Rule Britannia: How London 2012 Raised the Bar

London 2012 was a success on every level - the passionate crowds inspired the athletes and the famous old city was a wonderful host. The Olympics will never be the same again.

Shaul Adar
Shaul Adar
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Shaul Adar
Shaul Adar

LONDON - What did London give to the Olympics? Eighteen days ago the Games opened with a wild, lighthearted, clever, musical and wonderfully British ceremony. The tone did not change during the entire two weeks. London 2012 was a British and musical Olympiad. The British, especially the English, are often portrayed as a reticent and repressed bunch. They are described as not making eye contact on the train or - heaven forbid - real conversation. The image is accurate but incomplete: Once the working week is done, summer raises its head, Christmas gets underway, or a royal couple gets married, an alcohol-soaked, uninhibited party atmosphere prevails.

London 2012 was a wild summer festival of sport, music and conviviality. Everywhere you looked, volunteers, soldiers and workers gave directions, smiled and chatted - and the audience reacted accordingly. The British filled the stands at nearly every event, and they came to have a good time. Even if they had no clue about a specific sport or if it was void of local competitors, the British came to enjoy the Olympic experience to the full. And this they did, very nosily. Olympics followers and top athletes confirmed that there has never been a sporting event with such a warm atmosphere, at every site and in every competition.

The organizers provided the music, the audience the human soundtrack - and the athletes responded accordingly. The crowds reinforced the sensations and emotions, pushed the strong, pressured the weak, created drama. The entire celebration took place in the midst of a recession, a year after the London riots and in a period of national self-doubt.

London also gave the Olympics a new outlook. The Games had swollen into a giant monster that paralyzes a metropolis for two weeks, and was in need of a new direction. The British showed the way. Most of the infrastructure will be dismantled, recycled or sold. This idea is a huge contribution that will help the Olympic tradition survive. The coming years will reveal how this idea is implemented, how much of the $14 billion invested will be returned and whether the calculations were accurate.

The idea of basic, almost ugly, stadiums is the only way forward. After the Games the beautiful velodrome will remain, as will the Olympic Park - although its purpose is not yet clear - and a beautiful urban park. London learned from the mistakes made by Athens and the like and has shown the way ahead.

What have the Games given to London? In addition to improved transportation lines that the English capital sorely needed, the Olympics have endowed London, Britain with a feeling of identity and self-confidence. In the most cosmopolitan city in the world, it was not customary to wrap oneself in the British or English flag. It was forbidden to take pride in your country and the sense of existential sourness was a constant hum in the background.

London 2012 was an impressive logistical achievement. In the huge city there were hardly any hitches or real problems. Minor problems cropped up here and there, but tens of thousands of tasks large and small were executed successfully, not a single competition was damaged and no apocalyptic scenario came true. The food was ghastly and expensive, however.

"There was a point when I was fed up with reading the newspapers," one Londoner told me near the velodrome. "All that pestering - how terrible we are and how we are not ready to host the Games. I think we have showed the world what we are capable of." His wife chimed in: "Mainly we have shown ourselves." This pride shattered commonly-held perceptions. On the train to the Olympic Park, it was possible to see whole families of Indian, Caribbean or Somali origin wrapped in flags, the children wearing Team Britain uniforms and all of them with the sense that this is their city, that they are real Londoners who love their city and feel that they belong. In a city in which there are inhabitants from all the 205 countries that participated in the games, all of them were part of the event.

"This is my country," said Mo Farah, the British winner of two gold medals in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. Farah was born in Somalia but moved to England aged 8. "I grew up here and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud, very proud" he noted.

The price. For seven years now I have been following this story, and in nearly every report the cost benefit equation comes up. This is a huge expenditure which only a few countries are capable of meeting, and the International Olympic Committee is already sending out feelers to examine the possibility that London will host the Games again within a relatively short time.

These were wonderful days, of tremendous enjoyment, of a feeling of huge satisfaction and pride in our place in the world. It is doubtful we will ever know the full price. The politicians will probably massage the figures but the park will remain, the memories - with the help of the official DVD - will be recalled, as will the debts and the discomfort that could not be ignored for seven years and also for 17 days. Was it all worth it? Taking into account the great moments - Mo Farah, Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, the bicycle chases - then yes, definitely. But I am not objective. I am a Londoner after the most pride-inducing 17 days I have ever experienced in my city.

Model success: London’s hosting of the Olympics was a great example of how to produce a modern-day Games.Credit: AFP

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