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I remember as a child writing a project on the Olympics and making the promise that one day I would apply for tickets to the Olympics when they came to London. Little did I know that we would soon be winning the bid and that the Games would be coming to my home city. A once in a lifetime experience to attend both the Olympics and Para's and a summer to remember! I was lucky enough to go to the Athletics and see the 110m hurdle final for the women and was impressed with the stadium and park as a whole. Well organised throughout as well despite all of the worries before hand that the stadiums wouldn't be constricted in time. I remember the buzz as well of watching it on tele as on Super Saturday we brought home the gold medals in the rowing, cycling and then the amazing triple of Farah, Rurtherlford and Ennis.
Wish I could go again to Rio, but it's a bit too far to go, so we'll saviour the memories of London 2012!
Cast your mind back to last summer and think on the Olympics and I'm sure you'll have visions of purple and red clad keen people, giving up their time and energy to try and make sure the Games worked. Well, I was one of them and this is my story.
Where It All Began:
It all began in a rather ordinary and boring way. I seen an advert seeking people to apply to be Gamesmakers on the back of a bus and thought, "Oh, I'll need to look that up when I get home." The Gamesmakers were recruited long before the games and so the enthusiasm wasn't hugely high yet. The ad I saw was in about winter 2011 so the Games seemed a long way off but I got home, went online and filled out an application form and then forgot all about it until I received an email inviting me to an interview.
I was a bit in two minds about whether to go or not but eventually decided it would be good interview practice, if nothing else, and I'm so glad I did. I made my way to Glasgow Science Centre in the rain and found my way inside. I was early and got chatting to other applicants outside for a while and then we were shepherded up to tables where our names were checked and we were given bands to wear. These were in different colours depending on the group we were in and were embossed with London 2012 Gamesmaker Selection Event. We were told we could keep this as a memento of our day.
We then moved to a table where our ID was checked and our photos were taken and then into a holding room where boards on the wall talked about the history of the games and the events that were included in London 2012. Best of all, as Cadbury's was an official sponsor, there was a huge stand filled with Heroes and we were allowed to indulge in as many as we wanted while we waited! Finally, we were led into a cinema room where an inspirational video was shown, featuring Eddie Izzard and Seb Coe.
After this ended, we were taken to our 'pods' where our interview took place. The volunteer interviewers were great: very upbeat, cheerful and put you at ease. I really enjoyed the experience and I never thought I'd say that about an interview! The long wait then began to hear if I was successful or not.
I was chosen to be part of Workforce Operations at Hampden Park and the training dates quickly came rolling in. First of all we had an inspirational evening at Glasgow Concert Hall, led by Jonathan Edwards where, among other things, our uniform was revealed to us. We had other training events where we were introduced to the venue or our specific roles as the Games time drew nearer. We had to learn some basic sign language as well as specific role training.
The Journey Begins:
My journey began earlier than expected as it turned out the Uniforms team was short staffed and I was asked to join it. This team operated pre-Games, giving out Uniforms to all the volunteers as well as people affiliated with the sponsors. Many of our uniforms had been pre-packed if volunteers had filled out an online sizing survey but for those that hadn't, we had a changing room and a computer system set up to issue them. We rotated between positions. We could work on the front desk, checking people had their ID and were volunteers or on giving out the pre-packed Uniforms, or we could be working in the changing rooms assigning Uniforms through the system or lastly, in the stock room.
It was great fun even though it was freezing! Our Team Leaders went out their way to make things fun and successful. We used to hide prizes every day for us to search for. We had bucket lists written on the wall of things we wanted to achieve and other lists up of things each team member had already achieved. We had a 'mini' Olympics on a slow day with events including skipping and running up and down the stadium stairs! We built a 8ft ship out of left over cardboard boxes and filmed a flash mob to "You Can Call Me Al" in the stadium. The best bit was slowly watching the stadium take shape. We watched the branding come down and be replaced with the Olympics branding and logos. We watched the pitch get prepared and the goalposts being set up and we seen the security slowly becoming more rigorous as the Games approached.
The best bit of the job was guiding people from Accreditation over to Uniforms as the route we took them was through the Stadium tunnel out onto pitch side and up the stadium steps. A lot of them lit up when realising how close to the pitch they were.
Soon, of course, the Games crept round and my days in Uniforms were over and I moved into Workforce Ops. Basically, my job was to scan people in for their shifts, make sure they had their meal vouchers and to troubleshoot anything that came up such as someone who wasn't on the system to be working that day. We also had the nice job of giving out rewards and recognition items which included things like pin badges and an etched relay baton. These were given out on certain days to all volunteers to thank them for their time.
We also were supposed to be in charge of the chocolate reserves but they unfortunately didn't turn up until the last match day! We ended up with tonnes of chocolate all to be got rid of in one day. We had a fun time filling up buckets and giving sweets to queuing spectators. The police and security staff were also keen to grab a handful and my fellow volunteer had the dubious honour of feeding a police horse a chocolate after being asked to by its rider!
The job had its perks, of course. Most of the days our work was over fairly early on in the day after scanning people in and we weren't needed for much else so we would take it in turns to go to one of the executive boxes that we had to use and catch a little bit of the matches. We missed out on a lot of the Olympics action as we were working through it but it was so worth it.
We all came down to earth with a bump when the Games were over and the Games Makers more than anyone! I didn't have an excuse to don my Uniform any more and Hampden park was no longer my daily location. The response to the Olympics and to the Games Makers was huge, though and I could feel proud to be part of it. There was an event at George Square where the Scottish athletes were honoured for their efforts and Games Makers were encouraged to wear their uniform so I went with a fellow Games Maker. So many members of the public were coming up to thank us for volunteering or to ask for our picture. It was really overwhelming and I've never been thanked so much for volunteering at something before in my life!
I still have my uniform as a reminder of my experience and all my reward and recognition items. Maybe one day I can show them to the grandkids.
I straight away got onto finding out more about the Commonwealth Games and have started to now volunteer as a 'Frontrunner' for them where I am interviewing volunteer candidates and also doing promotional stuff for them. I'm being interviewed for a Games time role of Uniforms again, so hopefully I can relive the experience again and this time be truly part of the action since Glasgow is the host city!
(NB: This piece is not about the Olympics as a whole, but about the Torch Bearing Ceremonies that happened before hand.)
When I reach into the depths of my mind, looking for significant memories that I associate with the Olympics, a couple of things spring up.
My first recollection of the Olympics, is the Seoul Olympics back in the 80s. At school we did so many projects based around it. I remember having to write out lists of the sporting events that took place and learning for the first time, what Volleyball and Badminton were. We used to have to colour in the rings, make performance graphs on previous games that took place and generally try to get as excited as we could - although at the age I was (about 7, I believe), we didn't really understand exactly what was going on. I just associate those Olympics with homework. More recently, I associate the Barcelona Olympics with Freddie Mercury and the Beijing Olympics with Mario and Sonic DA game - go figure.
When the Olympic games 2012 were first announced as being held in London, I was quite non-plussed. It's not until the date got closer and closer did I start to get excited. One of the biggest things about this Olympics, is the tour (and logistical nightmare) of the Olympic torch. It feels like its been going on for months and only visited my local town very recently.
I know we've had a naff summer with the largest amount of rainfall the world has ever seen (or that's as some people would like you to believe) which seems to make everyone act dreary and negative about being in the UK...but I really genuinely and truly believe this has been one of the best summers we've ever had. There has been a real sense of unity, community and togetherness. For me, it started with the Jubilee celebrations back in June, then we had Euro2012 and Wimbledon (I don't care that the UK weren't victorious in either, I still really enjoyed them)...and after the street parties and champagne, we're still congregating on the streets to watch a local hero carry the torch through our home towns. The sense of bringing everyone together, to celebrate and be positive about something and actually getting to be a part of that, marks the Olympic torch coming through my town in 2012 as one my best Olympic memories.
