The unexpected and welcome Olympic Legacy

And so it is over. Today, the athletes. the trainers, the sponsors and their assorted lackeys pack up their bags and leave the party.

Years of expectation and effort concentrated into a single moment. Would people turn up, would they have a good time, would that idiot with the stink bombs stay away, and as they drift back home, we kick off our shoes, sit back and let out a contented sigh.

It went quite well after all.

The ominous foreboding image of the Olympic Flame blowing out in a Grecian bust of wind was vanquished as mass crowds came out across the UK to mark the passage of the flame around the country.

A secular Britain had a new God to worship, as the flame, itself a gift of the gods was paraded around like some modern day holy relic. But unlike state religion, the relic wasn’t carried by people so remote from us as to be untouchable, but by local heros.

Crowds came out to celebrate the arrival of the holy icon, and the local runners who demonstrated that rewards do not need to involve money, and that fleeting fame can be achieved without appearing in a TV talent show.

Sport, so often advertised by its associated purveyors of Mammon as an Olympian achievement that is only attainable by the very elite of people was brought crashing down to British soil by 8,000 very ordinary people.

It was often the simplest acts that worked best – and despite the cavalcade that accompanied the flame, all eyes were on just one person and one torch. The attempt to show off by flying the flame over to Tower Bridge and abseiling down left most people disappointed as the action took place at a distance and all too briefly.

In fact, anything involving abseiling along wires seemed doomed to failure. Boris.

Equally doomed to failure seemed to be predictions of failure. Mitt Romney.

Talking of predictions of doom, what happened to the transport nightmare? The RMT spent oodles of time explaining how things would come to a grinding halt as maintenance cuts lead to a cascade of failures across the network. Indeed so dire were their predictions that they wanted extra money to cope with it all.

And yes, the transport networks broke passenger records, which should help with the bank balance, but where was everyone seemed to be the main cry from Londoners. Curmudgeons in the West End bemoaned the lack of shoppers, while Westfield had to close its Stratford doors due to the flood of people waving Visa cards at the tills.

I managed to arrive at North Greenwich just as they were turfing out people from the Arena, but it only took 10 minutes from back of crowd to being on a train, which seemed surprisingly fast considering the size of the crowd.

And the trains have been a multicoloured delight these past couple of weeks.

Despite a certain MPs disparaging remarks about multiculturalism, London is a noticeably multicultural city, but it wasn’t the faces that changed on the tube, it was the clothes.

Is that person decked out in the colours of the Nigerian flag someone who arrived in London two weeks ago, or twenty years ago? Who can say – and does it even matter?

A sea of orange heralded the arrival of the Dutch in one carriage last week. A glorious revolution on the tube, but instead of deposing the Monarch, we dropped her out of a helicopter instead.

A huge army of volunteers decked out in Imperial purple smiled their way between stations. Vast plastic placards around people’s necks announced their membership of the club of Olympic participants, and occasional sights of people with gold medals around their necks broadcast a membership of a rather more elite club.

The sheer variety on display turned the tube network into filaments of Olympic colour spreading throughout the city. Sometimes a Quality Street box of colours, and sometimes half a carriage filled with the same colour as groups of spectators travelled around together.

Unlike catching a train after a football match, where there is a slightly oppressive atmosphere as people all wear the same thing and chant the same chants, the Olympic travellers broke the model and their sheer variety was a delight to the eye and ear.

So admirably has the transport network coped with the Olympics that I cant help but wonder what we could do to keep it that way. More working from home? More holidays!

Probably one the most unexpected successes though was the security screw-up by G4S. Regardless of the company’s head-office messing up, the blunt fact is that an army of low-paid people of dubious intellectual ability was never going to be that good an idea. So they called in the actual army.

The nightmare vision of armed soldiers careful watching crowds from the sidelines as Al-Quaeda’s damoclean sword hung over the Olympic Stadium vanished as the soldiers mucked in and became an integral part of the festivities.

Protests about missiles on roofs and heaths have faded as the barely remembered fragments of a media fuss, while citizens discovered that soldiers are really quite nice people.

