I really wasn’t looking forward to the Olympics. The build up seemed to go on for years and I couldn’t understand why, as a nation, we were spending billions of pounds on a sporting event we wouldn’t win anything at when we are floundering in a seemingly never-ending economic downturn. “We can’t afford this!” shouted I, to no-one in particular every time there was a news report about the re-generation of East London, the building of an Olympic stadium that was surely bound not to be ready on time and still cost twelve times as much as originally budgeted for. “And we’re rubbish at sport, anyway!”
I admit it, I was a nay-sayer. Apart from Formula 1 and tennis (but only men’s) I’m not interested in sport. After all, the only other sport ever broadcast is football, something I have come to despise thanks to the talentless knuckle dragging chavs that seem to dominate it. Oh, and rugby, which is OK but not for me, I’m not even that enamoured with rugby players’ legs. And maybe the odd bit of golf, which I really don’t get; I’ve always thought Mark Twain had it right when he said it was “a good walk spoiled.” I appear to be talking myself out of my own argument here but the point I was attempting to make was that, for the most part, televised sport is unutterably dull.
But it wasn’t just the sport thing, once an all-conquering empire, was Great Britain and Northern Ireland REALLY capable of putting together a successful Olympic Games now it seems to be a broken shadow of its former self? It was only a year ago that the very city they were trying to regenerate parts of in time for the Games was burning thanks to riots, not only the “dregs” of society taking to the streets but those considered to be “normal” as well, caught up in the moment by the chance to bag a free TV from Argos.
My overwhelming sense was that this was something that would be talked about for years but for all the wrong reasons. It was all going to go horribly wrong, it was going to be a national embarrassment AND we were going to be paying for it for at least the next thirty years, especially after the Queen’s diamond jubilee events which irritated me greatly. Can you really tell me that the previous government, the existing government and Boris Johnson would be capable of organising even a piss up in a brewery? Really? Boris is a buffoon! And Lord Coe is a smug git. The hilarious “Twenty Twelve” was a depiction of exactly how I imagined the organisation of the Olympic Games to be, a bunch of hopeless bureaucrats flailing around, every decision made adding weight to their incompetence and the inevitability of impending disaster.
A huge fuss was made when the Olympic flame* made it to our shores in a specially painted BA plane. And I found myself questioning how much that paint job actually cost. Seriously, how much DID it cost? And once it was here the torch relay was interminable, every inch of its progress covered in the local news ahead of real news stories (I absolutely cannot stand my local news programme) while some gurning idiot held aloft a giant holey lighter to rapturous applause. Look, I know I’m being really unfair here, a lot of truly inspirational people carried that torch but if they did it in the 10,000 square mile area covered by BBC Look East I didn’t notice because I was too busy shouting at the sycophantic presenters to “TELL ME SOME ACTUAL FUCKING NEWS!!!”…”THAT ISN”T IN FUCKING NORFOLK! I DON’T LIVE ANYWHERE FUCKING NEAR FUCKING NORFOLK!!!!” I was extremely grateful that I didn’t have to do my fortnightly massive school run on the week the torch was following exactly the same route that I take in the middle of rush hour. If I had had to I may have popped.
*given that it went out in the flame handover ceremony I’d be very much surprised if the “flame” didn’t just originate from someone’s Zippo by the time it got here.
In typical British style the press wrote various negative reports in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony. So many people had tried to get tickets to events and failed, multiple times, and the ticketing system was coming across as a big fat joke. There were some ridiculous rules surrounding sponsorship thanks to the jobsworthiness of LOCOG. G4S had failed to take on enough people to deal with security and the military had to be brought in, at further cost to the tax payer. Opportunist unions planned to cause as much disruption as they could by organising strikes close to the games, no one was using the dedicated Olympic traffic lanes and everybody was questioning the capacity of Transport for London to deal with the increased volume of visitors. We were all doomed. As a nay-sayer, I was up there with the best of them I-told-you-so-ing. With the exception of the union thing. I’m not a fan of unions at the best of times and while I expected the worst from these games I thought it was unnecessary and , frankly, despicable to hold the country to ransom in that way.
As is often the case I was a great big ball of negativity and cynicism and nothing was going to change my mind. Was it? Well…. A couple of things happened in the week or two before the games officially opened. First the New York Times published an article about miserable Brits and how we all just wish the Olympics would bugger off. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist I took away. Rather than agreeing with the sentiment of the article (even though I could probably be accused of being one of these negative bastards) I found myself to be really quite angry about it. How dare they say such unpleasant things about my fellow countrymen? I wouldn’t call myself a patriot, exactly, but, despite appearances, I am proud to be British and I do love it here. The article had the same kind of effect on me as, say, a boyfriend making a nasty comment about a member of my family. I’m allowed to say what I like about them, but woe betide anyone else that does. Not that I would ever say anything other than lovely things about my family, of course.
And then Mitt Romney came to visit in an effort to show how great he is at foreign policy. Oh deary, deary me. He was nice to our faces, at least. Sort of. But is he not aware that anything he says on US television will probably make its way back to us? Really quickly? Not ready for the Olympics? I was incensed. Of course we’re bloody ready for the Olympics, HOW VERY DARE YOU? Indeed, the feeling of annoyance towards self-confessed Olympics organising genius Romney was so great that even David Cameron was able to deliver a zinger, in stating that it is probably quite easy to organise an Olympic event in the middle of nowhere, compared to one of the busiest cities in the world. Wind your neck in, Romney.
