that made me feel as though I was doing exercise when I was in fact doing quite the opposite. But aside from being exciting and exhilarating, the scenes unfolding in and around London were inspiring.
Seeing Olympians in their element, doing the sport they’ve invested so much time and effort in, makes you just a teeny bit jealous. Perhaps that’s the wrong word, but watching them is infectious and you really have to commend what they do and what they’ve worked for, even more so when you see them in pieces after being just inches from a gold medal. So infectious was this energy that a couple of times after hearing the national anthem, I thought: “I might be able to do that”… But in all seriousness, I think it’s probably a bit too late for me to train to be the next Michael Phelps or Chris Hoy (sigh) but that’s not the point. The point is I was inspired. I thought, just for a short while, that I might be able to achieve sporting excellence, and I think that’s more important than actually going on to do it. It inspired me to get into sport some more at least. When I wasn’t at home or in London watching the Games, I was at the gym watching them (thank God for those integrated TV screens on the treadmills), my spare time was spent researching the sports, the athletes and the Games themselves, and I’ve become more active. Now, if I could believe that I could do that, something that’s never come naturally to me, then what could I actually do? Suddenly the Olympics became even more exciting. Okay, okay, I admit – I’m not going to storm the 100m final in Rio and flaunt a flurry of gold and silver around my neck for years to come, but you never know. I’ll blog my progress.
If you weren’t in the UK for the seven years building up to last year, you might not know in detail the aims that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games were so keen to fulfil afterwards. “Inspire A Generation” was banded about all over the place, such that there would be a lot of answering for if a generation came out uninspired. The country was agog with Olympomania not only during the Games, but before and afterwards, when everybody was talking about it with unprecedented enthusiasm. One year on? It’s difficult to say. Not only is London 2012 over, but the percentage of adults engaging in regular sport has still been inappropriately low for the past few years and for some people in certain areas, sport is still difficult to reach. However, figures show that some 1.4 million more people are now regularly playing sport, and the Olympic Games have provided over 700 000 East Londoners with jobs. Financially, it’s estimated that the Games will generate somewhere in the region of £4bn to the UK economy, though I think it’s going to take some time before we see any figures like that, and before the Olympic legacy really starts to have a noticeable effect in all its different ways. If there’s one thing I learned in the last twelve months, however, it’s that sport – much more so than music or art – has the remarkable power to inspire and encourage.
As inspired and encouraged as I might be, I can’t deny that I miss the Olympics. I miss waking up to devote the day to non-stop coverage of sports I’d never usually think of watching, I miss checking my London 2012 app for the latest results, I miss seeing Games Makers on their way to London at my local train station, I miss the buzz I’d get even sitting in my front room, and I miss the fact that the Olympics reinforced the ‘Great’ in Great Britain (sigh again). They call it the ‘greatest show on Earth’, and I’d accept that. We had to campaign tirelessly for it, we waited seven years for it, East London underwent a transformation for it, and we probably couldn’t afford it, but I really do think London 2012 was one of the best things that happened to the UK. Well, to one of its residents, anyway…
I’m not alone either! Most of the UK seems to agree with me: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/23434844