With the 2016 Olympics in Rio now drawn to a close I want to share with you my experiences of the last Olympics in my home city. When London won the games in 2012 the whole country was elated, shocked and then worried the whole thing would be a giant fiasco we’d have to live down until the end of days. It wasn’t just a case of self-depreciating Britishness. We’d never held anything of that scale in London (not since 1948), and hosting the games in a city where public transport was already stretched with 8 million Londoners seemed to be a flawed plan before we even got onto the logistics of holding events in venues never used before all over the capital.
As the games dawned, the newspapers were filled with horror stories and living in London you heard many of them from friends; like how they’d ordered a set of speakers big enough to blow the back doors off a rave for the announcements at the ladies sycronised swimming. The whole thing seemed destined to fail. Then, gradually, the mood started to shift, and people started to get excited. The parks in London put up big screens so we could come together, drink our favourite beverage and sit on the soggy grass to watch the opening ceremony, and the world watch us.
Where I lived in East London was a bike ride from the Olympic Park. Everything that happened on TV we could see and hear first. There was controversy over the choice of film director Danny Boyle to direct the opening ceremony, but he knocked it out of the (Olympic) park. It was dramatic, it was funny, it went off with out a hitch. And by the time HRH Queen Elizabeth walked through the palace with Daniel’s Craig’s James Bond, Twitter was having a meltdown and Danny Boyle was the toast of London.
Despite the success of the opening ceremony I, like many Londoners, had decided to escape months beforehand and had booked myself on a yoga retreat in Turkey.
I packed my mat, forgot about the games and woke to the sound of goat bells and the call to prayer high up in the mountains. But, when I came back, ‘Super Saturday’ had turned the whole country upside down, the entire nation was in love with Jessica Ennis and Team GB, and was glued to the television in homes, pubs and parks across the country.
Immediately feeling a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!), I dived into every event I could. I went to Jamaica house to watch Usain Bolt win the 200 metres, and go nuts with one hundred Jamaican fans when he did. Hyde Park opened its gates to thousands every day and we went to watch Mo Farah in his highly anticipated second race. The security lines at the park gates were so long that, once people got through, they’d start legging like they were in a zombie film . . . not looking back, leaving behind loved ones and anything they couldn’t carry because watching Mo win was more important.
But the highlight for me, and the first time I stepped into the Olympic stadium, was for the Paralympics. Being inside for the first time, I actually blinked my eyes like a cartoon character – I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. The roar from the crowd was electrifying. The sound actually moved around the stadium like a wave and, when your section was cheering, you couldn’t hear anything at all.
Watching from the stadium got my TV brain buzzing as to who directed what and how because they’d move from event to event seamlessly. Even when someone was injured, the live commentary directed your attention somewhere else and to the next event. The seated Javelin was a humbling feat of strength and bravery.
But the one I remember most was the sight impaired runners who run with a buddy who keeps them on track. One runner was much slower than everyone else in the race. I can’t remember the distance, but I do remember he was lapped quite early on and still just kept going. At some point the crowd took over and, every time he went past, this heroic roar went rippling around the stadium, cheering on the people’s champion no matter how long it took him to finish. It made me realise how team GB had stormed to victory in so many events because, with the sound of that crowd behind you, any one of us could believe we’re capable of anything.
And so the games came to an end. At the closing ceremony (when DJ Fat Boy Slim dropped, ‘Right Here, Right Now, if any of you know it!) it felt the whole world was watching us and we were part of something bigger than ourselves. We joined thousands of other Londoners and characters in Trafalgar Square for the final procession of the athletes on open top buses through the city. We stayed long after the procession had gone. Most people did. The games had been a magical moment in London’s history and we’d been lucky enough to be part of it.
Here are a few photo memories I’d like to share with you: