I probably watched more TV in the summer of 2005 than at any time before or since – my daughter was breastfeeding for about 25 hours a day at the time – and on 6th July I tuned in to watch the IOC decide where to hold the 2012 Olympic games. It came down to a choice between Paris and London, and I remember being pretty certain, in a very British “we’re no good at anything” way, that the votes would go to Paris. And then I was ecstatic when London won the games.
The first Olympics I remember were the 1984 Los Angeles games. I was 12 and my dad had videoed the opening ceremony while I was at Guide Camp. I watched it over and over. I mostly remember being glued to the gymnastics, watching the Zola Budd/Mary Dekker debacle and Daley Thompson winning gold. I don’t remember much of the 1988 games, middle of the night stuff in the UK. Then in 1992 the games were in Europe but I was in America, without a TV. In 1996 the games were in America but I was in the UK, without a TV. All this time Britain were, it seemed, getting worse at sport, winning less medals. In 2000, I was back in America, the games had gone to Australia, and though I did have a TV I had long since lost the habit of watching it. I was shocked when I saw that an American could win a gold medal in Sydney and barely get a mention in their national media – Britain had only come home from Atlanta with one gold medal and Steve Redgrave was a national hero for winning it.
Roll on 2004, and the Olympics were in Athens, on more or less the same time zone as me. I was pregnant, tired, not sleeping well and spent hours in front of the telly, knitting, and watching all kinds of different sports, and really enjoying it. And really pleased when Britain won a creditable nine gold medals.
Which brings us back to how pleased I was when London was awarded the 2012 games and I was sitting with my four month old and realising she would be seven years old when the games came to London and plenty old enough to take. And then there was that awful day afterwards, 7th July 2005, when a group of men, three of them from Yorkshire, travelled to London to detonate bombs on the tube (and one ended up on a bus). It seemed like London had been torn apart and the idea of it having glittering future as an Olympic city was hard to comprehend.
London, of course, mourned, recovered, remembered and went on.
The Beijing Olympics of 2008 arrived. This time I managed to watch plenty of them despite the time difference. Team GB had a stonking time, tons of medals, it felt almost like they had peaked too early. The next four years felt like a storm of financial trouble, crashes, worries that London was never going to manage to deliver the games. I was still excited but it was hard not to believe all the doomsayers were going to be right. The ticket application process was a jumble, I didn’t get the opening ceremony tickets I’d wanted (since 1984 really). We didn’t get stadium tickets for the athletics. Nor for the Aquatics centre. Nor for the velodrome. The Olympics got tangled up in an “everyone is fed up of the Jubilympics” thing (I avoided the Jubil* bit as much as I could; I like Britain, I’m not so fond of its constitutional monarchy).
At the last minute I’d thrown some tickets to the table tennis into the basket, my dad used to play and I thought it would be a nice event to take my parents to. The table tennis tickets ended up being the only ones I got. I was disappointed at the time, especially as the event wasn’t being held at the Olympic Park. Then I realised how many other people hadn’t got any tickets at all and made my peace with the application process. We were going to the Olympics!
In the weeks before the games potential problems with the games kept popping up, major security staffing problems, the transport network wasn’t going to hold up, it still felt like it could all go badly wrong. Besides, it had been raining for months.
Then the opening ceremony began. Would it be good?
Short version: Yes. It was fabulous. The opening ceremony defined Britain and Britishness and had us all screaming, nodding and declaring it the best thing ever. Who knows what the rest of the world made of it, but it was a perfect expression of where Britain came from, and where it is today, and gave us hope for the future. The medals starting coming and didn’t stop.
The Olympics and Paralympics both gave us a fabulous summer that we’re not going to forget in a hurry.
(I had intended to write more, but this post is suffering from ‘never quite getting round to it’ syndrome. I may write Part II at a later date. In summary: Yes, worth the seven year wait.)