Now, I know there are cynics that will just damn the whole affair, and slander the corporate frivolity of it all, but that aspect of it isn't what I'm remembering. Yes, quite frankly watching the coaches loaded with corporate sponsors and branded freebies being thrown to all was quite nauseating, but what I'm focusing on, is the sheer number of people lining the streets cheering and clapping. It brought a little lump to my throat as I snapped away on my camera, as BBC Sports presented, Clare Balding glided past looking utterly bewildered at the number of people cheering her on, as if she was off to fight a dragon with her flaming torch.
Newbury was rammed! The torch came through just after 11, and there were people waiting along the barriers from 8 in the morning. Nutters! They were probably a bit loopy, but of course they wanted to experience first hand this once in a lifetime event! And that's the point of it... It was a once in a lifetime event. The UK won't be hosting the Olympics again anytime soon, so the flame from Olympics ceremony won't be on my doorstep again, so I want to see it, feel proud and join in the celebration whilst history is made...and I'm super happy that I did.
Clare Balding said on twitter the same day: "That was absolutely amazing. I was in bits getting off the bus, cried when I saw my family and grinned throughout". Brilliant!
Sure, there will inevitably be some records broken this year in the London2012 Olympics, and we probably will win something (although I'm not banking on us winning the most amount of medals - but I guess you never know), but the most memorable Olympic moment for me wasn't an event, or opening ceremony (although the London opening ceremony was utterly breathe taking), or records being broken for the worlds fastest caber toss... It was when the Newbury leg of the Olympic Torch Tour Relay came by.
Watch Clare Balding carry the torch through Newbury here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXDDfZmU3​Fc
Thanks for reading :)
© MarcoG 2012
HELLO AGAIN, IT'S BEEN A WHILE
Having been away for a heck of a long time, it's taken something quite exceptional & unexpected to coax me out of my writers block so here it is ladies & gentlemen - London 2012!
THE AUSTERITY GAMES
Well for the last 7 years, I have been as sceptical & cynical as most people in the UK (or Great Britain, as, unaccountably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still have us down as) regarding our hosting of the 30th Games of the Olympiad. The logo & mascots are awful. We can't afford the huge expense. The Victorian transport system will melt down. Terrorists will have a field day. "We are proud to only accept Visa" plastered everywhere, coupled with the McUbiquitous impression of a dystopian corporate megalith. A shocking ticketing system that robbed me amongst many others of any chance of seeing the world's largest sporting spectacle; we had paid for this and big business would be the ones benefiting from corporate junkets. Working in telecoms, I was involved with the running of the mobile phone network in the Olympic venues, and that added to my pre games anxiety, making sure everything would work.
And so come the opening ceremony, if I'm quite honest, I said to myself that I couldn't wait until it was over, working a 6 day week for the duration, along with countless others, doing the little things behind the scenes that brought it all together. In my case making sure that you could all watch iPlayer in the Olympic Park on your iPhones. I vowed to avoid London like the plague for the duration as it was bound be be a disaster. And yet ...
The beginning of the opening ceremony was a tad auspicious, with an apparently idealistic & idyllic view of a green British past making me slightly cringe, but this was to give way to a quite spectacular celebration of modern Britain; I was blown away, with the raising of the fiery Olympic rings, a masterpiece, along with lots of little snippets of uniquely British humour. Mr Bean gently mocking Chariots of Fire? The Queen with James Bond? Incredible; you didn't see any of this in Beijing 2008 which was a show of awesome, organized power.
The next day I was inspired to walk an hour to see the men's road race going through my part of Surrey, and as the bikes whizzed past giving me but the merest glimpse of Olympic excellence, watching with the huge, excitable crowd gathered all the way along the road, I really felt I was part of something big, something special. Later on in the day, when I watched the rest of the race going through parts of Surrey I recognised, with similarly large groups of cheering people, I marvelled how the familiar was at once juxtapositioned with the usually distant Olympic spectacle. This, I thought, is flipping unreal; I have not looked back since.
GAMES OF HOPE & GLORY?
And then something even stranger happened. I felt this huge swell of pride to be British. As many home nationals, I would considering myself to be (delete where applicable) English. Suddenly, British was de rigour; Team GB was our name. Unfailingly, flag waving of the rah-rah-rah Jubilee kind would leave me cold, but watching people like Mo Farah wearing a Union Jack as a cape, I went out and bought my Team GB t-shirt to proudly display. And as sporting achievement after sporting achievement unfolded in front of me on the TV, with Team GB hoovering up medals, I was utterly transfixed, astounded & deliriously joyful.
And then it got even stranger than that. By the end of the Olympics, after staring at the TV screen for 2 whole weeks, attentively watching sports that I would hardly pay attention to without the Olympic rings glamorizing them, urging on Team GB, I really couldn't face the prospect of them being over. I was addicted to Elbow's grandiose theme for the BBC. The realisation dawned on me that the greatest sports show on earth had been 30 miles from my home & we had put on one of the best ever. Yes, us. The transport system had worked super smoothly. The security had been not only efficient but friendly. The Games Makers (such a cringe worthy name, I had previously considered) had done us proud & shown us the friendliness & civility that lies under our often ambivalent exterior. The tone had been set & maintained, across the venues nationwide, and Britain had shown itself to be a fine host. Even the most hard bitten cynic (points at self) was convinced & cynicism was put on hold. Even the logo & mascots suddenly looked somehow in keeping with the event. All in all, incredible achievements by anyone's standards. Ever since, thinking about all of this, the Great suddenly being put back into Britain, despite absolutely everything, it bring me close to tears, several times a day, every day for the last month. And believe me, I'm really not the type, I'm a dyed in the wool cynic 99.9% of the time. But no, the sheer pride of it all, it never fails to move me. Not a tribal, jingoistic kind of puffing out of the chest, but something altogether more benign & inclusive. It wasn't quite over though ...
MY PARALYMPIC EXPERIENCE
I was just as addicted to the Public Enemy theme tune for Channel 4, the brilliant Lexi explaining the arcane art of Paralympic Classifications and wall to wall coverage (with the adverts a distraction, it has to be said).
Myself and Ms (yes still Ms but in 2013 will be Mrs!) Larsbaby bagged a couple of Paralympic day passes some time ago, when the Parallel Olympics (to give them their full name) were but an afterthought in the public's mind, and a chance for those of us stitched up by Ticketmaster to at least see where the magic had been. Suddenly though, building on the momentum, getting into the Olympic Park for this was the hottest ticket in town. I wondered if I'd made a huge mistake in not bothering with Olympic Stadium tickets to see the athletics. I suspect many others had thought as I had, that a day pass would let you roam around anywhere in a half empty park, 'cos everything will have calmed down by the probably half empty Paralympics. Right? Wrong! A sports mad nation had shown their true colours & were out in force to snap up tickets. Luckily, and with some perseverance & assistance from some auto ticket checking websites, I bagged some Athletics, Swimming & (most improbably & gloriously) Velodrome tickets. We spent 2 whole days in the Olympic Park, soaking up the atmosphere. The crowds were vociferous in Team GB support & polite with all other nations. Any underdog finishing miles behind would get the biggest cheer of all in all stadia. In all I saw Athletics, Swimming, Cycling (tandem cycling is amazing!), Goalball, 7 a side Football & Wheelchair Tennis. I got to see all of the venues in the Olympic Park, bar the Water Polo Arena (which wasn't being used for the Paralympics anyway). Any feeling of settling for 2nd best has long dissipated. The Paralympics were an amazing, inspiring sporting spectacle. Yes, this was where the magic had been weeks ago but more alchemy was being manufactured in front of my eyes. I barely thought about people's impairments, though I did marvel at their inspiring stories. I was mostly transfixed purely by the sport, for it was high class & entertaining.
WE CAN BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY
Despite my Paralympic experience feeling as good as anything the five ring circus could muster, I still do (and always will, I think) slightly regret missing out on the Olympics, though I did see the road race, so I didn't miss out completely. With hindsight (which is always 20-20) I could have bagged some tickets with some effort thanks to the online tools I later found for the Paralympics. It's a once in a lifetime event, and for many of us I don't think we will see it's like again in our lifetimes (cue another bout of eye moistening).
