Monday, September 10, 2012

One Glorious Summer

The fireworks over the Thames last night

The Games are over, but what it has created can live on

And so it is over. London’s greatest summer ended last night with a festival of flame. As the Paralympic Cauldron was extinguished, the Thames exploded with a breathtakingly beautiful cacophony of noise and light, and the night sky turned to fire. Beneath this were a people who were in bittersweet mood: sad to see it go, but jubilant at the glory of these few months and utterly inspired.

“Inspired”. The word has been tossed around this summer like dwarves in the vicinity of Mike Tindall, and the terms has been used very non-specifically. I met one man who, having watched a small feature on Chris Hoy’s lactic acid endurance sessions, was “inspired” to continue walking up a sandy bank in Cornwall. Small beginnings I suppose, but others will have been inspired to future achievements of sporting greatness, or to overcome immense obstacles.

Indeed, after all this, it is now hard to remember the sense of uncautious pessimism which gripped us beforehand, not just from those who were enthusiastic about sport or the Olympic movement, but also from those who simply did not want their country to be embarrassed on the international stage, and from those who were utterly cynical and dismissed these extravaganzas as mere extravagances. Not only were the Games a triumph but, in a time of great anxiety, anger and disillusionment, they have made a people feel joyous and inspired in ways that many could not have imagined.

Didn’t it go well? The opening ceremony was a self-effacing, humorous triumph. The games were well run. London transport was actually more reliable and comfortable than usual. The spectacle was terrific, whether it was patriotic moments centred on Ennis, Farah and Simmonds, or those occasions when an individual defied belief, such as with Pistorius, Rudisha and Bolt.

As a nation, not just through London 2012 but also through the Diamond Jubilee, we discovered a sense of pride and (perhaps briefly) shook off our low self-esteem and belief that, no matter what, Britain will always find a way to screw it up. We found a good form of patriotism, unbesmirched by racism, class or cynical partisanship, but one which fostered unity across the illusory divides, and discovered a desire to celebrate together and to do the best we could. As we return to normal, and our increasingly disillusioning politicians return to face a troubled time by engaging in self-interested bickering, it would be nice to see that what the people have created of late has been noted.

The finest example of this spirit were the Gamesmakers, who demonstrated not just endless enthusiasm and delight, but also huge self-sacrifice. They stood outside the greatest show on earth so that others would see the spectacle, and they devoted an entire summer’s worth of time to this. I attended three days of the Olympic and Paralympic events, and the Gamesmakers were a highlight on every one.

They are what have “inspired” me. Living in London is both like and not like what it has been for the last few months. The glory we have just witnessed is there (if never as bright as it has recently shone in Stratford), but there is also stress, selfishness and drudgery. Being a Gamesmaker cannot have been easy, but they rose above those challenges smiling. The ability to do a job as well as you can for the benefit of others, and not to ask for thanks in return, is a powerful one, and the spirit behind it does not require Seb Coe to engender it, and he would be the first to admit that. As was said last night, it is up to us. It is time to carry the torch.

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