The flame has been extinguished and the greatest show on earth is packing up and heading out of town. London 2012 is finally at an end. But what a brilliant time we’ve all had – it’s truly been a summer like no other.
It didn’t start well, of course. The day after London was announced as the Olympic and Paralympic host city for 2012, a coordinated series of bombs was unleashed during the morning commute: 52 people left dead, almost 800 injured. Still, we picked ourselves up, made a metaphorical cup of tea and got on with it.
In the lead-up to the games, there were the usual mutterings and negativity; declarations that it was all going to be a bit – well – rubbish.
But then June rolled around.
The Queen got the party started. She kindly gave us all an extra day off work to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. The union jacks and the bunting came out. There were street parties and concerts. Liz went out on tour. And so did the Olympic flame. It travelled the length and breadth of the nation. We all lined the streets to gaze in wonder.
By the time the torch relay reached London, the feeling of anticipation was palpable. Even here in Glasgow, almost 400 miles away. We witnessed one of the first events of the Olympic Games: a qualifier in the women’s football, played at Hampden Park a couple of days before the official opening ceremony in London’s East End. A taste of things to come.
We travelled down to London the morning after Danny Boyle’s madcap Isles of Wonder curtain raiser to the Olympic Games. We left home with tickets for the equestrian eventing at Greenwich Park stashed in our luggage. We arrived back a few days later with a treasure trove of merchandise and enough memories to last a lifetime.
There have been numerous highlights over the past few weeks. Here, in no particular order, are just some of mine:
- The Queen showing us her playful side with a surprise cameo appearance in the James Bond segment of the Olympic Games opening ceremony
- Walking through Greenwich Park draped in a union jack
- Supporting Team USA in the women’s football
- Usain Bolt doing the Mobot
- Olympics mascot Wenlock pulling Usain Bolt’s signature move
- Watching The Last Leg and finding out that disability humour is not only OK, it is also very funny
- Dancing horses
- Ben Ainsley and Jody Cundy getting angry
- Crying when Tom Daley/Jessica Ennis/Kath Grainger/Ellie Simmonds/Victoria Pendleton/Other GB athlete won a medal
- Crying during the interviews
- Spotting Wenlock and Paralympics mascot Mandeville in various guises along the South Bank
- Michael McKillop’s mum presenting him with his second gold medal of the Paralympics
- Screaming at the telly during the rowing
- Screaming at the telly during the athletics
- Screaming at the telly during the swimming
- Screaming at the telly most of the time
- Trying to get to grips with the Paralympics classification system
- Watching Zara Phillips thunder past on her horse High Kingdom
- Four gold medals over four different distances for wheelchair racer David Weir
- Anything that happened at the velodrome
- Andy Murray finally winning at Wimbledon
- Wandering around London and seeing hordes of athletes out enjoying the sights
- Seeing the equestrian arena on telly and saying “we were there”
- Discovering a whole new group of heroes for Rio 2016
- The unprecedented TV coverage of multiple sports across multiple venues
- Wills and Kate doing the Mexican wave and having a quick snog on “kiss cam”
- Olympics and Paralympics specials of Come Dine With Me
- The Royal Mail running out of gold paint for their commemorative post boxes because Team GB had gone and won too many medals
- The crazy French lady at Hampden Park
- Clare Balding, who gave us a sense of continuity with her Olympics coverage on the BBC and Paralympics coverage on Channel 4
- Being constantly in awe of what Paralympians can do
- Prince Harry with a tear in his eye as the Olympic flame died out
- The final medal tally for Team GB and Paralympics GB: 65 and 120, respectively, equivalent to 63 gold, 60 silver and 62 bronze between them
Now that the games are over the media is busying itself with talk of legacy. The tagline of the London 2012 games was that they should “inspire a generation”. It’s still too early to say how this will work out in terms of youth engagement in sport and improved conditions for people living with disability.
What I do know, however, is that once the Olympics and Paralympics were in full swing, we Brits found ourselves changed. We were more friendly, more considerate, more optimistic, more tolerant, more connected, more engaged. We wrapped ourselves in red, white and blue and felt proud to be British. But our patriotism never spilled over into rampant nationalism. Yes, we cheered on our athletes and gave them a sneaky home advantage but we also recognised and appreciated great performance from other participants. And our national obsession with the underdog and a sense of fair play meant that athletes who came last were applauded just as loudly as those who got gold.
In sport, it’s not just about winning but also about taking part. The 70,000 volunteers who gave their time for free just because they wanted to participate in London 2012 were hailed as the spirit of the games. I hope we can retain that spirit now the games have moved on.
What were your personal highlights of the London 2012 games? How do you feel about the issue of legacy and taking part? Have your say below.