And that goes for both games; if anything, I am even more proud when I think about how we have embraced the Paralympics & its roll call of new heroes like Hannah Cockroft, David Weir & Johnny Peacock. I was privileged to see Aled Davies win the discus & was very close to where he hugged his parents; a great moment. If this was one of the best Olympics ever, there can be no debate that this was the best Paralympics ever. And throughout, the mobile phone networks worked fine too!
THANK YOU LONDON, THANK YOU UK
I bet you didn't expect a tale like this, did you? I know I didn't, but there you go, the miracle of the Olympics & Paralympics strikes another victim. 9 billion pounds seems pretty well spent to me, and the memory of this summer will always live with me & warm the heart whenever I feel down in the future. You can't put a price on that. I am sure some of you can relate to my story & writing it has been in some way cathartic; catharsis is usually something you'd associate with distress, but this has been a tale of unadulterated joy that not even Visa or McDonalds could detract from.
And so, I shall leave you with an Elbow lyric from the Olympic closing ceremony, which I think sums up this wonderful, unforgettable summer of sport for this nation, and which will always remind me of the moment during the closing ceremony when it was sung, all the athletes from around the world entered the stadium & a nation realised that, actually, we did OK didn't we? I'll try not to cry as I type it:
Throw those curtains wide!
One day like this a year'd you see me right
This time last year London's underclass smashed up London, but sadly didn't use those looted trainers to win gold. A year on and all those who didn't riot came out to reclaim the city and make the Olympic Games an unprecedented success, the true Britain. The shame of the riots, Blair and Iraq were jet washed away in a sea of Union Jack flags and enthusiasm for the nation and its athletes. The bankers may have broken the countries spine but the spirit that created an empire lives on. We will not be ruled by thugs and spivs!
The lottery is the main reason we are now top three in the world on the Olympics medal table. Between 1952 and 1996 we took between one and five gold medals each Games. But in the last three Olympics it's been 11, 19 and now 29. On average host nations of the modern Olympics have increased their gold medal count by 50% on the previous Games. Enough money was thrown at London 2012 to beat those 19 gold's in Beijing and achieve that number. But the next games for host nations have seen a huge drop off in gold's and so the legacy lost, presumably sporting bodies having to cut their finding once again after the overspend on the home games. Some how I don't expect that medal tally to fall too far with Team GB. Winning with class, humor and integrity is what we are all about.
I think it as fair to say the opening ceremony was somewhat 'trippy', "left wing multicultural nonsense' as one Tory Mp tweeted. And you could see his point. Film director Danny Boyle is a signed up member of the Labor Party and was clearly making a party political broadcast here, blue-collar heavy industry and the unions that built this country and big smiley immigrants the future of it, seemed to be the message, the bizarre NHS sequence with Marry Poppins what the normal Hackney residents see every Saturday night after doing the class A. If this was a musical on the West End it wouldn't last the week! But the industrial revolution that Britain bought to the world was not built on corrupt bankers and so a good point made by Danny. He rescued things through his love of music, the amazing James Bond/Queen moment and the stunning fulcrum torch never forgotten, the show ending up as brave as it was cheeky. The romance between the two British black people at the end was a finger right up the Tories nose! Boyle just fell short of asking Paul McCartney to play the Red Flag to close the show. I get the point that he was creating his vision of how multicultural London should be and we want that but the reality is corrupt bankers, crammed Tube trains and mass unemployment and crime within those immigrant groups, the rioters of last years London, and that would have been some show if Danny had done that, portable job centers and rioting Brixtonians replacing the farm animals and chimneys.
The big question on the night was why exactly was the commentary in French first? Well two reasons. First because French is considered the first language of diplomacy, for centuries, political delegates from around the world learned to speak French. And because the Olympics were invented by a Frenchman Baron de Coubertin and so the Olympic movement based there.
The British athletics team would be banned from the opening ceremony for petty reasons yet Bradley Wiggins was there after his Tour De France exertions and races to come the next day! What they were doing in Portugal in the sun that they couldn't do in London is a mystery. Should they not be acclimatizing here? Precious lot them runners and jumpers.
The London 2012 bronze medals are worth less than £3, apparently. The gold medals, ironically, are barely gold at all: they are, in fact, 92.5 per cent silver, with just one per cent gold and the rest copper. Their basic value is £410. The silver medals are what they say on the tin, although no tin in them, and so worth more than the gold's, being made up of the same 92.5 per cent silver, with the remainder copper. The bronze medals, though, are 97 per cent copper, 2.5 per cent zinc and 0.5 per cent tin. Bronze alloys usually consist of around 88 per cent copper and 12 per cent tin. The ribbon is purple as no national flag has that colour.
Nine athletes failed drugs tests at the last so not to be able to compete in the games, the most recognized being the female favorite for the 1500m, a woman just coming off a two year ban for likewise. Ten competitors have been banned during the games, mostly Uzbeks and Eastern Europeans.
The BBC were promising you could watch every event live through its website and digital platform although anyone who has broadband knows you get throttled or cut off if you get to greedy with online TV and video. This was the first Olympics GB had both men's and women's teams in all events, including handball.
The BBC team was headed by the Breakfast TV team in the morning and Jake Humphries and Gary Linekar by day, leaving Clair Baldwin to be out about and about, mostly in the pool area with Mark Foster or the horsey types in the equestrian events. The pundits are very camp, especially the swimmers, few straight men in that sport by the looks. Thank god Gabby Logan has got rid of that fringe. Sonalia Mendip looks and sounds like the new Konnie Huq.
BIG NEWS -----16 degrees or below is the official cut off point for female beach volleyball players to be able to chose shorts over bikini bottoms for the event. Pray for sun boys!
The women's football kicked it all off on a Wednesday, a row and the Games, some poor stadium lackey putting up the wrong flag on the TV screen for the North Koreans, that of the South Koreans, enough to start a nuclear war. It as all too much and they walked off the pitch. LOCOG apologized profusely and the Koreans kicked off an hour later to win out 2-0. As of yet the North Koreans have not apologized for their gulags, deliberate starvation and oppression and torture of 4 million people. England's girls duly beat New Zealand 1-0 as the Olympics unofficially got underway, unprecedented coverage for women's football.
The Men's footy team drew 1-1 with Senegal, a surprisingly enjoyable game, the crowd very family orientated and refreshingly well behaved. Sadly young Joe Allen from Wales and Swansea was listed as English in the program; up there with the Korean flag muck up as far as the Welsh go.
The first asylum claim of the Games came when an unnamed African middle -distance runner handed himself into a police station in Leeds. It's feared by organizers that as high as 2% of all competitors and officials won't be going home, the athlete's village bespoke East London accommodation after the games if they don't.
The British archery teams preparation and team qualification for the Olympics was to invite 2500 kids with whistles, bells and noisy things to try and put the archers off in the test event, the idea to replicate the Indian Commonwealth Games. Needless to say the kids had a great day and the teacher's one huge headache.
Archery was the second sport to get underway at The Games, somewhat oddly hosted at Lords in the middle of the cricket season. BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew, who is covering the archery, had his umbrella confiscated for an incorrect sponsor.
The South Koreans broke two world records in the qualifiers. The organizers wisely put the correct flag up. These guys don't miss. The Lords test this week will reveal that the outfield has been ruined by the stands, the outfield actually sinking seven inches under them.
The men's road race was the big free show of the weekend as hundreds of thousands of people lined the nine lap route, many to see the new Tour de France winner. But it was not to be and team SKY GB didn't have enough to reel back the final breakaway on the last but one circuit, an athlete from Kazakhstan taking the gold, a man who had failed a drug test and served a long drug ban for it. Talk about a mood killer. All the teams were working against Team Sky and so we had this unforeseen winner. The road race is unique in that its 100% team to set up an individual and the team don't get a medal and so you have to work for and with other nations to place your man, which often means helping the opposition out if your person can't win. The other teams simply didn't want to help Team GB drag the peloton back to set up the sprinters and so Cavendish dead in the water.
