Christopher Ralph rejoices at how London 2012 has already captured the imagination of a population deprived of magic moments.
It was the Olympic opening ceremony – which seems such a long time ago now – which shone a torch on what’s best about being British: the work ethic, our great sense of humour, and just how good we are at having fun.
The British personality was portrayed so brilliantly by Danny Boyle in the opening ceremony, that it led students and young people to declare, some for the first time in their lives: I’m proud to be British.
There is such a romantic perception of this country’s history. Our grandparents pulled together to endure war and austerity and came through the other side. Our parents lived through the most dramatic social and cultural revolutions. What we have grown up in is more or less a continuation of the past.
And the future looks doomed. We’re constantly told we won’t be able to buy a house or start a career when we graduate, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives paying back other people’s debt.
For young people, there hasn’t been much coming from the government or the media that has excited the imagination. Things don’t get done unless there is a practical or financial reason to do so.
London 2012 has changed all that. Right from the torch relay to the closing ceremony, I have never seen so many people get excited about a national event. When the Olympic torch came through my town, twenty-four thousand people crowded the streets during the worst rainfall of the year just to see someone they didn’t know run past with a flame in his hand.
No one could have imagined how much this nation has embraced the Games. This country has been decorated red, white and blue, and now gold too as post boxes around the country have been painted gold in celebration of Team GB’s gold medallists. London is like a huge Glastonbury of sport, with people celebrating with strangers and tourists dressed from head to toe in their country’s colours, and becoming experts of sports they previously had no interest in. The atmosphere in London now is a far cry from the riots and student protests we’ve witnessed recently.
The performance of Team GB’s athletes was also extraordinary, and has introduced us to new national treasures like Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins. As was hoped, more people are getting involved, (or at least thinking about getting involved) in sport as a consequence. Family and friends of mine, who before had no interest in sport whatsoever, are looking to join sports clubs; there are waiting lists for minority sports clubs such as handball, and it’s noticeable how many more bikes there are on the roads now – surely not a coincidence it’s in the year Great Britain won eight gold medals in cycling.
After the spectacular Beijing games, we were under pressure to be as good at it – to show the world that we were good at sport, and put on a good show. But more than that, we needed to prove these things to ourselves, so that we could see we are not a nation in decline and our potential is better than we’ve previously thought.
The London 2012 party will inevitably descend into a hangover, and we will return to the dreary headlines and the pessimism. But the these Games have already captured the minds of everyone. We now want to take up more sport and become more active, we realise we have the potential to do better, and we have memories that we will take to our graves.
In my lifetime, celebrations like this and inspirational moments have been very rare. The public mood is self-deprecating and there is no confidence to be bold and creative. Perhaps London 2012 will be the spark that lights the cauldron.
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