Yesterday, it was one year since the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony – also known as The Night the Queen Jumped out of a Helicopter (I still maintain that was actually the Queen, and nobody will persuade me otherwise). I think it’s safe to say that Friday night last July marked the moment when we Brits finally started to believe it might actually go well.
Up till then, in our true British fashion, most of us were assuming that we’d mess it up somehow. The BBC even made a TV show, the satirical and brilliant Twenty Twelve, and got Seb Coe to join in the fun at his own expense. And it didn’t bode well that when the Olympic flame was carried through my nearest town, Gravesend, someone tried to grab it, before himself being grabbed by security staff. Even once the opening ceremony got underway, we were still waiting for Boris Johnson to do something ridiculous – which in fact he did, but not till a few days later, and fortunately it turned out to be comedy gold. I love Boris, but if he ever becomes prime minister, I may have to leave the country.
But then James Bond met the Queen, and from that moment there was no going back. I’m fairly sure mine wasn’t the only home where someone shrieked, ‘It’s really her!’ Suddenly, we were proud to be British, and all our doubts seemed like a distant memory. Of course it helped that we won lots of medals – who can forget Helen Glover and Heather Stanning winning our first gold in the women’s pairs rowing? Or Super Saturday when we won six golds in one day (including the first of two for Mo Farah)? Andy Murray getting his revenge on Roger Federer in the tennis final. Chris Hoy overtaking Steve Redgrave to become Britain’s most successful Olympian ever. Bradley Wiggins following up his Tour de France win with an Olympic title…
The only thing that went wrong was the ticketing system. Like many people, I spent countless hours on my computer trying to get tickets for something – anything – but eventually had to admit defeat and watch it on TV instead. What I loved most about the Olympics was the way it made me care passionately about sports I’ve previously never even watched, let alone had any interest in. Rowing, cycling, diving, table tennis, even judo – I loved it all. And I did make it to London for the marathon so I can at least say I’ve been to the Olympics 🙂
And then it was over – but we weren’t bereft for long because just a couple of weeks later it was time for the Paralympics, and they were awesome. Not only was it great sport, but it put a lot of things in perspective – for me, at least – to see ‘disabled’ athletes achieving things that I couldn’t even dream of. And, best of all, I got to be there this time: first, for
Goalball, which is a sort of cross between football and dodgeball for blind and partially sighted players. Then it was into the Olympic stadium, just in time to sing the national anthem for Aled Davies (80,000 people singing ‘God Save the Queen’ is not something I’ll forget any time soon) and watch the Weirwolf win his first of four golds. We were also there to see Oscar Pistorius come second to Alan Oliveira; whatever’s happened since then, seeing Oscar was still one of my highlights.
We were also lucky enough to be there for the wheelchair tennis, which was absolutely amazing. Anyone who knows me is probably sick of hearing me go on about Nick Taylor, who serves by flicking the ball with his feet, and then hits it by swinging the racquet tied to his wrist. As someone who struggles to get around the court on two working legs, watching players like this was inspiring to say the least.
And then after the closing ceremony (or should I call it ‘the Coldplay gig’), it really was over and life was suddenly back to normal. It was easy to think that all the talk of ‘legacy’ and ‘heritage’ would come to nothing – and it’s true that I haven’t been following, or playing, most of the sports I was so interested in since last summer. But yesterday I was back at the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games, and it was obvious that we haven’t forgotten. This was an event that usually takes place at Crystal Palace, but was moved this year to coincide with the anniversary. Crystal Palace holds 15,000 people; the Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 – and yet every single seat was occupied. And the noise as Mo Farah crossed the line in the 3,000m was ear-splitting. (The BBC later described us as a ‘raucous crowd‘. I’ve never been called raucous before.) After the recent revelations about failed drug tests, the athletics world needed a bit of a lift, and it got it.
Today, the stadium hosted a special Paralympic athletics event, bringing back some of the stars of 2012 – David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft, Alan Oliveira, Jonnie Peacock, Michael McKillop and more. Again, the event was a sell-out and although I wasn’t there this time, it looked amazing. The crowd loved it; even the weather co-operated. And best of all, it’s great to see that the Paralympic athletes are now up there with those from the Olympics in people’s minds.
It’s been fun this weekend to relive the triumph that was London 2012, which was unforgettable, and gave us so many great moments. It made us, even if only briefly, proud to be British and proved that we don’t make a mess of everything – despite the best efforts of the residents of Gravesend.