Where as pro cycling crosses over well to the Olympics, tennis doesn't, Wimbledon the base for the tournament. The Murray boys were never quite there in the doubles and bounced out in the first round. Why tennis is Olympic sport can only be down to the big sponsors insisting on it so to make the connection with the Olympics with their top brands. It's the same with Olympic football and basketball. America will win the basketball so what's the point?
The swimming got underway and always an exciting event, heats in the morning and finals at night. And what an opening night, Ryan Lochte beating the great Michael Phelps in the 400m medley with gold, and taking his world record too, the two Americans very different characters. The pretender to Phelps could get at least five gold's. Sun of China became that countries first ever men's gold medalist and breaking the great Ian Thorpe's Olympic Record in the process. China won the next race with Ye in the women's 400 medley, drug test pending on that one! She swam faster than the men in the last 50 meters!
The big grumble of the Games were the empty seats in the arenas, most likely to be cooperate types still stuffing themselves or just didn't bother to come or couldn't sell them on because of Britain's strict touting laws. What people don't realize with these freebies are the people who get them is the same people get them for all the Olympic events and other non Olympic events on top of that and so can only be in one place at the same time, hence the gaps. The Olympics is now about selling junk food to the masses and nothing else.
GB women took on Cameron in football. Normally the girls play in front of crowds the size of county cricket and people don't pay to watch and so asking the punters to pay 30 quid showed here, more empty spaces than Jordan's GCSE math exam. It's the least middle-class sport in the Games and they play in a likeable honest way with no diving around and cheating. I quite fancied them for a surprise medal. Another one for the girls was eight months pregnant Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, a 10 m shooter, officially the most pregnant women ever to compete in the Olympics!
Medals - 1 silver and 1 Bronze
The boys couldn't deliver in the road race but the girls did, Lizzie Armistead latching on to a three girl breakaway on 27k and securing the first medal of the games for Team GB as the three girls kept that gap from the peloton, the incentive to work hard to secure a medal each. The Dutch favorite Marianne Vos won the sprint from Armistead, a brilliant ride by the British girl never-the-less. She took the opportunity to criticize the lack of funding for women's sports and cycling. But if women don't pay to watch women's sport then there will be no money babe.
If anyone had home advantage at the Olympics it would have to be Zara Phillips, 'Princess Thicko', the dressage course in one of grandmas many gardens, the groveling commentators having you wretching for the sickbag. Better riders were passed over to allow her into the team. Dressage is very much like your driving test and like most women she failed on parallel parking. Zara missed Beijing 2008 because her horse Toy Town was supposedly ill, but believed to be more about her fellow contestants thought her inclusion was unfair and so an excuse found not to take her. Dressage is also the home of the oldest competitor in the games, 71-year-oldd Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, the horseman's third Olympics Games, debuting in his home Olympics of 1960 in Tokyo. Now he is retired he thought why not? Olympic equestrian is unique in that age, gender or sexuality is no bar for everyone competing together.
The increasingly irritating Paul Radcliffe pulled out of the marathon, a good job to after her last two Olympic efforts, using the course like a public toilet, apt for the Stratford location. She has been dragging her career out for ages now and I can't recall her running a race of note in the last 4 years and so she should have been dropped so not to let her drop out. I do feel she pretends to herself and her fans she is still competitive so to keep in the limelight and keep sponsors and appearance money coming in. After having a baby in 2010 she should have retired. Why else did she have a baby?
Back in the pool and the loveable Becky Adlington couldn't quite defend her 400m freestyle title with a gusty bronze as the medal rush begins. She actually swam faster than her gold medal swim in Beijing when they all wore those go-faster suits. Phelps and Lochte got silver in the 100m freestyle relay behind France, Olympic medal number 17 for Phelps. 15-year-old Jennet Saryyeva of Turkmenistan was so slow in her heat that she was swimming up the pool when the rest were swimming the other way, finishing one minute 12 seconds behind. Bless!
For the first time there was no doubt the British girls were better than the boys in the home team. Great Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning set a new Olympic record with a dominant victory in the first heat of the women's pairs. The British girls have won all three World Cup races this year and the early morning ripples in the sunshine turn to gold when their oars caress it. No women had ever women Olympic gold in rowing. Cornish girl Glover is very sporty and was the first young athlete to win any sort of world championship medal from the 'Sporting Giants' scheme, set up to identify potential Olympic champions the day after we were awarded the Games. She only started rowing in 2008 and was world silver medalists by 2010. As a junior she was a fringe England hockey squad player and cross-country performer. Stanning is a captain in the Air Force and headed to Afghanistan in the autumn, Olympic champion or not. Any fit youngster reading this can be Olympic champion four years from now.
Kim Rhode became the first American to win individual medals at five straight Olympics by securing skeet gold, a shooting discipline. The marksmen events are great as you don't need to be that fit for them and so compete for six or seven Olympics straight. She looked like a school secretary.
Team GB in the football got their first win by beating the UAE 3-1 but Spain crashing after losing to Honduras, 65,000 in for that one. S.Korea took an astonishing six straight archery women's team gold's, going back to the 1984 games! The star shooter cried because she had won with an 8, a huge disgrace in Korean shooting, apparently.
Medals - 1 Bronze
The biggest stadia muck up was the aquatic pool, 8% of the seats unable to view the 10m diving board properly, Tom Daley's feet all that was on offer for them. For some of his gay fans that was more than enough. Some of them get off on that. He has thrice been The Gay Times pin up of the year, worryingly so in 2008 when he was only 14. 600 people were refunded because of this obtuse blind spot.
On the board and Daley and Waterfield finished a disjointing fourth in the 10m final after mucking up dive number four and five, Daley spending most of his time posting for the cameras, Waterfield the better diver by far.
Zara Phillips home advantage continued, this time on one of gran's bigger Royal Parks used for discipline two, that of the cross country race at Greenwich Park. But she did well with a clear round and pushed the British team into the top three, minus one horseshoe. Mark King on her sixth Olympics sat six after the event. There is no doubt the course was too easy and only the rain caused any issues on the turns. But the sport has suffered some high profile fatalities in recent years, the most dangerous sport outside of NASCAR for women, and we really can't afford Zara to land on her head again.
Rowing is a very posh sport and like a sports day at an independent school there are rosettes for everyone. Even if you finish last in the heat you can get another go through the reportage. David Beckham promised Anna Watkins and Cathy Grainger a peck on the cheek if they won the double skulls gold, the pair hot favorites after a brilliant semi-final, unbeaten in 22 races.
Zoe Smith broke the British record in her class in the weightlifting, lifting twice her weight. All you can ask is the athletes do PBs in the finals. She got some wretched stick on twitter with cruel jibes that she is lesbian and a tomboy. She flicked it off her shoulder with class. Being black and cute she has managed to get good sponsorship and a classy little lady and champion to her fans, the lesson being DON'T go on twitter if you want an easy life and to be liked.
Gymnastics is a sport we have thrown money at it and it paid off, both men's and the girls making the team finals, young Lois Smith breaking out in tears after nailing his pommel horse routine. The Eastern block decline has allowed other countries in and there is always a chance of the bronze behind the masters of China and Japan. But what happened in the hall was quite astonishing, team GB pulling off a spectacular bronze medal when the Japanese guy fell off the pommel horse, nearly a silver but a upheld Japanese protest denying the boys at the last. Its Britain's first team medal for 100 years!!! Athens we were 21st in the world at this.
Oksana Chusovitina of Germany was the surprise entrant, 37-years-old no less, a Russian now competing for Germany. It all looked rather odd, mum doing it for her kid who needs some special and expensive healthcare for his cancer, that familiar dyed hair and cheap crop you get with Eastern European women giving it away.
