It will not last. Nothing does. That is the very nature of life. But today, Monday the 13th of August 2012, let me mark one of several quotes. That of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London: “London this morning to me really does feel like the capital of the world. Over 17 days we have shown the world that if we put our mind to it there is nothing this city and this country cannot do.”
In a constant deluge of double-dip recession, corruption and all other negative aspects of life both home and abroad, the crimes of humanity seemingly ever growing rather than diminishing as they should in a more enlightened age, hasn’t it been good to focus elsewhere for a while and have a city, a United Kingdom and indeed much of the globe look somewhere else entirely.
An oft used quote, and with good reason, is that of the chap who gave us the first dictionary (Dr.Samuel Johnson): “When (one) is tired of London, (one) is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
So true then as is now. Living here, being a Londoner, be it born and breed, long or shortly adopted, can take its toll. We know this. As with every relationship in life, there is good and bad in all that which we hold dear. But hold it dear we nonetheless do, and for a myriad of reasons.
One of them, where London is concerned, whether we consciously recognise it or not, is that we live in what is, undeniably, the richest city on the planet, in the sense of history, culture and unparalleled cosmopolitan wealth. (This isn’t entirely London-centric either – I believe the essence of what I express here permeates throughout our four nations upon two isles.)
I don’t know how many friends you have from different nations, but I doubt it surpasses the 300 + different languages that speak in this metropolis each day (even linguistically this is the most diverse city in the world). I don’t know what unexpected wonder, discovery and delight you have been educated and enlightened with, entirely free, but it must be (or else, you should strive more for it to become) considerable.
For all its faults, its weaknesses, errors and expense – London holds and offers much. I could wax lyrical on that alone, but it is, now, mid-2012 I write of here.
So they came, the Olympics 2012. I will freely admit, I gave it little care or joy. In truth, I was more concerned with the huge expense and the inexhaustible and shameful greed of corporate sponsorship (two things that must not be forgotten entirely – not out of pessimism but awareness that we can/must fight for rightful change). I’d also been led to think there was a going to be a crippling disruption of our capital, and well, to be honest, I really had little interest in these sports. Yes, I’d enjoyed sporadic moments with each Olympics over the years, but not with more than a passing enthusiasm. These Olympics would come, they’d be noted, but with little care or impact to me if I could help it.
I was, of course, wrong. Very wrong. All too soon I was returning from work and catching up on the day – the action and the commentary my only interests. (Note: BBC surpassed themselves). I openly wept, I cheered loudly, bounced on my sofa, crushed cushions fiercely and punched the air in acclaimed joy - As I wrote on my facebook upon the closing night:
“The joy of effort is more important than the thrill of victory.”
-Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement (1894)
But what victory we have witnessed these past two weeks! Not just the great Team GB, but from the showmen of Jamaica and all over the world. I really didn't think I'd get much Olympic fever - how wrong I was. Thrilling, moving, inspiring - bravo Great Britain, bravo the World - it is a good thing to celebrate the goodness of human spirit and endeavour.
It truly was.
There is enough darkness present in humanity as a whole, and yes, we must continually strive to rectify that, even if it takes a millennia.
But amongst that darkness, there is such brilliance to, and how it was shown to us through the Olympics 2012. Here were individuals who sacrificed much, pushed their bodies beyond the norm, to achieve a marvellous majesty that most of us could only dream of doing. Many of them also showed a huge humility in doing so, and even those showmen who more embraced their understandable elevation akin to demi-god still did so with grace too, loved not only because they still fulfilled and surpassed promise, but because how we adore those with a deserved swagger – rock stars would not be so without it.
Team GB – there was/are many names that will now be etched on our memories for ever. Ennis, Hoy, Trott, Rutherford to name but a few. We loved their stories too, such as how Anthony Joshua (winning the Men’s Super Heavyweight with Team GB's 29th gold) at just 22 had only taken up the sport four years previously after his cousin took him to Finchley Amateur Boxing Club – one of many tales illustrating the tenacity within us all, the ability to achieve the unexpected. I can’t for a moment say most of us we will ever hit such heights, or how many future Olympians have now seen a spark within them flame, but nonetheless inspiration to many has been given.
As a nation we have been gripped by magnificence. Let us not forget that in Atlanta 1996, Team GB won a solitary gold – and that now in 2012 there were 29, with 65 in total, only pipped on the leader board by the super-states USA and China.
Of course, one strength we have (and let us embrace this rather than brush it aside) is that our country, when best, has always been everyman (and woman). Mo Farah (double Olympic Champion with gold on both the 5,000m and 10,000m) may hail from Somalia, but yes, he is British as British is. This is his home, where he found direction, love… greatness.
We are a people of many creed. One of the most powerful aspects of the Olympian tradition is the birth of the idea that it transcends the bounds of nationality, but in that we must also embrace that this land has always, and continues to be, a land made up of all. In the best sense, One Nation made of many, all (when best) under one groove.
As my friend Trojan put: “It is truly amazing to see so many people from different countries, religions and colours are together, in peace and having fun. Pity it can't be like everyday.” True. How good to see it though, even if for a while.
Yes, we revelled in the flag and spirit of heralding our own. But we also embraced the greatness of others. The strength and charisma of Usain Bolt for example will be legendary across generations, to name just one true star of these games.
I must also say, that as with this surprise of how much the Games themselves held such impact, I also did not see Sebastian Coe as a Statesman. In the closing moments (I pass singers miming et al – and acclaim a tragedy-struck Gary Barlow for not - though as a whole the show wasn’t bad) he proved he was:
“On the first day of these Games I said we were determined to do it right. I said that these Games would see the best of us… On this last day I can conclude with these words: When our time came - Britain we did it right. Thank you!... We lit the flame and lit up the world.”
With a global unity unparalleled thus aiding us, yes, indeed we did. We were that fire. The somewhat criticized NBC proclaimed the London Olympics the most-watched television event in the whole of U.S. history, whilst our own (and much acclaimed) BBC coverage was watched by 90% of UK population, not to mention the billions more worldwide.
This was monumental, this was history made, undeniably one of the greatest times of our modern age. Yes, there will be fault found, critique cast – that is how things are in this world. But right now, here, I mark simply what was good.
For, in amongst the agony and ecstasy of such pinnacles in sportsmanship, through all that engaged and made us feel such passion, it was no small joy to hear that by far the loudest and longest magnificent accolades of applause during the speech of Lord Coe came when he spoke of those 40,000 volunteers who had tirelessly played their part, individually tiny but collectively huge. It said not only appreciation of what they had done, but showed acknowledgement that the best in humanity comes from strength in comradeship, done selflessly, without personal gain, towards a common good.
Imagine that more often.
As Felix Sanchez (of the Dominican Republic) said: “It was heaven.” Something about it certainly was. For it showed greatness in human achievement. And so I hope all of us who got something from these past few weeks, be it large or small, can continue to hold some of that spirit within us.