My attitude transformed pretty much immediately. I was still a little incredulous that the BBC thought it necessary to broadcast Olympics events continuously on BBC1 but I decided I would probably watch some of it. The tennis for example. And a bit of swimming. Even though I hate swimming myself it’s quite fun to watch. But probably not the track cycling, how can going around in a circle be fun to watch?And only a tiny bit of the opening ceremony, I was worried it was going to be rubbish and I didn’t know if I could bear to look.
Ha! If only I knew! The opening ceremony was everything I hadn’t expected, fun, enjoyable and well organised. Indeed it was only marred by the bladdy awful BBC commentary, especially by Trevor Nelson. Oh, and McCartney, but we’ll gloss over that. The Bond/Queen sketch was a work of genius, we were certain when she turned round it would be one of those lookeylikeys that doesn’t actually lookeylikey at all. It’s just a bit of a shame the poor woman was bored out of her tiny mind when the ceremony went on way past her bedtime. In fact as she sat there stony faced, picking her nails, I nearly spluttered my tea out as Huw Edwards said “and the queen looks proudly on”. Yep, picking out a bit of spinach from dinner and wishing she was tucked up in bed with a Horlicks. She’s 86, you know. I had very low expectations of the Danny Boyle extravaganza we had been promised but was surprised to find myself really enjoying it, with huge, impressive props appearing as Isambard Kingdom Brunel looked on. Although the NY Times (again) managed to mistake him for a “Dickens character”. Good work. It was all very “British”…although my dad pointed out that it showed that Britain was built on the broken backs of the workers. That made me laugh quite a lot.
As the athletes started to emerge the inanity of the BBC commentary increased and as progress was slow there seemed to be less and less for them to say. But they said it anyway. My husband did the sensible thing and fell asleep but I persevered because I didn’t want to miss the end. Little did I know that would come courtesy of the worst version of Hey Jude I’ve ever heard, shamelessly murdered by the very man that penned it (I checked, Wikipedia says he wrote it so it must be true).
But enough about all that, the Olympics isn’t really about the quality of ceremonies, it’s all about the sports, athletes at the top of their game vying to be the best in the world. And the table tennis as well. I’m sorry, I just can’t take it seriously. As I’ve already said I’m not bothered about sport so although I decided to watch the road cycling on the first proper day, I didn’t expect to enjoy it, I’ve never watched cycling before but it was fascinating and OK, we didn’t get the expected medal but who cares? Apart from Mark Cavendish, of course. Thinking that would be the end of my sport watching time (it was a very long race) I didn’t then expect to get into the rowing, or the gymnastics, the swimming, or the track cycling. My god, the track cycling. “I’m not going to watch the track cycling,” I said, “it looks really boring.” What an idiot, it was one of the single most exciting things of the whole games for me, on my feet, screaming at the TV, willing the British team on to take the gold by the tiniest of margins. Which they did, 7 out of 10 times. How could anyone fail to be inspired by these people? Their strength, speed and determination is awesome in the true sense of the word.
Apart from the track cycling I was also bowled over by the athletics. I’ve seen athletics on TV before and been bored witless but this time something had changed. With the weight of a nation’s expectation on her shoulders somehow Jessica Ennis still managed to deliver, within minutes MK boy Greg Rutherford took long jump gold (not that Look fecking East give much of a shit) and then Mo Farah turned up. I love Mo. I’ve loved him since the Sport Relief sketch with Chris Hayward and Nat Saunders’ Misery Bear but even more since he became the first person to ever beat The Cube. I know that’s sad but I don’t care. He beat The Cube! With lives to spare! That 10,000m race had us on our feet, screaming at the TV again, jumping up and down. And when he won I wanted to cry. I didn’t because I don’t do crying, not where people can see but the emotion of the moment hit me, and it hit me hard. What was this feeling I was experiencing? A sort of warm sensation in the region of my chest? Could it be…..national pride??? Yep. For a brief couple of weeks I became a full on Team GB (and NI) supporter, watching random sports I’ve never seen before and loving every minute. I didn’t recognise myself, I was so….positive. I even cheered on Andy Murray. I HATE Andy Murray. I was so excited about every event, and so happy for the winners, whether they were GB or not. But especially when they were GB. Our ridiculously optimistic medal target seemed suddenly doable, for the first time ever we were actually winning things. Is that why I changed? I don’t think so, winning was only part of it. For me it was all about getting caught up in it, cheering for people I’d never heard of before, some of who I’ve already forgotten, to see the delight on their faces at the end and moments like Katherine Copeland shouting “We’ve won the Olympics!” to her sculls partner. Nothing in the world could beat the roar of the crowd in the Olympic stadium as every Brit competed but they seemed to save the loudest cheers for Mo Farah and I’m so glad I was there to see it, even if it was only on the telly. It was simply amazing. No wonder he won both his golds.
And now I’m sad it’s over. Of course if it was on all the time it wouldn’t be special but London 2012 was wonderful, they managed to do it in style. In your face, Mitt Romney. Sure, we’ve got the Paralympics to come and I hope Channel 4 do it justice because the BBC were on fire with their coverage (with the obvious exception of their ceremony commentary). But will it be the same? I don’t know, but I’m really hoping so. And I have just one thing left to ask. Who do I write to to stop them giving the Olympic Stadium to a football team? Seriously.