Medals - Silver
A week into the Games and its clear the home crowds are effecting results in certain events for team GB, especially in the pool. The boys and girls are not on it and the medals just not there, no swimmers improving their results from the last world championships. The rowing it's the opposite where the boys and girls are over performing, making 13 of the 14 finals. If your not the favorite in your event then that support seems to help you but if you are it just stacks more pressure on you and your tighten up and under perform.
One lot that performs every Olympics is the equestrian team, brilliant silver achieved on the final discipline, just a time fault handing the Germans the gold. Yep, we lost on penalties! Three day event is like Formula One Racing in that the richest teams win the medals. Grumpy Princess Anne refused to clap her daughter's achievements, the stuffy old bag, whilst the two British girls in contention for the individual gold on the second show jumping round took out the same two fences to drop from the top five to lose out on the medals. The brilliant German Michael Yeung completed the grand slam of holding the three big titles as the young Swedish girl just brushed the last fence to lose the gold. No woman had ever won the gold medal for this event.
When a British swimmer was asked what he thought about the Olympic village not having any bars, he replied that: 'it won't help if the coaches aren't fit for work in the morning'. Phelps was fit for work and had his first gold of the meet in his hands in the 200m butterfly but lost it on the touch to a very cute South African. With that silver he tied the most ever medals for the Olympian, an extraordinary achievement, a Russian female gymnast, Larissa Latynina from the 1950s, about to lose her record on the same night. Ye won her second gold with an Olympic Record in the 200m freestyle whilst Phelps broke that record in the 200m freestyle relay for his 15th gold and 19th medal.
Drama in the badminton hall, both South Korea and China trying to lose games in the men's and women's group stages to try and get better draws, absurd as their opposition in the next round were China and South Korea. It's the first time group stages have been used in the Olympics and all the experts expected this to happen. The players were just hitting their serve into the net and or hitting returns out and into the net. The teams are to be charged with something or another. They were kicked out soon after.
To finish off the day the girls beat Brazil 1-0 in the footy as group winners in front of 70,000! A medal is on. It reminds me of the hockey teams run to gold all those years ago.
The girls delivered in the rowing, Stanning and Glover romping home in their double skulls final, a brilliant gold and the first for the women in Olympic history and of the 2012 games.
The men's GB eights bravely blasted out for gold but just faded in the last 500m to take bronze, all or nothing almost paying off as the super German team remained unbeaten. 42-year-old Chris Searle of the infamous bawling coach win of Barcelona 1992 was in that eight, twenty years between his podiums.
Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) also delivered in the time trial, his specialist race, 42 seconds ahead of the second place man Tony Martin from America, none other than wingman Froome (born in Kenya) of Britain in third for bronze. It was turning out to be a very good day, crowned with silver in the men's 200m breaststroke for a young man called Jamison from N.Ireland in the swimming. Wiggins is now our most decorated Olympian and the only man to hold both the Tour de France and the Olympic Gold time trial. If he wins in Rio four years from now then he will be an Olympic great.
Gold and silver in the canoeing, Baillie and Stott and Florencer and Hounslow wining a surprise first and second in the men's C2 pairs, Great Britain's first ever gold medal in the event, one of those unexpected results that Team GB needed to finish in their targeted third place in the medal table. Florencer had won silver in Beijing but one better here. The lads looked like blokes form the down the pub in those laddish beer commercials and extremely stunned and still smiling, genuine medals for genuine Olympians, what the games should be about, all those long winter evenings swallowing river water and weed worth it. Spare a thought for New Zealand Kayaker Mike Dawson though, who received two penalty points from a judge, none other than his mother, a member of the referee's panel. It gets worse for the Dawson family as dad was Mikes coach. Imagine the rows on the way home from the race.
Another gold followed on the shooting range when posh boy Peter Wilson won the double trap, gold medal number five for team GB. He was funded by a Saudi Prince and his parents better spoken than the Queen. On the less chaotic water of the rowing regatta finals there was silver for the men's fours of Rob Williams, Chris Bartley, Peter Chambers and his little brother Richard Chambers, champions South Africa having the first black man to win gold in their boat. There was also silver in the judo when Gemma Gibbons won silver. Gemma mouthed 'I love you mum' to the sky when she did, mum dying of cancer in the build up, very emotional stuff.
Phelps, Lochte and Cleary did battle for team USA on the penultimate day with an individual gold each, Phelps finally up there alone on the podium. It was his twentieth Olympics medal and 16th gold.
Sir Chris Hoy equaled Steve Redgrave with his fifth gold medal in the sprint pursuit, Jason Kenny and Phil Hyndes powering them home to rapturous applause, and a world record to, Pendleton's blunder long since forgotten after being DSQ in her race. Anthony Ogogo of team GB pulled off the shock off the boxing by beating the Ukrainian favorite, which looked like a home bias to me.
The athletics got underway and golden girl Jess Ennis in the stadium. I have never seen an Olympic stadium full for a morning session yet 70,000 packed in to cheer the Sheffield lass on. She opened up with a British record in the 100m hurdles, not a heptathlon British record but a national one which, bizarrely, triggering a drug test during the heptathlon. Rules state that if you equal or beat your national record you must give a sample. Even more amazing is that time would have won the individual gold in Beijing in the 100m hurdles. She continued the pressure with a decent high jump of 1.83 for the 100 point lead going into the evening session and then a solid shot put and then another PB in the 200m sprint to lead well overnight.
The 100m heats saw the big names cruise through but a surprise 9.88 from Ryan Bailey of America, the fastest ever 100m heat time in the Olympics. The track as designed to be fast and so rather hard for the longer distant runners.
Grainger and Watkins blew the rest away with a stunning gold in the women's double skulls (two oars each), upgrading from those three silvers to that gold. Four games, four medals. Britain's George Nash and Will Satch snatched a bronze as Eric Murray and Hamish Bond underlined their tag as favorites with gold in the men's pair. Great Britain's gnarly Scott Alan Campbell claimed bronze in the men's single sculls as New Zealand's unbeatable Mahe Drysdale romped home again.
Karina Bryant got bronze in the judo women's 78kg plus as the medals begin to stack up. Federer beat Del Potro 18-16 in the final set to set a world record for a three set match to make the final, where he will play Andy Murray, who beat Djokovich in straight sets. Over three sets Murray is hard to beat and if only slams were played in the shorter games, Andy now guaranteed a medal.
Gold number 17 for Phelps in the pool in the 100m backstroke. Becky Adlington gave it a great go but only bronze in the 800m.
The England girls crashed out in the football quarter-finals to Canada 2-0.
Down on the velodrome and the British team are again dominating, Dani King, Joanna Rowsell and Laura Trott earning the 3,000m WR of 3.15.669 seconds, and that just the semi-final? It was gold for Pendleton in the Kieran and gold for the men's pursuit four of Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh, who chipped another second of their world record they set in qualifying. After Beijing the IOC tried to stop GB dominating the cycling by dropping certain events as they have a policy of not letting countries dominate events. It didn't work, team GB's tech boys and girls getting to work with every bike set up and four braking a world record so far.
Day Eleven ---
Andrew Triggs Hodge, Pete Reed, Tom James and Alex Gregory beat arch-rivals Australia in sensational fashion to win Britain's fourth consecutive Olympic title in the coxless fours. In the very next race, Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland produced a stunning performance to win gold in the lightweight women's double scull.
Then the drama moved up a gear. Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, the lightweight men's double scull champions in 2008, were less than a hundred yards into the race when a seat broke. The rest of the boats stopped and after Purchase used a screwdriver to mend the seat, the race re-started. They won silver.
Gold again in the velodrome, Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell clocking their sixth straight WR to win the team pursuit, gold number five for team GB in the fancy velodrome. Its technology that gives us the edge but the athletes are super. These were not drug cheats and delirious with their prize for those four long years. The night was lightly tarred by Paul McCartney having his Cliff Richard moment.