Even the sponsors managed to keep a surprisingly low key approach at the venues themselves. Although many justifiably laughed at protestations that venues were proud to be accepting just one brand of credit card, and McDonalds added an irksome level of Americanism to the Olympic Park. However, BMW’s inspired offer of radio controlled Mini’s inside the Stadium delighted many. Most probably didn’t even see it as sponsorship, in a Stadium that isn’t supposed have any, but it was very British. Very London.

And what on earth happened to the fuss about the sponsored wrap around the Stadium?

It was washed away as people simply forgot the bad news in the run up to the Olympics. Even the empty seat fuss was itself a sign that people were desperate to be there, to see something, anything frankly. People wanted to be part of the event and to be able to say they were there.

And London2012 could be the first Paralympics to sell out of tickets. Paralympians used to half-empty stadia or arenas filled with school kids bussed in by government edict will find venues packed out with people high on the excitement generated over the past two weeks.

Now that’s a legacy to be proud of.

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8 Comments

  1. up your street

    yep. Really enjoyed reading that. Loved the bit about the dubious security lot. Even though I didn’t need the travel info daily from TFL what a service that was and kept me up to date with what was going on where. It was true in my downtown land that no-one came. We were a silent backwater for a couple of weeks. St Paul’s in the glorious City or Coronation Gardens E10.? Shuttered shops or high visibility windows in Westfield E20? Now for the Paralympics and The Legacy. Thanks for a good down to earth read full of colour and a podium full of words.

  2. I think you are a tiny bit proud. So you should be. London and England beamed ‘good’, from the opening moment.

  3. I think having such an excessively ‘good news’ event in the middle of an horrendous recession contributed enormously to the almost messianic levels of joy associated with both the games and the flame beforehand. People were so desperate to be happy, and to see something which was at its heart a fairly uncomplicated Good Thing.

    The flame story was quite something. I remember a quote from Dizzee Rascal after he had run with the flame along the lines of “For once, I had police running alongside of me, not behind me”. The reaction to this joke was extraordinary, really. Everyone laughed, in recognition of the truism of the statement, but somehow, the thought of the normal state of affairs being police harassment of black lads seemed relatively acceptable as the norm! Bizarre…

    Anyway, that was an amazing experience and I’m very happy that our daft wee island was presented to the world fairly truthfully, and joyfully but am super happy that the positive energy of so many spectators really helped our incredible athletes – and that they all mentioned how important it was. Having that kind of positive reinforcement may have some kind of long term effect for all of us. Cross fingers.

  4. I agree – Boris Johnson, the Govt and organisers must all be incredibly relieved there were no major disasters, particularly with transport.
    But here’s my view of what should be the Olympic legacy: http://journo24blog.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/todays-lesson-real-life-isnt-full-of-olympic-golds/

  5. Greg Tingey

    Those vast numbers of people were a tiny minority.
    Most of us either couldn’t give a toss, or, another, but large minority, hated the whole thing, from long before it came here with visceral loathing, and deep fear.
    The effective suspension of normal civil rights, the trespass and closure of open rights of way, the mindless worship of the revolting, fascist “team-games” ethic, the abandonment of any pretyence at being able to think, was quite frightening.
    I witnessed this personally, trying to escape to Germany via St Pancras, to find that I could apparently NOT GET INTO the Eurostar entrances from the tube, because there was a narrow taped-off “alleway” where the fucking Nazi torch was dues to pass in a few minutes time …..

    It has also served governemt, and especially the control-and-surveillance-freaks in the Home Office, that yes, they CAN install a panopticon state on all of us, and get away with it.

  6. mclm

    Greg’s back.

  7. Stuart

    Something that might be of interest…. they’re currently selling off memorabilia from the games. Everything from ping pong balls to the flags from the opening ceremony: http://memorabilia.london2012.com

  8. It was definitely one of the best games I’ve ever seen, the way the public got behind the athletes was amazing and the fact Paralympic tickets are selling like hotcakes just goes to show that the actual sporting part of London 2012 has been an undoubted success. What happens next and the problems in the preparation are still in question.

    Please check out my posts on the Olympics/Paralympics

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