In the stadium and it would be a golden night for team GB with Ennis winning the heptathlon. I was a bit concerned when she swigged a mouthful of water from her opponent's bottle to celebrate but as yet all is well.
First long jump with two Brits in it since 1964, the final that saw the legend of Lyne Davis do his thing. But Greg Rutherford banged out some huge jumps and led after four rounds with Tomlinson in sixth. Then he won, the greatest ever upset in Olympic history for gold in the field events for me. Wow!
Could Mo Farah make it a Hatrick? Of course he could, holding back to the last as the crowd roared him on to the greatest night in British athletic history. GBR had never won a global or Olympic 10,000m. Technically Mo is Somali, but he is not a pirate or one of the 67% of unemployed Somali's here so we love him! Three gold medals in one night!!!!! Six gold's in one day means it was our greatest ever in Olympic history. His little daughter came on the track, clearly not fasting during Ramadan, a right little porker!
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica rounded off the night in the women's 100m with the fastest ever time in Britain -10.75- for the gold with Jeta of the US getting silver and Veronica Campbell-Brown for Jamaica with bronze.
Serene Williams won gold in the tennis. Murray and Robson made the mixed doubles final. England crashed out of the football to South Korea - on penalties!
My initial reaction at the thought that there 2012 Olympics were to be held in London was along the lines of: "meh". So, I've never been such a huge sports fanatic. So, has my opinion of the London 2012 Olympics changed since it actually happened, right here in London? Well, as the Olympics are drawing to a close now (as I am typing this, the Olympics Closing Ceremony is blaring from the television in the background), I thought that I might as well write a little something on the topic.
First of all, let's start off with the pros of the whole thing, one of them being the government spending money to clean up the 'poorer' parts of London and doing a bit of this and that to redecorate it and show their patriotic pride. I must say that the areas do look nicer, especially Stratford with the rather lovely Olympic Stadium and Park, which is not as grand as some of the other Olympic stadiums from other countries, but it is still rather impressive on London's part, I think. There are new signs put up which are even helpful to people like me who are prone to getting lost, let alone tourists.
Another advantage of the Olympic games taking place in London is supposed to be the boosting of tourism and economy. The UK does get its share of tourism normally, but it is not a nation that specifically relies on tourism. I have seen quite a dramatic increase in tourism during these past weeks (who doesn't want to see their own country perform?) especially near Central London and the main British monuments- people are to be seen talking in foreign languages and enthusiastically snapping up photos at main sightseeing spots. I don't know how well we are doing exactly in terms of statistics, but this tourism can't be doing all the people who work for that particular industry any harm.
Something that I did not expect to be moved by was the supposed team spirit, the unity and the patriotism the Olympics are meant to bring. However, it was hard not to get swayed by the victory and the excitement. Whenever Team GB won a medal at an event I found myself clapping and cheering and whooping along with everyone else. Where the most genuine emotion comes, however, is at the actual Olympic event, if you have had the fortune to go to one. I was lucky enough to go to several Olympic events, some within the Olympic Park and some in other locations. On TV, they tend to focus more on the actual sports and the technique. Of course, this is equally important when you are watching the event live, but you can catch those things that the cameras seem to zone out, or make more subtle to accent the actual sport itself. Like the sheer number of people screaming, crying, laughing, cheering, there to support their team with their heads held high. The sound can be deafening, though not actually in that much of an unpleasant way, something that always seems rather faded and distant when you are watching from the living room.
Now, unpleasant aspects? Well, I have heard people complaining about places and public transport becoming crowded. I suppose this is true, applying to the overground and the underground. However, I have found the buses to be operating much the same as usual. The transport does not affect me too much- after all, it is not too devastatingly crowded and anyway, I try to use other means of transport whenever I can.
The main disadvantage,the thing that bothers me the most about the Olympics is the shattered hopes and dreams of those who did not qualify for a shiny new medal and a place on the podium. These athletes have trained and trained, hoping and wishing for sucess, thinking that this time, it may be their turn. But there can only be three medals and one winner. The best athlete in the world will be human, and humans make mistakes. One mistake, one fall, one break can finish them, tear their dreams apart and rid them of their ambitions. They may put on brave faces and manage a half smile for the cameras, but inside, they are devastated. Of course, they must know of the risks before entering, so why do they still do it? Because it is still a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is their chance and path to success.
Altogether, the Olympics haven't done much harm to us, and overall I have quite a positive view about them. It hasn't been the best thing to happen in my life, but I can even admit to enjoying some parts of it. After all, live each day as it comes (or however that saying goes) because are we going to experience another Olympics hosted in London in our lifetimes? Probably not ever. So enjoy the celebrations whilst they last!
Team GB have made a spectacular achievement this year by coming third in the medals table, but i have seen the medals table as a sort of two competition leader board, and we came top of the second part... allow me to explain. China and the US have long battled for the top spots between themselves and because their teams are so big and so well rehearsed its hard for other countries to compete with them, so they will have their own little battle for top spot at the top with almost triple digit total scores. Meanwhile down below there's Great Britain, South Korea, North korea and the russian federation battling it out in the second competition below. That's the way i see it anyway.
2012 got off to a scary start when the government put SAM turrets on the top of tower blocks and brought in radiation detection equipment to keep the olympics secure. Some argue that this was simply over the top, making them scared and some say it was just being careful, and made them feel safe. I personally feel a little bit of both. If a SAM turret was installed on my roof i'd be worried thinking "does the government know something i don't?"
The events have gone quite smoothly with the exception of the highly offensive Korean flag incident before the opening ceremony. That football match is one that I had to youtube search for, the crowd reaction was something to watch that's for sure. Events have had a bit of a backlash where tickets are concerned because Locog reserved too many seats for people who simply weren't there, and it seems a shame that these seats were wasted because fans went through a gruelling process of getting their tickets only to find out they hadn't actually got them per sè. Overall though things have gone smoothly and there were no terrorist attacks so all is well.
I think the games will leave a lasting legacy on the UK and it is sad to see them go for another 4 years but the landmarks of which have been built solely around the games like the startford stadium, the olympic village and that disgusting eyesore next to it (that twisted metal rubbish) will always be there.
Overall i think it's been a successful games so far, and i look forward to the closing ceremony tomorrow night and the paralympics later this month. Its a shame locogs financial and copyright politics ruined it for many businesses. this was supposed to be a boost for our country and i think the true spirit of the games has been completely lost into a world of politics...
Shame on them!!
There's a lot of cynicism around the 2012 games. I myself am included in the voices of those who oppose it but I do admit that there is a magic to the event. The opening ceremony. I'm not referring to the house with lovely projected images (Although i still don't know why Waynes World was shown, it's not British) or Mary Poppins banishing the nightmare monsters. Yes, Danny Boyle did a good job (I loved that he honored the NHS) but to me that is not what the opening ceremony is about.
The Olympics, based upon the Greek games in Olympia (Which incidently is why Greece always walk out into the stadium first), began when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in Paris (The reason why announcements are in French first) by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894. The first games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece, 14 nations took part. 205 countries are competing in the 2012 games, out of 243. By my calculation 84% of the countries in the world are represented. There is no other forum where you could witness this level of different cultures coming together that's why I love the opening ceremonies.
When I was 8 years old the Olympic Games were held in Seoul, South Korea. I have to admit that I don't remember any sporting events (I'm not really a fan of sports) but images from the opening ceremony have remained in my memory. Not for the flashes of colour, music, synchronised choreography or the dove incident (Which was a pretty stupid idea) but because it gave me a greater understanding of the world.
Watching the different countries take their turn walking into the stadium, hearing names of the places that were completely foreign to me and seeing all different types of people from different races, it gave me a sense of wonderment and an understanding that I was a small part of a much bigger planet. It showed me a world beyond my own. I didn't understand the politics and the conflict that the world holds at the time, I'm not sure I still understand it now, but in that moment of my naive childhood perception I saw a world coming together as one. A world united. Yes, they were coming together for conquest and pride, to take the golden claim of being better than everyone else, but at a young age I just saw the beauty of it all. Men and women from across the globe all standing together in one stadium. Strange and mysterious people from exotic places with unusual names helped to form my perception of the world.
With age has come cynicism and a developed view that I don't like competitive sport. I'm the type of person who would give everyone gold medals if I could. The problem is I really don't care who wins and think far too much money is wasted on the games (Especially this year as I'm a GB tax payer). Aside from the money Britain has spent to host the games , this country also invests £100 Million each year from lottery and the Exchequer. "It invests Exchequer and National Lottery funds in Britain's best Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes to maximise their chances of success on the world stage." (http://www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/about-uk-sport/) There is a target for the number of gold medals we aim to win and I have no doubt that there's a business plan on a desk somewhere. To me, the Olympics have become corporate, about winning gold to prove that we are better than everyone else. It is not an equally playing field (It's the equivalent of suggesting that Manchester United are on equal footing as a small kick around in the park). The more money you have the more you can throw at your athletes to improve their game and for those who can't afford it then it comes down to the luck of genetics. In my opinion I don't think the term sportsmanship can be applied.
The Olympics back in the days of Olympia required a truce. During the truce of the games all military action, executions and wars were put on hold. People were free to travel safetly to the games, politics was put aside. Yet the amazing (or tragic in some circumstances) thing with the Olympics is that it can be a source of politics in action, something that I remember most when I hear the word Olympics. This year Saudi authorities lifted a ban on women competing, in 2000 North and South Korean athletes walked out under a single flag, the dissent of the Free Tibet movement during the 2008 Beijing games. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medalists in the men's 200-meter race at the 1968 Olympic games spoke out against racial segregation whilst on the podium to receive their medals, publicised boycotts of the games have taken place to draw attention to political issues and in 1972 Munich games 17 people tragically lost their lives after a hostage situation in which a Palestinian group demanded release of 236 prisoners, bring politics to the forefront. Whilst many of these incidents predate me I think it's important to remember. Olympics can be a force of action, either good or bad, on a world stage. It's something I find hard to forget.
Growing up I've still watched the opening ceremonies, putting aside my Olympic misgivings. I still get enchanted by the countries as they walk by displaying their flags and ponder how many people there is in the world. How many people live differently to me and what it would be like to be them? I google countries that I don't know anything about, Andorra (Not to be confused with the Italian town of Andora) for example has a population of around 85,000, it declared war on Germany during WW2 but did actually join the battle, and has six athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics. They have competed in every Olympic games since 1976 but have never won a gold medal. I'll keep my fingers crossed for them this year.
In reality I know that the world is complex, that peace on earth is a flawed and unlikely concept, yet for a few hours every four years I can watch the world come together. I can see countries standing side by side, flags flying together, and go back to that magic childhood innocence of 1988 and think perhaps...
"Winner's Curse" - defined as the tendency for the winning bid in an auction to exceed the intrinsic value of the item purchased.
For the past few years, ever since London secured the nomination to stage them, I have been trying my hardest to 'get' the Olympic Games, that is, to understand why so many of my fellow countrymen and women seem pleased that they are to be held here. The supposed benefits have always eluded me, whilst the prospective costs were all too apparent: that the Games would cost a fortune to stage, a vastly larger fortune than had been budgeted; that this expense would be recouped neither by direct revenue nor by any indirect economic uplift; that the powers-that-be would use the Games as an excuse for all kinds of unnecessary and unwelcome measures; and that life in the capital during the games would be even less bearable than usual for ordinary citizens, who would be unlikely to be able to obtain tickets for any of the interesting bits. Meanwhile, to average ticketless sports fans, such as me, who would be watching from our sofas in any case, it would matter not a jot whence the televisual coverage originated. It would have been better to have it coming from Paris than London, I said, bearing in mind that the city on the Seine had been runner-up in the bidding process. We should have let them win and bear the consequences, the winner's curse. The French deserve no better.
So the years of waiting have passed and the games are now imminent. Arguably it is still too early to judge them, since they have not yet happened, but there is, on another opinionating website, a debating topic - 'Will the games be a success?' - couched in the future tense, for which this piece was originally written. It represents my best stab at an answer to that question, noting that the question does not define what 'success' is intended to mean. To my mind, any valid definition of 'success' would imply an outcome in which the value of the benefits exceeded the costs, so that is the basis on which I shall attempt my assessment.
* The benefits *
Advocates for the games argue that they will bring benefits to London, and to Britain generally, both tangible and intangible. They claim tangible benefits that would include increased revenue from tourism, the economic boost provided by building the facilities and infrastructure, other hazier 'business opportunities', and the regeneration of the area around the sporting sites. The intangible benefits would be derived from the international prestige that goes with hosting such a high-profile event, and from the 'feel-good factor' - a supposed enhancement to national morale. Intangible benefits by their nature cannot be quantified and will be considered later, but in the case of the tangible benefits a monetary evaluation can at least be attempted:
~ Tourism. The planners originally envisaged increased revenue from tourism of over £2bn, both from higher numbers of visitors and higher spend per head. It is unclear how this figure was arrived at, other than by wildly optimistic guesswork, since it is contrary to all recent Olympic experience to expect any increase at all. Typically, the pattern has been from the small rise in numbers actually attending the games to be more than offset by a fall in numbers among those deliberately avoiding the host city, fearing overcrowding and inflated prices. When Athens was the venue for the games in 2004, tourism not only declined that year, but took two further years to return to its pre-games levels; any subsequent growth after such an interval cannot be clearly attributed to the Olympics. Current feedback from Britain's tourist industry suggests that, so far, London is doing no better. Hotels are far from full and room-rates for August on the hotel-booking sites have been falling, suggesting that they are having difficulty filling capacity. Arrivals at London's airports are coming in below expectations. Meanwhile, other London tourist facilities are having a hard time; for example, Andrew Lloyd Webber is on record as predicting a downturn for theatres and shows during the period. All told, there is no good reason to expect any net benefit to our tourist industries accruing at all; indeed, there might well be a net cost.
~ Facilities and infrastructure. Proponents argue that the £5.3bn being spent on the sports stadia, Olympic 'village', sprucing up the surrounding area and upgrading transport links is not so much expenditure as an investment that will provide economic benefits. Of course, it has provided some contracts for local firms and some employment during the course of the build, but nearly all of it has been government funded, so it simply represents either an increase in overall public spending or a diversion of public funds from other purposes. Was spending on the Olympics more productive as an investment than those other purposes would have been? It's unlikely, to say the least. The provision of facilities for a two-week event is a weirdly wrong-headed way to go about planning long-term investment. A scaled-down version of the Olympic stadium itself will remain and be leased to a football club; I haven't managed to discover precisely how the finances of the arrangement will work, but it seems improbable that they will repay the investment any time soon, or indeed on any foreseeable time-scale whatsoever. Some expensive facilities - such as the basketball arena and the water polo venue - are simply scheduled to be demolished; others - if the experience of previous host cities means anything - will be under-utilised and only maintainable at a loss. The Olympic village is to be sold on to the Qatari royal family and associated private developers for £557m, compared with a building cost of over £1bn, so the taxpayer will take a big hit there - and who knows what the buyers will do with the site? There's no reason to believe it will be to any public benefit. Transport? Yes, there will be improvements, but many of those would have happened anyway, and as for the ones that would not, again, arranging to deliver large numbers of spectators to particular venues for a fortnight is a ludicrous basis for permanent planning. It looks to me as if most of the money should be written off as a sunk cost, rather than regarded as an investment generating on-going returns.
~ 'Business Opportunities.' Official statements have claimed that billions will be generated by 'additional sales by British companies, high-value opportunities, and foreign direct investment'. Frankly, this all sounds like pie-in-the-sky to me, and I write as the former marketing director of a British-based plc with international affiliates. From my experience, I find it impossible to believe that any hard-headed foreign businessman would buy more from Britain, or invest more in Britain, simply because the Olympic Games happen to be staged here. Even if there were a commercial advantage to be gained from association with the games, the vast majority of British firms will be legally barred from taking it, since only sponsors - most of them multi-nationals based outside the UK - are allowed to refer to the games in their advertising or branding. Indeed, lots of British businesses are having their normal activities drastically restricted as rules to this effect are enforced to please those sponsors. Apparently, the government, fronted by the prime minister, is to host a global investment conference timed to coincide with the games, and has great expectations as to its outcome. Again, a sceptical shrug seems the only realistic response. If such conferences bring any benefits at all - and I sincerely doubt it - their benefits would not be contingent on their being timed to coincide with a separate sporting occasion.
~ Urban regeneration. 'The lower Lea Valley', as officialdom insists on referring to the area of east London that will constitute the main focus of the games, was indeed a run-down and neglected area.
Whether it would have remained so left to itself is a moot question. It is not much further out from the centre than other areas - Hackney, Bow, Stepney, Poplar - that have 'come up' by leaps and bounds because of their proximity to the City and new business centres in docklands. Very probably, it would have been regenerated piecemeal by market forces in due course without intervention. Instead, it has been forcibly redesigned on a grand scale for the purpose of the Olympics, plus the new shopping centre at Westfield. Man shall not live by shopping centres alone, as any economist will tell you, and it is hard to see this one providing enough local economic enhancement for the future after the games have gone. Curiously, the authorities turned down an offer by the Wellcome Trust, which wanted to spend £1bn buying the Olympic Park to redevelop as a scientific research hub, surely a much more sustainable project, and one of the few genuine 'business opportunities' that the games have generated. As it is, the outcome will enjoy neither the merits of ad hoc free market redevelopment, nor of the centrally planned variety, only the demerits of both. As ever, if one wanted to arrive at optimal long-term regeneration, one wouldn't start with designing a short-term sports venue. It's hard to see any quantifiable public benefit in what is being done.
What, you may be wondering, about revenue from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, or sponsorship? That goes to LOCOG, a private company that organises the event, and to the International Olympic Committee, not to the taxpayer. Didn't anyone tell you?
* The costs *
Staging the London bid for the Olympics was originally budgeted to cost £2.37bn. I don't know whether anyone ever believed costs could be kept to that level, even those who kept straight faces while presenting it to the IOC and to the nation at home. But it came as no surprise to most of us when it began escalating almost as soon as the powerpoint slide had faded from the screen. Officially, that escalation peaked and plateaued at £9.3bn - almost four times the original estimate - and those masters of the straight face now assure us if it comes in at this figure it will be 'on budget'. A bit like a builder who has priced a job at £2370 presenting you with a bill for £9300 while blandly assuring you it's in line with his quotation.
Even then, though, there are plenty of reasons to suspect that some imaginative accounting has been used to keep the total down to the £9.3bn. Investigations by a number of media reporters have pitched the real prospective figure at various levels all the way up to £24bn (Sky News), which would be ten times the original estimate. And, whilst the more extreme of these might err on the side of sensationalism, as unsensational a body as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is of the view that costs are "heading for around £11bn".
It doesn't help, of course, that so much of the expenditure seems gratuitously wasteful. The bill for 'security', well over £1bn, defies belief, and can only be predicated on the assumption that the authorities are expecting a full-scale invasion or insurrection, or are using it as practice for - as The Guardian recently opined - "a repression-ready security state". Even the frivolous details, given our severely straitened times, make the wallet wince just to contemplate, like the steelwork sculpture of surpassing ugliness that has cost us nearly £20m, and its baby cousin, the absurd arrangement of stones on stilts at the yachting centre at Weymouth. For some reason my hometown, like many others around the country, is festooned with banners proclaiming 'London 2012', presumably put up at public expense. Why? What conceivable public good is served by them?
* The reckoning *
Before we come to the unquantifiable benefits claimed for the London Olympics, let's balance out the quantifiable ones against costs to see how much, net, we'll be paying. What seems to me apparent from the analysis above that it's difficult to identify any clear-cut quantifiable benefit at all, whilst the costs are going to come in at somewhere upward of £9.3bn. But let's be generous to officialdom and imagine that I've underestimated the business benefits and they might amount to, say, £2bn. Let us also generously imagine that approaching half - say, £3bn - of the investment in facilities and infrastructure will result in legitimate long-lasting improvements and will pay for itself in due course. For the other, cost, side of the equation, let's take the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee figure of £11bn. Subtracting one from the other we arrive at a net cost to the taxpayer of £6bn. That's £100 for every man, woman and child in the UK. So the question is: will every man, woman and child in the UK derive £100 of intangible value from having the Games staged here rather than somewhere else?
What were those intangibles again? National prestige was one. I have to say I personally find this very unpersuasive. Did I think better of Beijing - or China generally - because that city hosted the Olympics a few years ago? Or Athens, and Greece? In both cases, absolutely not. Did you? If not, may I invite you to wonder why should anyone else think better of London, or of Britain generally? There is vague talk of 'putting London on the map'. This is nonsense; it's already 'on the map' of international awareness. Frankly, cities that aren't already on the map of the world's awareness don't get to be hosts in the first place. Will foreigners gain a better impression of London than their existing one, because they happen to see on television a few sporting events being contested here? I can't imagine how, whereas there is a huge potential for bad publicity if anything goes wrong. Personally, I wouldn't value the prospective boost to our national prestige at 10p of my own money, let alone £100.
Then there's the so-called 'feel-good' factor. Do you feel any better as a result of London hosting the games? Personally I feel worse, but, obviously, whether you feel any better is something I must leave to your own evaluation. If you do, then what I would ask you to consider further is whether you feel £100-worth better for every member of your family, or whether you would rather have spent the money at your own discretion in some other way, or simply saved it. If you feel less than £100-worth better, the games are not giving you good value.
Then there's allegedly a benefit to sport in Britain, 'Inspiring a generation' as the vapid slogan of the Games would have it. Conceivably, British success in some events might inspire the young in our country to attempt imitation, though one has to ask whether they would not have been equally inspired by British success on a foreign field rather than our own. But inspiration is only a small part of what is needed if sport is to be encouraged. Also needed are sporting facilities - public pitches and courts, school playing fields - of the kind that have been disappearing for decades, and are now disappearing ever more quickly under the pressure of public spending cuts. A more productive, and probably much more economical, use of funds would have been to devote them to reversing this decline, rather than to staging the Olympics.
Finally, before we leave the unquantifiables, let us remember that many of them appear in the debit column too. Greenwich Park, previously one of London's loveliest, has been ruined for a transitory equestrian competition. Parts of Weymouth have been transformed too, and not for the better. During the games, Londoners will be treated as second-class citizens in their own city, warned off their already overstretched transport system (I understand from commuting friends that a 'rehearsal' on July 10th was excruciatingly chaotic), lanes in their streets sequestered for Olympic traffic, and subject to heavy-handed security intervention if they stray into the 'wrong' areas. In effect, areas of our country will be under martial law. Security, after the latest shambles involving G4S, looks like a disaster that can barely wait to happen.
* The sour smell of success *
Looking back on the way in which we were saddled with this over-priced extravaganza, the questionable prize for winning the nomination, it seems typical that London's bid was championed by the then prime minister Tony Blair. It's a quintessentially Blairite initiative: flashy and vainglorious. It's a national vanity project, and whether or not it's judged a 'success' by commenters dazzled by feats of athletic prowess, our vanity in hosting it will cost us dearly. I begrudge no one whatever pleasure they may be able to derive from the occasion; indeed, the more pleasure that people can derive the better. But I would ask them to remember that their pleasure comes at a heavy price to every taxpayer. Once the fortnight's froth has subsided, we'll be left with the expense of dismantling some of the venues, and of maintaining others which will be unable to pay their way. We'll be lumbered with the ill-conceived aftermath of planning for a one-off event rather than for the longer future. And of paying the interest on the money that was borrowed to finance it all in the first place.